Claudia Ghrawi – Environment and Justic

Damascus 1946-1963: From the Reinvented City to the Populist Authoritarian State

Claudia Ghrawi

The project engages with the phenomenon of rapid urbanization of the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus in between 1970 and 2000. It is presumed that the 1970s mark a not yet systematically explored shift in the transnational flow of capital and its effects on the processes of urbanization and societal transformation in the Middle East in general. The project thus examines the growth of the Syrian capital Damascus and its agricultural green belt in the context of these transnational flows of investment capital and expert knowledge, especially from the Arab Gulf countries. It investigates the impact especially of Gulf capital on the construction of middle- and lower class suburbs, as well as subsequent changes in the topography of the city. Similar to urbanization processes in many Arab Gulf countries, the accelerated transformation of Damascus since the early 1970s garnered haphazardly governed urban sprawl, land speculation and ecological disaster. This is exemplified with a pilot case study on the Ghouta, an agricultural area in the green belt of old Damascus, which was largely destroyed in the course of the rapid expansion of the city. In local memory the loss of the Ghouta is linked to the depletion of natural water resources and the pollution of the air, as well as to the irreversible reversal of traditional urbanism. It is further presumed that the destruction of the Ghouta triggered local attempts at governing this contentious process outside the state realms which led to the solidification of communal identities along religious lines.