Damascus Dialogues

Adriana Boeck, Sedrah Khaled Alayoubi, Walaa Al_Khateeb

With its rich history Damascus slowly grown over centuries, expanding its boundaries and adding neighbourhoods piece by piece, like a mosaic. Foreign settlers brought different developments to each quartier which contributed to the city’s great legacy and abundance of culture. In doing so, they formed multiple spatial qualities, adding to the diversity of settlement patterns and neighbourhood typologies that remain today. However, new influences also brought new challenges to the city. With new reforms and policies towards a more European model since the late 19th century, encouraging the growth of private land, the first unauthorised and undisputed developments in the city started, leading to a continuous increase of illegal settlements. These developments, together with planned urbanisation aimed for the high-income inhabitants, and an exploding population growth since the 1950s, resulted in ethnic and socio-economic segregation. These changes not only created problems within the city borders but also a serious ecological imbalance within the oasis located in the eastern districts – which is also the main source of water shared by the entire city. The rapid industrialisation initiated environmental degradation both in the natural flow of the Barada river and groundwater reservoirs leading the city towards a water crisis. Since 2011, the Syrian conflict has caused great damage and immeasurable suffering throughout the entire country, leaving cities destroyed and millions of civilians displaced. As homelessness and housing poverty has steadily increased, practises of family provision, house squatting and self-construction have become the go-to solution for many of Damascus’s inhabitants. These urban domestic developments have intensified an existing socio-spatial polarisation often along ethnic lines.