SYRIA & LEBANON

The conflict that has assailed Syria since 2011 is generally explained in terms of Islamic extremism, government atrocity and geo-strategic jostling between foreign powers.

Media coverage has over-looked the influence of Bashar Al Assad’s adoption of neo-liberal policies. These resulted in a widening of the gap between rich and poor and fomented civil unrest.

Rebels have been driven out of Aleppo but siege and bombing have laid waste to this ancient city. Its bullet-marked medieval citadel now affords views of devastation.

How will Aleppo be re-built? It stands as a test for the Syrian government on how to re-develop and run cities that have been retaken. The ground seems set for intractable division. The question for post-war planning is how to restore balance.

Answers will not be easy to come by but nearby Beirut serves as something of a reverse role-model.

The Lebanese capital's post-war development resulted in a reduction in the public realm by way of a neo-liberal, consumption-based blueprint. Indicative of the scene in a globalised world, Beirut’s downtown is subject to large real-estate development that salivates over the prospect of multinationals, banks, luxury malls, hotels and restaurants sucking in affluent ‘creatives’ – and the affluent only. Exclusionary governance rules.

Redevelopment comprised of downtown and urban park regeneration - linked by a pedestrian and bicycle "Soft Connection - seems laudable in its aim to neutralise identity-based division and war trauma by super-imposing projects over the civil war's demarcation line. Known as the "Green Line", it was Beirut's most symbolically-imbued space.

Any inclusive historical symbolism has been supplanted by status as a sterile financial hub. To boot, the private real estate interest behind reconstruction convinced government to allow it to supervise and manage the public realm.

Will post-war Aleppo be stamped with this same blueprint?