Reviewing the urban transformation paradigm
Transformation is a general term that we have frequently been using in development literature without knowing its exact definition, which varies from one field to another. This term is usually used as a broad metaphor for societal change rather than a well-defined term with a conceptual base. Transformation in global literature is overlapping with other concepts such as resilience, adaptation and sustainable development.
According to the researcher Giuseppe Feola of the University of Reading, Whiteknights, in the U.K., “transformation is a process of structural change and pursuing sustainability requires the involvement of social, symbolic, physical and material changes, that is, fundamental alterations in e.g., sense-making, worldviews, political and power relations, social networks, and ecosystems, physical infrastructure, and technology, respectively.” Feola didn’t set a specific definition for transformation but emphasized the importance of research and academic dialogue on the definition of “transformation” in order to distinguish between social change and transformation. There are still debates on the constituents of transformation and whether it is “desirable.” Moreover, concepts are categorized into descriptive or prescriptive ideas of transformation. There is consensus among concepts that substantial change “toward sustainability” is essential as an outcome of transformation.
Transformation toward sustainability “is a prescriptive definition where transformation is achieved when it is sustainable in the environmental, social and economic sense.” “Urban transformation” is attracting global attention due to high urbanization rates and sprawling cities with many millions of people all over the world. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2050, 70 percent of people will be living in cities where they are responsible for 80 percent of energy consumption, 75 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, and 75 percent of raw material consumption. For this reason, urban transformation is the new term that deserves scientific research and studies to be well-defined with clear components in order to avoid having replicated models that lead to failing outcomes.
Urban transformation is based on an enabling environment that also needs to be defined with set boundaries and specific aspects. There are a series of factors such as economic, sociopolitical, institutions and the capacity of the city including hard and soft infrastructure that draw the boundaries for the function of the enabling environment. In addition, a series of aspects shall be identified to set a perspective framework that helps to study the enabling environment within a structured system.
Therefore, urban transformation is an emerging concept that has an impact on the whole development arena. Urban transformation is a modern theory that constitutes an evolution of urban development concepts. This is a new paradigm that needs extensive research and studies to set the new concepts and approaches relevant to the current challenges and circumstances all over the world. International efforts will set general and global frameworks for urban transformation, and national efforts are needed to understand the local enabling environment in cities. Any developmental work needs a theoretical background in order to have an impact on diverting urban transformation toward cities’ desired goals.
Lebanon has been going through an extensive urban transformation process in recent decades. Urbanization rates are close to 87.8 percent and expected to reach 90 percent before the end of the decade.
This structural social change is passing unrecognized by policymakers and the scientific community. It deserves more emphasis and focus in order to drive a relevant policy agenda in health, wealth, education and service delivery. Thus, Lebanon’s development future is to a large extent tied to its policies’ propensity for urban transformation.
Hiba Huneini is manager of the Youth and Civic Engagement Program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.