News and Opinion:
Thoughts on the topic of reconstruction in post-war Syria

Overarching priority:

Planning and construction in normal circumstances is a very challenging process.  It becomes a daunting task after years of civil strife and brutal fighting. Reconstruction must be utilized as a catalyst for re-stitching the fabric of society. Short of that risks further inflaming wounds and grievances, thereby reverting to perennial violence inevitably. Therefore, a genuinely inclusive undertaking with a no victors, no vanquished approach to reconstruction is critical to achieving the desired results manifested in the form of a restored society in parallel with a restored realm.  In fact, this presents an opportunity to utilize reconstruction, among other similarly important endeavors, as the trigger and a mechanism for urgently stopping brain drain, starting brain retain, then eventually brain regain.


Ziad Demian 1


Toward RENEWED identity – Making Reconstruction Syrio-centric. 

Syria has some of the world’s most outstanding irreplaceable heritage sites that have universal value across a range of cultures and times. Damage has been done and is continuing to happen, not just from fighting but also from looting. More importantly, the systematic destruction of national icons could only lead one to think that the target is to also destroy the spirit and the identity of Syria and Syrians.  Syria is unique in the world, a world treasure with sites dating back to the 3rd millennium BC, biblical sites, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Persian, Arab, Crusader, Ottoman and European.

Therefore, Syrio-centricity is not just a political and economic sense but also a cultural sense.  It is vital to institute practices of viewing the world from a decidedly Syria-focused perspectives, to believe consciously and subconsciously, in the unique and eminence of the Syrian culture, its protection and preservation. As the stewards of this historical and cultural vessel it is incumbent on us to work diligently and act responsibly during the reconstruction process.


For the historically sensitive areas, two issues are critical to the success of the reconstruction endeavor.

First: Reaching consensus on what are the properties and architectural/urban artifacts that are considered iconic and valued by everyone that need to be fully restored and brought back because of their identity-preserving role. Everyone in every town intuitively recognizes them and is able to identify them. Restoration requires local knowledge and local skills, attributes well worth their compensation and preservation.

Second: The process itself must be depoliticized and the product dissociated from the economic gains for the group who is tasked with delivering the preservation projects. In other words, focus on the end results despite higher cost as long as the process is stripped of corruption.  One way, among many others, is to decouple the priority-setting group from the procurement and implementation groups, etc.


For districts with little to no historic or iconic value, and there are plenty of those that got destroyed, they become opportunities for entrepreneurs and early adopters of new technologies to embrace futuristic and cutting-edge technologies to solve immediate problems with real practical solutions.  A cautionary note here is that, while best practices across the world are very helpful and inspirational, imitation and copying of high-profile projects blindly and thoughtlessly, as we see often in developing countries especially in the middle east, would lead to inappropriate and wasteful solutions that end up being obsolete and empty shells.  The challenge is to do it by incorporating and assimilating these technologies into the Syrian way of life and quotidian functions (Syrianizing it). This would be an opportunity to develop new Syrian vernacular, be authentic and grounded in local traditions and customs yet innovative and open to explorations.


For hybrid areas, a reasonable approach is to restore as much of the identity and character of cities and neighborhoods as possible and as long as they hold real value. But let the new construction be modern, progressive and incorporated into the urban fabric to complement the restored work and enhance the character and identity of the structures. It is worth noting here that old doesn’t necessarily mean valuable. We also need to be mindful that the magic of time and patient efforts are not available for us today. Humans’ ever-shortening attention span, immediate results and instant gratification way of life is an extremely high hurdle to overcome. The focus ought to be on making what’s important count as opposed to making the counts important. These areas are likely to be where most of the work would take place. As the rebuilding process begins with deciding the what, who, where, when and why, new standards, a paradigm shift would ultimately emerge determining what is considered essential, necessary, desirable, chic. But hopefully, rooted in the culture.
On ways to minimize unjust or austere economic conditions, reliance should be on

  1. Grants with no strings attached; it is difficult but not without precedent, especially from countries responsible for the Syrian hardship; yes, a form of reparation.
  2. Loans with deferred repayment plans from friendly or neutral countries.
  3. Mounting a global campaign describing the benefit of investing in Syria and the dire consequences, to the entire region, of not doing so.
  4. Treat participation in reconstruction as a required community service that can be modeled, among others, after US graduating high school students where every student ought to perform a well-documented 100 hours of community service before receiving their high school diploma.
  5. Most importantly, energizing Syrian capital, local and abroad, to invest and take the lead in the reconstruction bonanza. This can happen only if the government takes demonstrative governance modernization and trust building measures backed by tangible commitments.

On engaging and benefiting from Syrian capital – Patriotism and social responsibility can be a strong motivation but by themselves can’t be relied upon to entice Syrian capital to invest.  Government must institute bold long-term incentives with proven track records of success such as:

  • Offering lead opportunities to Syrians first and at better terms,
  • Implement a “set-aside” policy for Syrian either as partners or as retained professionals, especially those with proven sacrifices during the war,
  • Tax Increment Financing (TIF) or tax breaks, tax revenue sharing,
  • Matching monetary investments, or guaranteed minimum returns,
  • Free land or long-term land leases,
  • Infrastructure assistance,
  • Cheap money (low or no interest loans) for meeting certain goals,
  • Offer bonus density as incentives for meeting extended goals.

Ziad Elias Demian, AIA – APA

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