Peace Building Through Urban Planning in Post-Conflict SETTING



Peacebuilding through Urban Planning in Post-Conflict Setting

  1. Introduction

Throughout history, humanity has faced numerous armed conflicts on a local, national, and even an international level. All this conflict has resulted in the adverse destruction of the cities. (Hasic, 2004). Even in the case of areas that can be classified as post-conflict, the likelihood of conflict erupting again is so high. (Kennedy, 2008). Rathmell (2005) states that the structures present in a post-conflict society are only put up as a matter of necessity, therefore, lacking proper order. Evidence from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and even Iraq shows that indeed, the rebuilding process lacks efficiency. This culminates from various factors including the lack of necessary resources, funding, adequate planning, and also the lack of an effective exit strategy (Coyne, 2006). The post-war situation in Iraq is not connected only with the liberty operation but reflects decades of suffering under destruction of the country due to several conflicts. And ISIS assault has greatly worsened the lack of trust between the communities (Gee, 2014). Peacebuilding in Iraq thus is therefore faced with many challenges. To enable the identification of these challenges, it is essential for one to familiarise themselves with the structure, specific, and the history of conflict in that country. Studies on the role of urban planning in post-conflict peacebuilding setting are an area of research that has not been thoroughly explored. Planning occupies a unique position at the interface between communities, the state, and the physical environment, and is strategically located to deal with many common long-term impacts of conflict in societies. As such it deserves greater attention and consideration for the contribution it can make to reconstruction and peacebuilding. The main purpose of this paper is to better understand the role that urban planning can play in addressing the peacebuilding process challenges in Iraq. It attempts to analyse the challenges of peacebuilding process and to explore how urban planning to be considered as part of peacebuilding efforts aimed at helping find long-term sustainable solutions to conflict. This article thus investigates these challenges and puts forward a guideline that may come in handy for government leaders and other valuable stakeholders involved in the peacebuilding efforts.


  1. Conceptual Framework:

Concept 1: Post-Conflict

UCDP attempts to define conflict characterised by the use of armed force between two parties, where at least one of the parties is the government of a state, and that culminates in at least 25 deaths. The definition is further expounded as involving a contested territory and government (UCDP/PRIO, 2016). Another important term is a “post-conflict country.” It is a country that is recovering from a great conflict whereby warfare has ceased, but still there is a potential for an eruption of violence. (Wallensteen, 2007). This aftermath included loss of human lives, the devastation of the economy due to destroyed infrastructure and the production means, and also deteriorated political conditions (Collier, 2000). This definition of post-conflict is not, however, meant to be taken lightly. While international wars might be ended by a treaty, the end to the wars that are the chief concern of this article is way complicated. Although a peace agreement may be arrived at, the conflict often re-erupts shortly afterwards or rather continues at a lower level. (Brown et al., 2011).  That’s why post-conflict situation and its development immediately after the conflict are crucial determining for the future of each country or society affected by conflict.

The ever increasing challenge is that of accurately determining the timeline that the post-conflict condition begins and ends. In this regard, Nkurunziza (2008) asserts that it is not possible to say for sure the time that a country in post-conflict state returns to a situation of normalcy. Therefore, effective and sustainable planning of post-conflict cities is necessary to identify all possible problems and challenges so that suitable actions could be taken to avoid threatening the development. The conditions under which countries emerging from armed conflicts differ distinctively. For instance, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq pose cases that differ according to their specific contexts and structures. The completion, timing, priority, and appropriateness of tasks can, therefore, not be generalised. This realisation is significant in matters concerning sustainable peacebuilding. It deviates from the norm of mediating conflicts between different parties. Rather, a broader focus on the provision of peace, economic sustenance, and justice to people and entire communities is recommended for post-conflict development. The argument in this case, thus, is that the important tool to bridging a divide in society, make cities environmentally friendly, culturally meaningful, safe, economically vibrant, and all-inclusive, lies in proper urban planning.

Concept 2: Peacebuilding

Peacebuilding in nations emerging from conflict is a complex undertaking; it involves a myriad of different players in the civil society and government at the local, national, and global levels (UNPSO, 2010). “Peacebuilding” can thus carry two broad definitions; it can denote the direct work that focuses intentionally on addressing factors that drive and avoiding conflict. It can also denote the work of coordinating or setting up communication channels to come up with an elaborate, multi-sectoral, multileveled plan, including, humanitarian assistance, development, governance, justice, security and other sectors that may not apply “peacebuilding” as a term to portray themselves (Schirch, 2013). Former studies have focussed on assessing post-conflict peacebuilding as an integral phase of the implementation of peace treaties and have normally not comprised cases lacking a settlement that has been negotiated upon. It is an inadequate tactic as most Conflicts tend to end as the outcome of conquest by the military, as in countries such as Rwanda and Iraq, which carries weighty repercussions for the deliberation of intermediate justice matters (Bertram, 1995). When it comes to genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass killings, rapes, and additional ruthless forms of carrying out war, religious, and comparable forms of clashes make reconciliation tremendously problematic. While it is a process carried out in the long-term, it needs to commence immediately the peace operation, and peacebuilding are started (Kühne, 2001). The process of peacebuilding, in this case, faces even bigger hindrances in interacting with the entire desolation of persons structurally, physically, politically, psychologically, socially, spiritually, and economically. Therefore, there can’t be permanent peace and unwavering democracy in war-ravaged societies deprived of justice as well as reconciliation. Previously, in the global community’s peacebuilding efforts, the emphasis on the political instead of the person has been masking the core psychosocial procedures that are essential for the readiness of persons to select reconciliation instead of being associated in more abuse of human rights. Rasmussen (2001) reasons that the unease with uncompromising geopolitics is required to extend to comprise geo-social politics in which building of relationships and resolution take a central point (Rasmussen, 2001). The dynamic components of peace -or conflict- generating processes, such as processes of political and social integration and disintegration, empowerment and disempowerment, and political as well as everyday practices may either enhance or impede peacebuilding (Kliot and Mansfeld, 1999).

My argument however here is that spiritual aspects of peacebuilding have not been well thought-out adequately in the execution of peacebuilding in the post-conflict. As such, a thorough look at real politic assumptions and amends in the balance of main concerns and the understanding is required. Deliberating on replying to the expressed needs of the people as it concerns reconciliation and justice is one move in this track which could play a great role in the long-term triumph of peacebuilding. As it is articulated in the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, building all-encompassing societies and nurturing social integrity are essential steps to sustainable peace (Loewe & Rippin, 2015). In conflict-affected nations, promoting inclusive societies translates to recognizing ways in which to construct inclusive peace processes; support efficient reconciliation processes; and promote equitable and hands-on state structures, institutions and norms. Put differently, instead of concentrating on the legal features of peace treaties, criminal tribunals, and also truth commissions, more attention needs to be paid to the undertaking of building relationships and ways in which that can be boosted through the mentioned numerous procedures.

It is conclusive that urban planning interventions can be productive and proactive in the establishment of co-existence between groups and also societal peacebuilding and may employ a methodology of bottom-up nature that can supplement peace consultations which are top-down. Governance and urban policy are, thus, distinctive as well as crucial peacebuilding resources. A city is, therefore, figuratively a channel between the on-ground psychological and national political goals, and even the physicality of a society’s inhabitants.


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Concept 3: Urban planning

Conflict, cities and planning have had an intimate relationship throughout history, one that has been explored by many authors (Suri, 2009). The process of urban planning encompasses the development of policies which are streamlined with the set goals of the city or country, allocating resources, and generating plans (Sunita, 2010). Urban planning also has a big say on how these different policies are executed. Hence, urban planning is crucial in the shaping of the natural settings of our lives and the interrelation of these surroundings with the societal and physical environment as well as the familiarisation with it by its inhabitants. It is therefore both a creative-artistic and social job. The planning power arises from its key situation in society between political goals and concrete actions. As Bollens (2006) argued, the city is vital in peacebuilding since it is in the neighbourhoods of urban masses where there is the concession over, and elucidation of concepts such as impartiality, and leniency, and democracy (Bollens, 2006).

The ability to illuminate and articulate the true meaning of multinational democracy on the ground and in the streets resides with the urban planners and designer professions. Urban planners are increasingly seeking for ways in which land use, infrastructure, and response planning can in a way be stepped down to semiautonomous local planning and action zones, from master plans at the city level (UN-Habitat, 2007). In rather volatile urban environments, Antagonistic nationalistic groups confer indication of the ability of public planning to the control and shaping the planning to fit their various needs (Bollens, 2006). Thus the role of urban planning must reinforce great governance to assist in the reduction of conflict and possibly avert other conflicts from arising, especially where conflict and its causal factors are not restricted by sovereign territorial borders (Richardson, 2015). Bollens (1998) asserts that the nexus between ethnic conflict and city planning is gradually salient as a considerable number of cities in the world are disposed to an extreme intercommunal conflict that reflects ethnic dissimilarities. Thus, latest urban planning theories attempt to respond to the post-crisis situation by focusing more on rebuilding the society, rather than the built environment. It is the undertaking to shift urban planning efforts on the restoration of the society via the physical rebuilding of the landscape (Charlesworth, 2006). Planning actions amidst political uncertainty are unlikely to alter society that is fractured; they can’t establish harmony where it lacks in people’s hearts. What urbanism can do is to generate physical as well as emotional spaces that can realise larger peace-making as well as inter-group resolution (Bollens, 2006). As we all know various urban environments and war routes will have different standards to measure the appropriateness of urban involvement. National sustainable development strategies, however, have turn out to be a broadly known and effective instrument aimed towards sustainable expansion as well as peace. Still, the crucial management principles for sustainable growth procedures are not only shared by all Nationwide Sustainability Plans rather the principles that sustain peace: iteration, long-term thinking, participation and improvement as categorised below (Adelphi, 2011):

  • To start with, a sustainable planning process is founded on inclusion and participation. These, in turn, can back peacebuilding by (re)construction of the social contract between a government and its divided citizens. This contribution, through decentralised planning and management, can help increase the effectiveness of peacebuilding strategies.
  • The other management principle is to comprise more long-term thinking into planning procedures for mid-term short-term actions. This is particularly challenging in circumstances of volatility and transformation, marked by humanitarian crisis, and the necessity to produce speedy peace outcomes.
  • The third principle is improvement and iteration. Ideally, each sustainable process is an iterative process. The weight is on handling growth on the way to sustainability goals instead of creating a fixed ‘plan’. This can be elaborated to mean that peacebuilding processes incorporate formulation of policies and action plans, regular review-in, and implementation. Hence, feedback loops.


From the above discussion, it is conclusive that Participatory urban planning is a dynamic process that stresses encompassing the entire community in the strategic and management processes of urban planning. It derives from the perspective that underprivileged and often marginalised people should be empowered to analyse their reality to participate efficiently in the planning and development process. A hands-on process conveys together different groups of participants and practices mechanisms such as advice-giving groups and city discussions to preserve the provision of views and facts, discourse and exchange, cooperation on strategies and actions, and consensus-building. It should be noticed that the various participatory mechanisms succeed only when it is properly organised and sustained.


  1. Urban Planning and Post-Conflict in Iraq

Quick urbanisation has in most cases, overtaken housing and provision of facilities. Urbanisation having gotten to 70%, it’s apparent that the key trials of the future ought to be handled in the city areas of Iraq (Mahmud, 2014). Before, strategising for all departments in Iraq was greatly centralised with the Ministry of Planning occupying a crucial role both in the consultation and the coordination of the planning process with the Ministry of Finance, in the distribution of wealth to the individual Ministries (Iraq, 1989).

The main planning instrument in the area of urban planning was dubbed the “Master Plan” which fundamentally was zoning as well as a physical strategy for the growth of a city (UN-Habitat, 2003). In Iraq, urban planning was thus mostly corresponding to zoning as well as physical plans, which included a restricted inclusion of socio-economic developmental goals (Mahmud, 1998). Majority of these plans are currently out-dated and thus do not replicate the current realities and necessities in the urban sector any longer. Tactical urban planning didn’t exist, and there was neither any involvement in planning, that didn’t involve the government. As they had few responsibilities for this task, they currently lack the required human as well as institutional capacity (UN-Habitat, 2003).

The Iraqi war which began on the 20th of May 2003 with the invasion of the U.S and the U.K officially ceased on 18th of December 2011, when the U.S. completely withdrew military personnel (Tom, 2011). But post-conflict era in Iraq started in June 2004, when the U.S. and the U.K. ended the formal occupation of Iraq (Adam, 2005). Given that the post-conflict planning after the 2003 invasion of Iraq was feeble and as a consequence, many elements were at play that led to the marginalisation and political exclusion of the Sunni community. Consequently, radical entities, such as the Al-Qaeda and lately the Islamic State (ISIS) appeared. Thus, the post-conflict reconstruction and planning in Iraq after 2003, is usually recognized as been in an unsatisfactory state. In fact, the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF), by the U.S., had disbursed about USD 11.4 billion between the dates April 2003 and March 2006 (Awotona et al., 2008). An intensive investigation of abundant latest reports has shown that the struggles of the Iraqi government as well as the Reconstruction Fund (IRRF), the United Nations Development Group, and various other agencies to reconstruct Iraq continue to be less than successful (White House Fact Sheet,2005 and GAO, 2007). A lot of damage has been done by war-related disasters in Iraq, and also by the subsequent occupation by the CPA caused further disasters. The physical, economic, societal, and government structures are suffering severely and have been in steady decline.

Due to the above reasons and while measures are in progress to solicit funds for the rebuilding of those freed zones from ISIS, two factors should be put into consideration. Primarily, ways to avoid embezzlement of funds require being present to ensure accountability and transparency. Secondly, an effort should be in place to keep money in the city where it can be passed on to the society to ensure peacebuilding amongst them. In this context, Iraq must reconstruct itself with revised regulations and policies that are conversant with a democratic society and a market economy. Besides, a refurbishment of the legislative approach towards urban planning is crucial to establishing the foundation for justifiable urban progress; this will be the start. It can be attained by guaranteeing that public sector positions are filled in by the locals and that the local economy is re-energised depending on significant city sectors such as the production of food and industry.


  1. Theoretical Framework for Peacebuilding Through Urban Planning in Iraq:

Conflict and post‐conflict environments pose particular development challenges. In post‐conflict situations (such as in Iraq) traditional urban planning methods do not discourse origin grounds of instability that have statewide and regional implications (Richardson, 2015). Expanding the traditional practice of urban planning to focus on national linkages and comprehensive development requires that urban planning engages with the larger community of state extensive and regional stakeholders. Hence the recent growth of the Iraqi society needs suitable planning and cautious organisation of its socio-economic structures, to realise sustainable urban scheme. One of the chief stages is to articulate and implement ample urban planning tactic combined with other socio-economic systems to express the centre for executing planning solutions (Mahmud, 2014).

As planning interventions and policies in cities can play a supportive role in regional and national peacebuilding (Bollens, 2014). In this regard developing the capacity of urban planners (where such professionals do not currently exist) may be able to in the least curb future violence.  Recalling the “many roles” that urban planners often play when interacting with multiple stakeholders through several levels of government developing ‘urban planning’ skills amongst local populations, pertaining to conflict negotiation, multi‐stakeholder management and analysis, and community engagement and participation could provide opportunities for communities to resolve potential conflicts before they reach uncontainable levels (Richardson, 2015). Iraq is a case study that offers a precise setting for post-conflict and peacebuilding, where susceptibility and physical transformations upset urban planning. It indicates a necessity for a serious evaluation of post-conflict Iraq’s municipal planning incorporation with citizens’ local partaking in the reconstruction at intermediate phases to attain positive urban planning. Creating a comprehension of cities’ running for operative planning and growth requires creating a mutual city vision. Tipple (2007) claimed that generating this shared city vision in Iraq post 2003 needed at the period a resolve for communal inclusion that implores citizens’ partaking in the present as well as the future of their cities, to be a part of the city’s social, economic, and cultural life, to feel as part of the image/form of the city and to obtain a fair share of the remunerations. The existing Rebuilding Plan in Iraq portrays the need for an enhanced checking of Iraq’s housing and urban organisation and puts forward a plan for demonstrating this need for worldwide collaboration. Different from other orthodox sectors, the urban sector, including some sub-sectors, is a multifaceted expansion field that should encompass crosscutting themes including poverty eradication, urban planning, gender equity, and local governance (UN-Habitat, 2003). Moreover, while steps to enhance governance and planning of the urban sector are beneficial to both national and local economies, urban areas are also open to outside forces over which they lack control. This approach must thus be calculated as a framework that can grow to fulfil the different needs of the community and urban segment. Still, planning is too crucial to be left only to selected planners. Creation of living places and mediating contested spaces are complex processes which demand holistic perspective, involving housing, education, environment, health, economic development etc.

Being a wide field as well as having a practical aspect, planning requires critical thinking regarding the mediation of space. Its key concern is social uses and ordering of space (Gaffikin et al., 2016). Space located at the heart of ‘ethno-nationalist’ skirmishes such as that in North Iraq, and for this to be effective, planning needs to function with multidisciplinary teams, also comprising urban designers, educationalists, architects, community and economic developers. Also, it assumes all-encompassing engagement with the various people that constitute our diverse citizenship. This refers to the bringing of the stakeholders into the process of planning at a developmental stage, instead of consulting them at the latter phases of the development process, when often abundant decisions seem to have already been settled. To build sustainable peace, the model suggests deeper and more encompassing and involves an array of actors, various levels of societies, links between societies as well as the spatial horizons than the world-wide peacebuilding industry acknowledges and that the liberal peacebuilding research has overlooked. In fact, it involves some place-based and people-related processes such as mediating intergroup competition, limiting the spatial expression of nationalist discourses, build positive relationships, reconcile antagonistic differences, respect rights, enhance equality and empower the disempowered. For post-conflict Iraqi cities to efficaciously participate in tactical planning for sustainable peacebuilding process, there requires being deliberated legislation at the government level.

In this regard, a national focus on strategic planning is a tangible implementation of urban planning practice and will be important for long‐term peacebuilding and sustainable development. Strategic planning represents the contemporary impressions of urban planning and varies from the conservative Master Plan that was intended to prepare ample land-use plans. In distinction to the orthodox planning manner of ‘study, plan, and execute’, this model is that of ‘engage, strategize, and act’. This permits for more elasticity and a much larger role for actors who are non-governmental. Strategic planning can incorporate markets and a range of other relevant institutions. Undeniably, strategic planning can ensure the basis for cross-sector partnerships and hands-on democracy is set.


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