D:\My Journal\Logo\kam logo.JPG                                                      JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY URBAN AFFAIRS, 7(2), 85-105 / 2023

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Journal of Contemporary Urban Affairs

                                                                                                          2023, Volume 7, Number 2, pages 85–105

Original scientific paper

Mapping Safety, Security and Walkability of Historical Public Open Spaces in Post-Conflict Libya: Tripoli as North African Case Study             

*1 Dr. Khairi Abdulla Image result for research orcid , 2 Prof. Dr. Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem Image result for research orcid

1 School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham NG1 4FQ, UK

2 Department of Architecture & Built Environment, University of York, UK

1 E-mail: Khairi.abdulla@ntu.ac.uk , 2 E-mail: Gamal.abdelmonem@york.ac.uk




Article History:

Received: 25 July 2023

Revised: 13 October 2023

Accepted: 15 November 2023

Available online: 29 November 2023



Historical Public Open Space,




Tripoli Libya.



North African cities have been undergoing major transformation over the past two decades following protracted instability, civic uprising, and conflicts, changing their perception from havens to territories of displacements with social, psychological, and physical problems. Historic public spaces in those cities, in particular, form a critical part of urban environments as they have the identity, livelihoods and cross-community engagement in a healthy and fulfilling urban fabric and culture. Whilst there have been several studies on the characteristics of open spaces in urban environments, there is very limited work on the changing perceptions, use and engagement of public spaces in historic cities especially in the post-Arab Spring and its relative instability. This study aims to deploy investigative and creative methods to map, analyse and navigate through the transformation in the perceptions of historic public spaces in Post-Conflict Libya and its divided cities.  It will study the users' (locals and visitors) attitudes, movements, and reflections on how those spaces have changed over time. visitors' behaviour in open historical public spaces in Tripoli, Libya. The study explores the relationships between the characteristics of historical public spaces, physical activity, and psychological behaviour. The paper argues that safety and security in public spaces are critical and inherent qualities that inform much of the users’ attitudes in historic cities, which has continued to be the case in post-conflict Tripoli.


This article is an open-access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)



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Copyright © 2023 by the author(s).




Contribution to the field statement:

-This study introduces an innovative directional distance function model in a super-efficiency form.

-The research employs investigative and creative methods to map, analyze, and explore the evolving perceptions of historic public spaces in post-conflict Libya and its divided cities.

- Places a strong emphasis on understanding the attitudes, movements, and reflections of users, including both local residents and visitors.

-A key finding emphasizes that safety and security in public spaces inherent qualities that significantly influence the perceptions of users in historic cities even in the post-conflict context of Tripoli.

Numerous studies have investigated the characteristics of open spaces in urban environments, there exists a noticeable research gap regarding the shifting perceptions, utilization, and interactions of people with public spaces in historic cities, especially after the Arab Spring and the associated disturbances. This research aims to bridge this gap by employing investigative and creative methodologies to chart, analyze, and explore the transformation in the perception of historic public spaces in post-conflict Libya, particularly in its divided cities.

*Corresponding Author:

School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham NG1 4FQ, UK

Email address: Khairi.abdulla@ntu.ac.uk

How to cite this article:

Abdulla, K. M., & Abdelmonem, M. G. (2023). Mapping Safety, Security and Walkability of Historical Public Open Spaces in Post-Conflict Libya: Tripoli as North African Case Study. Journal of Contemporary Urban Affairs, 7(2), 85-105. https://doi.org/10.25034/ijcua.2023.v7n2-6

  1. Introduction

The historical centres of cities in North Africa have developed over centuries and are shaped by a network of interconnecting local streets and intertwined alleyways that connect people and goods in an orderly and fluid manner (Akbar, 1998). The active and secure socio-spatial systems that enable interactions in these cities have developed a complex organization of relationships that include the integration of public and private spaces in a fluid continuum  (Abdelmonem, 2016). However, as these historical centres transformed into modern cities, their spatial organisation evolved and changed, leaving traces of the past intimacy, but equally a sense of loss due to the diminishing sense of community, and active urban life. Public open spaces that used to be active centres of daily life have transformed into congested and hazardous traffic routes. Whilst Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt are struggling with integrating high-way traffic routes into their historic fabric, Tunis and Marakish tend to preserve most of their historic centre’s characters and move major traffic routes away from their historic core. Libyan cities, on the other hand, are one example of this transformation in the role of public spaces within their historical centres. This problem has been exacerbated by the ongoing conflict, political instability, and weak governance since the Arab Spring.

The historic spaces in Libyan cities have witnessed a deterioration in the quality of life, safety, and connectivity within their historical structures during long periods of conflict and destruction. This has made many Libyan cities unbalanced and unfriendly to pedestrians, in a unique case within the rich North African cities. Libyan cities are often heavily reliant on vehicle traffic, with a major route contributing to increased and intensified traffic congestion, pollution, and inadequate and unsafe pedestrian crossings, affecting the ability of local residents and users from their inherited sense of belonging, comfort and safety  (Lakhder & Dugeny, 2010; Abdulla, 2019). Additionally, the planners and local authorities have shown limited consideration for the needs of persons with disabilities in terms of ease of walking, and limited attention seems to be given to the safety and security of pedestrians when determining urban quality of life. This has led to higher rates of traffic accidents and associated fatalities (Lakhder & Dugeny, 2010; Abdulla, 2019).

Yet, in the absence of a methodological approach and systematic analysis of those perceptions and attitudes within historic cities, planners and urban designers have limited knowledge and information about the factors impacting users’ perception and engagement with post-conflict historic cities. This paper aims to fill this gap and offer an innovative framework and systematic analysis of a planning process informed by understanding users' and residents’ perceptions and priorities. There has been little research done to comprehend the historical public open spaces, even though numerous studies have highlighted weaknesses and inadequacies in public transportation and urban life in those cities. With an emphasis on the historic area of Tripoli, this study examines the historical open public spaces in the city centres of Libyan cities as a case study of emerging cities going through internal conflict. By examining the elements, features, and patterns that affect the daily lives and activities of users in those spaces, it looks into how the quality of POS influences the growth of livability in the city centre. This paper also seeks to examine the difficulties and success aspects that influence how walkability is perceived in Tripoli's historic open spaces. It will look at the ideas and components of safe public spaces in post-conflict cities. The opinions of Tripoli experts, policymakers, and common people will be noted in this context and analysed.


1.1    Historical Public Open Spaces

There are numerous studies that emphasize that POSs are essential elements that provide functions such as "recreation, community health, connection with nature, and social or environmental preservation" within a city's part (McCormack et al., 2010; Stanley et al., 2012; Pradinie et al., 2016; Carmona, 2019). POS have been fundamental sites for political, economic, and cultural activities since ancient civilizations and up to the present day  (Lévy, 2008). POS vary in shape, size, and typology, including squares, plazas, streets, parks, urban squares, waterfront promenades, markets, and sports fields  (Askari & Soltani, 2019; El-Basha, 2021). However, no recent study was found to focus on open public spaces located in historical areas. Retaining historical POSs preserves tangible and intangible heritage elements such as surrounding building facades and activities, embodying the life and collective memory of cultures (UNESCO, 2021). In the past, open public spaces served as multifunctional places, providing opportunities for sports, watching matches, social, political, educational, and commercial interactions.  (UNESCO, 2021) defines cultural heritage sites as "areas including archaeological sites that have outstanding universal value from historical, aesthetic, ethnological, or anthropological perspectives." Furthermore, UNESCO states that the protection of historical areas in cities should not be limited to preserving individual historic buildings but should encompass all elements within a comprehensive and multidimensional urban structure  (UNESCO, 2021).

According to  Camp (2010), "the development of the Athenian Agora began in the 6th century BC during the time of the legislator Solon," the origins of historical POSs can be found in the Greek Agora (public square). Since then, markets, leisure time, and cultural events have all been connected to POSs in Greek cities. Even though the concept of public use of space may be found in ancient Mesopotamia, where Sumerian King Gudea (about 2340 BCE) established the first planned park-like landscapes, POSs have been used for far longer (Gothein, 1928; Ejroushi, 2020). During the Renaissance, POSs played a significant role in the transformation of European cities, as public spaces hosted a variety of social and recreational functions (Wycherley, 1976). Meanwhile,  Cordua (2010) drew attention to streets, squares, and plazas in European cities  (Lévy, 2008). Since then, the importance of developing open public spaces in European and Arab cities has increased, and there has been a significant awareness of the requirements of public spaces.

Historical POSs in city centres are complex and fascinating places that can have a wide range of meanings and uses. Literally, a historical POS is a spatial public area located in the historical part of a city  (Lévy, 2008). Madanipour Gehl (2007) noted that "POS has become an integral part of cities throughout history, to the extent that human settlements cannot be imagined without it." Unfortunately, in developing countries' cities like Tripoli, H-POSs are mostly used as dumping grounds, informal commercial activities, and parking lots  (Elkekli, 2014; Abdulla et al., 2016). This research looks into historical POSs and the ways in which the dimensions of historical open public spaces impact activities in Libyan cities, particularly in Tripoli, Libya. It explores the specific concept of H-POSs within the urban context of Tripoli and the historical areas within the city. As explained in the first section, many H-POSs have deteriorated over time due to lack of maintenance, vandalism, low-quality repairs, and changing physical appearances in different periods depending on who has authority over Tripoli. To understand user needs in H-POSs in Tripoli, this research aims to explore the factors that enhance visitor activities in H-POSs. Through a mixed-methods approach, including experimental analysis and a case study of four different historical open public spaces, surveys, direct observation, and focus groups will be conducted.

In recent years, research on POSs has become more prevalent due to fundamental changes in public life resulting from digital technology and the Internet of Things, which have altered the essence of traditional urban spaces  (Abdulla, 2019). Therefore, many scholars and authors have attempted to define the characteristics of POSs from different perspectives and identify the factors that contribute to their success. A pioneering study by Lynch  (1964) identified five factors that should be present in POSs to ensure their success: vitality, sense, fit, access, and control.  (Jacobs & Appleyard, 2015) proposed seven essential goals: identity, livability and control, access to opportunities, authenticity and meaning, community and public life, self-reliance in the urban environment, and an environment for all (i.e., inclusivity and specific access for people with special needs).

 Gehl& Gemzøe (2004) and Gehl (2011) have emphasized on several occasions various design aspects that encourage a user-centered approach in designing and using open public spaces. According to Gehl, comfort, enjoyment, and protection are fundamental criteria for any successful POS. He describes that the time people spend in a place in the city depends on their sense of comfort on both psychological and physical levels, and if the level of comfort is low, the time spent in POSs will be short. As for enjoyment, it deals with how to delight users with positive aspects of weather, enjoying views and horizons, the artistic quality of the design of the POSs and its fine details, and the pleasure of experiencing the natural environment (trees, plants, water). As for protection, it encompasses a wide range of preventive measures provided by the place to reduce negative experiences, including safety and security, shelter, and protection from traffic movement.

Similarly, the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a global organization focused on public space projects, has attempted to establish specifications for successful open public spaces, linked to four main criteria: uses and activities, comfort and image, access and linkages, and sociability. Three key factors are associated with the effective use of open public spaces, including user needs, quality of physical features, and spatial structure  (Abbott, 2015). Considering user needs is fundamental to designing any good open public space, requiring a design that attracts people, facilitates their activities, and encourages them to spend longer periods of time in the space while engaging in these activities  (Francis, 2003). At the intersection of academic and policy literature, scholars discuss ways to shape open public spaces and understand how people perceive and use them.

There is a glaring gap in research, and the amount of it is very small when it comes to Tripoli.  (Shawesh, 2000) examined the physical characteristics of the city's architecture and urban forms through the natural environment, houses, streets, open spaces, markets, and mosques, for instance, while evaluating changes in Tripoli's built environment's identity. Contrarily,   studied public spaces in Tripoli's urban centre in her thesis by examining the factors that influenced its development and alteration during three distinct historical periods: Tripoli's Ottoman occupation, its time as an Italian colony, and the post-colonial period. This paper offers crucial new insights into understanding the current configuration of Tripoli's historic public squares as an illustration of how conflict in emerging cities directly impacts citizens' daily lives.


1.2    Evolution and transition of post-conflict Historic Open Spaces Libya.

In order to understand the history of public open spaces in the city of Tripoli, it is important to comprehend the historical pattern of the development of public squares over time. The city centre of Tripoli has been shaped by different periods throughout its history. Since the arrival of Islam to Tripoli in 643 AD (23 AH in the Islamic calendar), life, language, religion, privacy, and living patterns have changed throughout the entire city of Tripoli  (Lakhder & Dugeny, 2010). Public squares or public open spaces became an important element in Tripoli and in all Islamic cities. Therefore, in Tripoli during the Islamic era, POSs included mosques, markets, and public streets, and sharp gender considerations were applied as is the case in most Islamic cities. Mosques, markets, and public streets were established based on the belief in privacy, in addition to compliance with Islamic law (Sharia) regarding "neighbour's rights"  (Lakhder & Dugeny, 2010; El-Hasumi, 2018; Akbar, 1998). Figure 1 depicts the city and its port in 1746, with the area within the walls connected to the harbour  (Alakhal, 2017).

During the 16th century, North African cities were significantly influenced by the Ottoman Empire, including Tripoli, which became an Ottoman province after many years of Spanish occupation.  El-Hasumi, (2018) states that since the Ottomans took control of Tripoli, the city lost the Islamic urban style that previously influenced and led public spaces before the Ottoman occupation  (El-Hasumi, 2018). On the other hand, as shown in Figure 2, Tripoli began to rapidly grow in size during the Second Ottoman Period, resulting in the formation of complexes of buildings, streets, and open spaces that combined the central mosque with various religious, educational, funerary, and market institutions  (Elkekli, 2014)El-Hasumi ( 2018) argues that public open spaces expanded outside the city walls during the Ottoman era and were used as markets within the city. The first modern plans for Tripoli were prepared during the Second Ottoman Period, which included the planning and construction of new markets, renowned higher schools, hospitals, post offices, orphanages, and squares (Carmona, 2019). Planning outside the city walls also became a major activity for municipal authorities, leading to the growth of specialized bureaucratic and technical administration (Silva, 2016)El-Hasumi (2018) affirms that Tripoli's market was considered an external world where the city's inhabitants gathered within the walls to express themselves and communicate for various purposes, serving as an active open space that naturally responded to the increasing demand for broader urban areas.

On the other hand, during the Italian occupation of Libya (1911-1943), the character of the city of Tripoli changed significantly thanks to the new Italian authorities  (Shawesh, 2000). A large part of Tripoli's historical nucleus was built outside the city walls during this period  (El-Hasumi, 2018). The Italian authorities designed a plan for Tripoli according to European urban planning and design principles, transforming the city into a major urban centre with a well-planned modern commercial centre outside the old city walls (Abdulla, 2019).

In 1939, Tripoli's new urban core was created around the Cathedral Square (Algeria Square). The city's POSs were redesigned as shown in Figure 3, Figure 4, and a new urban centre was created, giving the city a contemporary aspect in the 1930s and early 1940s (Fuller, 2000; El-Allous, 2016). Similar to this, Micara (2021) noted that the creation of a new plaza at the gates to the old city and the castle during the Italian era was a noteworthy effort. This area later on became the city's main public space. In addition to the goal to demonstrate the authority of the Italian dictatorship and improve military services, the coastline road and waterfront were also built alongside the city's historic centre at this time.


An aerial view of a city

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Figure 1. (Left) Plan of Tripoli in 1559  (Alakhal, 2017).

Figure 2. (Right) The Ottoman early urban activities outside the city walls around 1910 (Mezughi).


Aerial view of a city

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