In recent weeks, as the date for the release of Aleppo’s new zoning plan approaches, the city’s council has stepped up monitoring in the destroyed eastern neighbourhoods. Municipal police are cracking down on construction sites and property owners who are trying to restore their buildings without permits.
The increased patrols come after the collapse of residential buildings, the latest of which was in Karam Al-Katerji neighbourhood on July 9, while workers were doing repairs. The building had been located amid other residential blocks that were destroyed by regime bombing on the area, part of formerly besieged and embattled east Aleppo. Conditions in Karam Al-Katerji (not named after prominent businessmen and war profiteers Hussam and Baraa Katerji) do not differ greatly from those in other neighbourhoods of east Aleppo, which was under opposition control from 2013 to 2016.
Since regime forces recaptured east Aleppo in December 2016, the city council has prevented any restoration efforts carried out without prior approval. Many obstacles also stand in the way of rebuilding. Rubble has not been removed, and the prices of building materials are high due to illegal demarcation taxes demanded by regime forces at checkpoints placed along entryways to the area.
Still, most residents are waiting until the details of the new zoning plan are released in the coming months to repair their properties in east Aleppo’s residential and commercial districts.
The existing zoning plan for Aleppo dates back to 1954. It was drawn up in a western style by a French planner and architect, Andre Gutton, with wide streets and multi-storey buildings. Then in 1974, Japanese urban planner Gyoji Banshoya mapped out a new zoning plan, but it was not approved or implemented, as it included parts of the old city centre, spurring objections. Syrian architect Yasser Dashwali then began work on a master urban plan in 2000, though its release was delayed until 2012.
The extent of damage in large swathes of Aleppo demanded reassessment of the 2012 zoning plan to monitor conditions in residential areas, including those with irregularly built housing, where some 30 percent of residents live. Aleppo is home to 23 areas with informal housing, extending over 2,905 hectares — some nine percent of the total zoning area of the city, distributed across both east and west Aleppo, according to statements from government officials.
Much of the damage to informal housing is concentrated in east Aleppo, which faced devastating regime airstrikes and artillery fire from 2013 to 2016.
In January 2018, then-Prime Minister Imad Khamis announced that authorities had finished evaluating the 2012 zoning plan. The plan is expected to be released publicly in the coming months, and is set to include demolition of large areas of east Aleppo, as well as the city’s western and southern suburbs.
Yahya Naanaa, head of Aleppo’s provincial council during opposition control, told The Syria Report that most of the informal housing is in the city’s formerly rebel-held eastern neighbourhoods, which were destroyed by bombing. He added that he fears the new zoning plan will give the government an opportunity to dispose of properties belonging to former east Aleppo residents, most of whom were forcibly displaced to Idlib and elsewhere. The new plan threatens large areas of the city with demolition due to the high level of damage, Naanaa warned, while former residents may not be able to prove their properties within the one-year time span given by most zoning laws.