Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Failure of Modernity (Beirut)

Beirut / The hybrid modernity Sectarian identities

The Crisis of Urban Culture: The Three Reconstruction Plans for Beirut

by: Nabil Beyhum

Nabil Beyhum is an assistant professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department at the American University of Beirut. He is the editor of Reconstruire Beyrouth, les paris sur le possible, Maison de l’Orient, Universite de Lyon,1991.

The Master Plan of 1977-78

The IAURIF Master Plan

The 1991 Master Plan

Projects Adrift

A Cultural Crisis: From the Ottoman City to the Wahabi City?


Three major reconstruction plans for Beirut have been put forward to this day: the master plan of 1977-78 involving the old city center; the master plan of 1986 covering the entire metropolitan region of Beirut (MRB); and the master plan of 1991, again covering exclusively reconstruction in the old city center. It is worth noting that during the entire war in Lebanon, fighting virtually did not cease in Beirut. While other parts of the country were affected by fighting, in general, it was for relatively shorter periods of time. Although destruction was more significant in parts of the mountains, and more recurrent in South Lebanon, relatively speaking it was both more continuous and regular in the Beirut area. The old city center and the demarcation line between East and West Beirut were the most severely damaged areas of the capital. At the same time, however, on the periphery of Beirut new development, equal if not greater in size than that of the area destroyed, took place. This led to a shift in the city’s center of gravity to the outskirts. The sociological pattern integrating Beirut’s public spaces at the center was seriously undermined by the rise of single-community ghettos in the suburbs. The city was divided into several unconnected islands, and neutral spaces were either annexed to these islands or destroyed. Local public bodies, too, were either attached to these territories, dismantled and deprived of their resources, or divided, thus limiting their efficiency. The population was increasingly marginalized by the war, isolated in its domestic spaces, and was an economic crisis lasting longer than the era of the militias; although the latter disappeared, the economic and social legacy they left behind remained. If the objective of reconstruction is to transcend the Lebanese war, then it must reverse the profound sociological changes caused by the war at the level of services, public transportation, road networks, and cultural and economic activities. Reconstruction does not simply imply rebuilding, but also includes social processes; it implies well-planned management of technical networks, not just an ability to pay unlimited amounts of money, it is a process taking into account time, and is not merely a transformation of space. [1] Reconstruction must act to regenerate urban society, serving as an example for society as a whole. We will raise the following questions in this essay: How did each master plan for reconstruction deal with Beirut public spaces and their regeneration? How were the integrative roles of these spaces developed? How did the city’s different parts communicate? What memory of the city was preserved? Who was to fund each master plan for reconstruction? How were the city’s inhabitants to take part in reconstruction? How did the public debate on reconstruction take place? How well was the public interest preserved? Did it have priority over the interests of individual communities? What was the relation between public and private interest, between public and private property? These three sets of questions are of a different type: The first deals with the long-term functions of the public spaces to be developed. The second examines whether the reconstruction process will effectively create or re-create a middle class or not. The third deals with the impact of reconstruction of all or part of the city, on the whole of society. The Master Plan of 1977-78 The Master Plan of 1977-78 was prepared after the 1975-76 conflict, which mainly destroyed Beirut’s old city center. At that time, the militias’ war machines were not really constituted, let alone institutionalized, and alternative centers to the old city were not well-established. Although store-owners, whose places of business had been destroyed in the old section of Beirut, opened new stores illegally in other neighborhoods, this was a somewhat precarious venture as shown by the experience of the souq in Raousheh: as soon as calm returned, merchants were forced by the authorities to return to their original shops, or at least to vacate their new locations. If, on the other hand, the new stores were legal, the resulting decline in profit rates due to the reopening of the old city center, shifted activity back there. More important still, the city center was considered a symbol of coexistence between Lebanon’s various communities. As a result, it was only natural that it became the focal point for reconstruction in the 1977-78 master plan. The plan, prepared by the Urbanism Workshop of Paris (Atelier Parisien d’Urbanisme), was completed by Mitri Nammar, the governor (muhafiz) of Beirut, and several urban architects under the aegis of the Directorate Generale of Urbanism (Direction Générale de l’Urbanisme). Gradually, the plan was adopted by the Beirut municipality and the government, and was the first legally approved plan for the reconstruction of Beirut. [2] Influenced by urban “culturalist” models, [3] French architects in charge of the project offered a minimalist vision of reconstruction, preserving the traditional style of the area to be rebuilt, while favoring solutions to pre-war problems which made access to the city center difficult. The intervention of planners was reduced to a minimum, and was limited to public transportation and road networks. From an architectural standpoint, this intervention varied enormously according to the areas, and focused more on regenerating public spaces than intervening in private property. The road network of the city center was reorganized in such a way as to allow access to the maximum number of people during the day (average speed did not exceed 10 kms/hour during the prewar period). [4] The plan’s first novelty was an underground road going from east to west and bordering the coastline. Although highly expensive, the construction of this road would nevertheless have spared expenditures on other infrastructures, and would have offered a solution to the problem of traffic jams. Two additional roads from south to north and backing up the Fouad Shihab flyover were to complete the first. This system was intended to organize transportation more efficiently. The plan also promoted public transportation. The underground road permitted a direct link between the city and the sea and preserved the ecological boundary between the two. A promenade was to be opened to the public, and small squares were to be dispersed throughout the old city. To highlight the different monuments downtown, the plan sought to surround them with small gardens. As to the rehabilitation of buildings, the plan divided the city center into seven different sectors, each requiring different types of intervention. The nature of these interventions was meticulously delineated by sector, and any change affecting the height of buildings, their style, and their surroundings was controlled. The essential thrust of the plan was made clear in the fact that 75% of the buildings were to be returned to their previous state in an effort to safeguard the cultural memory of the city. Thus, the traditional souqs, grouped into two big islands west of Martyrs Square, and the Tawileh, Ayyass, and Jamil souqs were to be rebuilt exactly as they had been. On the other hand, more significant intervention was intended on the sea front in the sector of the Normandy and Phoenicia hotels. A marina was planned, and the height of any resort or hotel surrounding it was not to be above sixteen meters. The built-up area, comprising buildings and leisure installations, was not to exceed 0.5% of the total area of the sector (in contrast to 2.8% in their pre-war city center). The area of the port, however, was to be built up with office buildings, and represented the most significant urbanization effort in the sector. The Wadi Abu Jemil sector was reorganized by means of a new road which cut through the sector, liup Clémenceastreet to Bab Edriss. A pedestrian area, underground parking lots, and a possible subway station were to surround Bab Edriss, while the buildings along the new road were to be restored. In addition, the plan called for converting the areas of Ghalghul, where buildings were heavily damaged, and Saifi, the old red light sector, into leisure and commercial centers. In terms of architectural style and function, the intervention in Ghalghul was conceived of as an extension of the Banks Street, while Saifi was linked to Martyrs Square. The main criticism, which was leveled at the project was that the different religious monuments were to be highlighted by small squares and gardens surrounding them. The religious endowments or waqfs, to whom these grounds belong, would have preferred to use them for commercial purposes. As a whole, however, this plan could be described as gradualist and basically conservative on the cultural level, although it left a wide margin for individual initiative. A few minor and limited interventions were anticipated through the regrouping of property and the creation of two real estate companies in the Ghalghul and Saifi areas. Thus, the plan met the need for limited public intervention, although certain individuals believed at the time that even this minimal intervention was excessive. The plan did, however, rely on public authorities to arbitrate matters and build up infrastructures. The aggravation of the destruction of the old city due to the effects of weather and neglect, the weakening of a national political consensus, and the exhaustion of small private actors made the implementation of this plan quite difficult; as a result, it became necessary to update it. Nevertheless, no new plan for the old city center was conceived before the 1990’s, even if some minor planning, which never came to fruition, was attempted. The IAURIF Master Plan of 1986 The 1986 plan for the entire Metropolitan Region of Beirut (MRB) was prepared by a joint French-Lebanese working group upon the request of the Lebanese authorities. Drawn up in 1983, it was only completed and presented to the public in 1986. The plan was characterized by a search for a political consensus. Its objectives were: The affirmation of centrality. The restructuring of urban space by building new centers. The development of public transportation. The safeguarding and preservation of natural sites. The Institute for Planning and urbanism of Ile-de-France (Institut d’Aménagement et d’Urbanisme de l’Ile-de-France or IAURIF), which participated in the preparation of the plan, faced a situation somewhat different than that faced by those who prepared the earlier 1977-78 plan. After ten years or so of war, it seemed only logical in reconstructing Beirut to take into account the extent of the destruction outside the area of the old city center, and the transformation brought about by urban expansion on the periphery of the capital. Thus, the IAURIF plan covered not just the old city, but the whole MRB from Khaldeh south of the capital, to Dbayyeh north of it. In an effort to overcome the fragmentation of Beirut, the master plan sought to restructure the city and integrate it with its various suburbs. In this respect, it was not, strictly speaking, a reconstruction plan. At the time the plan was prepared, only 40,000 of the 300,000 apartments in the MRB were damaged or considered too dangerous to live in because of proximity to a demarcation line. The plan principally proposed a reorganization of traffic networks and the restructuring of the central system, leaving most of the reconstruction to private initiative once peace had returned. The objective was simply to manage the exceptional growth of the suburbs by organizing a return to the center of Beirut. In the pre-war period, all links through Beirut between the north and the south of Lebanon went through the city center by means of the coastal road. The IAURIF plan sought to ease congestion in the city and its center by planning for roads away from the coast which would pass through the interior, close to the boundary between the capital and the foothills of Mount Lebanon. The proposed main road was to be supplemented by other means of access to the city by the coast, whether through public transportation or even a revived railway. The town’s center of gravity was consequently to be shifted towards the periphery, while maintaining its point d’appui in the pre-war city center. Thus a major effort was made to open up Beirut’s suburbs, namely the southern suburbs. The new changes in the city’s urban makeup were taken into consideration, while maintaining the strategic equilibrium of the metropolitan region. There were other concerns as well: green spaces were to be preserved, favoring an ecological equilibrium, and thus many valleys close to the capital were to be declared natural reserves; ridges, however, were given over to urbanization. The IAURIF plan aimed to reconcile the urban impact of the war in Beirut with a return to the pre-war situation existing in the city. The plan assumed that a return to centrality in Beirut which existed prior to the war was, from now on, hindered by the existence of new centers on its periphery. The master plan proposed that a return to the old center had to take into account urban expansion and the necessary reduction of the new centers. In fact, behind this reasoning there was another, more political, objective, since these centers were the product of new social and political relationships engendered by the war. The plan’s objective was to transform the new centers on the periphery by creating or maintaining four sub-centers interrelated and linked with the main city center. The intention was to transform these new centers into nodes of specialized and overlapping networks which would complement rather than compete with one other. This objective would have been difficult to implement; nevertheless, it is precisely this which made the 1986 master plan credible, since it sought to modify the traffic and transportation networks created by the post-war city. Although the new centers to be transformed by the master plan seemed to have been chosen rationally, in reality they were selected to reflect a confessional equilibrium: Nahr al-Mott and Hazmiyeh are located in the predominantly Christian eastern areas around Beirut, while Laylaki and Khaldeh are located in the predominantly Muslim western areas. More specifically, the first two areas are largely Maronite, while the latter two are mostly populated by Druze and Shi`a, respectively. If three of the centers are located on important communication roads, this cannot be said of Laylaki. In addition, the justification for selecting these centers as communication nodes is not convincing, since other, equally adequate, centers exist along the same lines if communication further away. The technical arguments in the IAURIF plan were quite strong. At the same time, it is worth noting what these arguments avoided: namely that what was presented as the decision of the planners was in fact an acceptance of transformations brought about by the war. This was positive in itself, but the political and institutional context of the plan was still deeply affected by the situation and attitudes of the 1980s. In the plan, Beirut implicitly remained a city split into two distinct parts. This explained, in a way, why the reconstruction of the old city center was left open, and was not updated. It also explained why the plan did not touch on the demarcation line nor the coastal road as zones having central functions. If the plan was unable to arrive at a solution regarding the transformation of these spaces, this was probably because its authors were deeply influenced by the thinking of the time. Despite its technical merit, the IAURIF plan was lost in the political discourse, and became outdated due to changes on the political scene. Although the plan suffered from its excessive reliance on attitudes prevalent in the 1980s, and did not sufficiently take into consideration future changes, other aspects of the plan are worthremembering because they werimplicitly directed against the political powers of the time. Thus the fact that the plan stressed private intervention as a means to facilitate integration should not be under-estimated, but rather should be considered a reason for updating the plan. The 1991 Master Plan Prepared by the Dar al-Handasah company, the 1991 Master Plan covers, once again, only the old city center. The process leading to the plan’s development is complex. The Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR), a public body, initially commissioned the plan, but it was financed by the private Hariri Foundation, or one of its many subsidiaries. The 1991 plan seeks to re-centralize activity in the old city, yet this effort is not accompanied by a plan to transform the city globally: the new plan neither rejects nor adopts the conclusions of the 1986 plan on integrating the new developments on the periphery of Beirut. In reality, however, a number of aspects in the 1991 plan contradict the objectives of the IAURIF plan. When it was submitted to the Superior council for Urbanism (Conseil Supérieur de l’Urbanisme) in July 1992, the 1991 project was severely criticized. This followed a large-scale publicity campaign which accompanied the plan’s presentation in the summer of 1991. The campaign did not, however, prevent the formation of an association strongly opposed to the project, made up of rightful claimants to downtown property, nor did it prevent specialists from engaging in increasing polemics against the plan. [5] What happened for such a debate to arise? If it was the first public debate since the beginning of the war, and the first on urban matters in Lebanon’s history, the debate surrounding the 1991 plan proved to be increasingly divisive; far more so than previous reconstruction projects. In fact, the master plan was just one phase of a complex operational project. The first phase consisted of taking over the CDR by placing at its head the director of the main firm of the Hariri conglomerate. The resulting conflict of interests was heightened by the importance of the stakes, since 1977 the accent had been placed on the fact that the reconstruction of the old city center would determine the future evolution of social relationships in the country. [6] At the same time, however, the CDR’s role in the plan strayed from its declared objectives. Its efforts, focused on rebuilding the old city center, were not accompanied by any serious reconstruction work in the rest of the city or the country. The second phase was the constitution of a real estate company established to centrally manage reconstruction in the old city, which would simply take over the 130 hectares in the city center, thus establishing the biggest instrument of urban management in Lebanon and perhaps in the Middle East. According to the plan, owners and tenants of property downtown were entitled to 50% of the shares in the company, while equivalent contributions in cash were to make up the other 50%. This was supposed to raise some 500 million dollars, which far exceeded the immediate absorption capacity of the project (1977 estimates put reconstruction costs at 450 million dollars, but spread over several years). Nor, for that matter, were owners offered financial compensation for their expropriated properties. Promoters of the plan justified this phase by the fact that the rightful claimants to the city center were unable to finance reconstruction operations. The rightful claimants presented three reasons why they opposed the plan: the project forced them to associate with third parties; it was unconstitutional because it deprived them of their private property, transferring it to a private real estate company; and there was no proof that they were unable to pay or borrow money for the reconstruction of the old city. The great haste of the promoters of the project simply increased suspicion as to their real intentions. [7] The law, which was put severely to the test in parliament, [8] lacked firm guarantees protecting small private property owners, and its implementation was questioned by the Council of State in July 1992. Rumors of prevarication, as well as public criticism, [9] surrounded the way the project was finally adopted by parliament. It is the master plan itself, however, which presents the most problems. Built around three principal poles, it has taken the shape of a futuristic dream for some, and of a falsely modernist nightmare for others. The first pole is constituted by three parallel north-south roads, including a large avenue ten meters wider than the Champs-Elysees in Paris. This new organization of the city wipes out public squares, framing the new city center with motorways and boulevards. Thus, Martyrs Square the symbol of the old Beirut, is opened to the sea and drowned by the wide avenue. For those familiar with the work of the great American town planners, sociologists, and architects, who sought to revive public places destroyed by urban highways, it is astonishing to see that the creators of this project learned so little from their experience. [10] According to the plan, thousands of parking lots are to be built and exploited by the real estate company, yet without any serious study of traffic networks. The plan does not explain where the tens of thousands of cars entering and leaving the city center will feed into, especially since very little interest is given to public transportation such as tramways, buses, and subways. Yet the clogging up of the old city will effectively deprive Beirut’s inhabitants of physical access to the revived center; not to mention the difficulties in social access. [11] The second pole of the project is the construction of a virtual wall of enormous twenty-story towers planned for the sea front, which would reduce to a minimum the famous view of the sea the project supposedly promotes. But are these buildings -- in reality fortresses of glass and iron according to the “modernist” norms of the 1960s -- really necessary, even from an economic standpoint? [12] Moreover, who will fill up the enormous space in these buildings? Besides, isn’t modernism today more concerned with safeguarding or reorganizing one’s architectural heritage rather than overshadowing it? Many considered the new urban landscape set forth in this project as falsely modernist and too radical. Yet the problems raised by the 1991 project can only be understood if what was the third pole of the plan is highlighted. It consisted of developing an island offshore from the seaside Avenue des Français, built on a huge deposit of rubbish and debris left over from wartime Beirut. The symbolism was powerful: from the destruction of the past emerged a new piece of salvageable land offshore. In fact, the plan placed more high-rises and government buildings on the island. Estimated generally at about thirty hectares, [13] development of the island was designed to reap a large financial profit. It was also, according to us, the key to the rationale behind the master plan. At the end of 1992, the intention to develop the island was abandoned. The decision appears to have been a tardy recognition of the criticism leveled at the plan. Nevertheless, this did not lessen the apparent reasoning which was originally behind the island project, namely the isolation of a part of the old city center from the rest of the city. At the same time, the decision not to develop the island had little effect on the rest of the reconstruction project. On the contrary, the move was accompanied by the revelation that the promoters intended to compensate for the loss of the island by constructing a large number of high-rises in other parts of the city center, thus further reducing room for public space, and destroying a larger proportion of older buildings. Nor, for that matter, were any new proposals made on solving likely traffic problems. The technical weaknesses of the plan cannot be considered a reflection of the weakness of the firm which produced it. [14] The monumentality of the city center’s road networks and architecture will one day clash with the appearance of the rest of the city, bogged down in its own unresolved problems relating to cleanliness, green spaces, traffic, the rehabilitation of partially destroyed buildings, etc. In fact, the likelihood is that an island of wealth will arise in the city center, following the examplperhaps, of Manhattan and the Bronx, where a section of New York City continues to be developed, while another is allowed to sink into decline. If the plan intends to limit mass circulation into the city center, it is legitimate to ask whether this isn’t intentional on the part of its promoters, specifically to isolate the city center from the rest of Beirut. This would explain why the project seeks to reduce public spaces where coexistence, interaction, exchange, and trade can take place. It is odd to find that all urban functions such as public administration, offices, tourism for the elite, and luxury shops, are to be concentrated in the old city center. More popular shops, however, are excluded from the project. This is precisely the problem: conceived of as an island of wealth and power, the city center would no longer have a centralizing role, but would instead become an island like all the other urban islands which arose during the war. Yet it is difficult not to see the tenuousness of this aspect of the project, which concentrates authority and wealth in the city center. The buildings offered for sale are enormous in size, and it is uncertain whether their quantity or quality meet any sort of real demand. A gap between supply and demand would be catastrophic, and shows why it would be more prudent to integrate into the plan more middle and lower scale construction and activities downtown. Although the first pictures of the project shown to the public were appealing, the demolition of three hundred buildings in the old city center, without determining whether they could be salvaged [15], generated a contrary feeling. What the fighting had not managed to destroy of the urban memory and the national heritage, the bulldozers of those reconstructing the city destroyed far more radically. Extreme, deceptively modernist, the 1991 project must be modified, otherwise the reconstruction process will be at a stalemate. Projects Adrift With time, the Beirut reconstruction projects multiplied without being really alike. One thing has changed in each of the projects, however: the interest of the concerned populations. The middle class, which made up the old city center and was its sociological bulwark before the war, has gradually seen its role in a reconstructed Beirut fade away. If middle class participation was at the center of the 1977 project, it disappeared completely in that of 1991. Moreover, the 1991 project definitively pushes out of the center those who had been forced to leave as a result of the destruction from the war. Yet how can one conceive of the city’s reconstruction without it also being an opportunity for the financial, political, and cultural regeneration and participation of the middle class worn out by years of fighting? The 1991 reconstruction plan does not reverse the trends provoked by the conflict in Lebanon. This is clear both in the structure of the new center, developed as an island separated from the rest of Beirut. It is also clear in that the problems resulting from the war are to be solved by acts of authority rather than through collaboration. Moreover, the CDR does not consider the state and its public administration as objects of reform, but as institutions to be marginalized as they were during the war. In order to answer the three series of questions raised in the beginning of this article, we can argue that: As time went by, the master plans tended to abandon the concept of urban integration and to adapt themselves -- too easily according to us -- to the divisions, disunity, and segregation existing between different regions and social classes. Proof of this is the little interest given to the regeneration of public spaces, the predominance of office buildings to which access is controlled, and the urban island which dominated the 1991 project. The message is ambiguous: does it mean recognition of the failure of segregation, or rather an acceptance of the failure of pre-war coexistence? Having answered this question differently, each reconstruction plan chose to develop or reduce the integrative functions of the spaces they sought to rehabilitate. In presenting their vision of a constructed Beirut, the different master plans also had to relate it to different memories of the city. The question was which memory would predominate? Would it be that of a Beirut broken up by communal conflict, or instead would it be a return to the nostalgia of a golden age of coexistence in the capital, which some say never existed, and which many of the young never knew? The different master plans provided increasingly less possibility for private individuals to re-appropriate urban space in the old city center: in the 1977 project, small landowners were financially responsible for rehabilitation of up to 75% of the land. In the 1986 project, this role was gradually shifted to the state; while by 1991, financing was in the hands of a monopolistic private conglomerate. Predictably, the conglomerate has avoided the intervention of external public authorities in the financing of reconstruction, whether by the World Bank or other international organizations. Nor would it be surprising to see it weaken concerned state institutions to insure its continued domination over reconstruction. But most important, the conglomerate will continue to refuse and discourage the financing of reconstruction by the middle class. What appears instead is a will to marginalize civil society and the middle classes, whose participation is necessary to any democratic system. The rationale behind reconstruction has for too long depended on a massive external injection of capital, thus reducing the participation of civil society to a secondary role. Doesn’t protecting small property owners also, paradoxically, mean protecting the public domain? Isn’t time a factor which every reconstruction plan should take into account; time to permit the vital element in a society to participate in the rehabilitation of a city, rather tan depending on an external injection of capital, which has yet to materialize. In our opinion, if these key questions are ignored, the reconstruction of Beirut will be heading towards disaster. A Cultural Crisis: From the Ottoman City to the Wahabi City? The crisis is much deeper than it appears. Peace in Lebanon, like the war perhaps, was imposed from outside the country. In reality, however, true internal peace has yet to be achieved; or rather, the end to the violence in Lebanon was not the result of the victory of civil movements, but of the defeat of the militias. Unfortunately, the transition from a culture of war based on discord, [16] to one based on reconstruction and concord is not automatic. If anything, the recent political landscape of Lebanon has witnessed developments which tended to undermine this transition. What is taking place in terms of reconstruction is as pernicious. What was defended in the 1977 project was a return to the Ottoman city, with its heritage of coexistence between communities and tolerance. What was at stake in the 1986 project was integration through the organization of a more modern city, permitting, but not ordering, relations between its inhabitants, while allowing them access to the center. In the plan of 1991, a new model is presented of a city dominated by one actor through its political and financial capabilities. The concentration of downtown property in the hands of a few, the reduction of public spaces, and the refusal of a public debate, the privatization of the state and its authority, are all major outlines of what we may call the Wahabi city. The major feature of this is a central authority controlling and redistributing wealth, and in the process reorganizing and weakening civil society. Did the Ottoman pattern fail in Beirut because tolerance did not lead to democracy? Was the process of modernization a failure because the warlords hijacked it? Whatever the answer, the three reconstruction projects each presented a certain vision of the city. The vision which dominates the 1991 project is that of a desert city in which the urban elite submits to the uncontested authoof those who control the wealth and who are the defenders of cultural conservatism. It is a vision of a city broken up into segregated islands. But is Beirut really a desert city? Is a city without a history, which one can simply abandon to the bulldozers? How can one explain the indifference of officials when three hundred buildings, many of which made up the heart of the city’s heritage, were allowed to be demolished? Will Beirut be reconstructed without being lost, without closing itself off, without ultimately being forced to deny itself? Will the feeling of tolerance which existed in the Ottoman city be allowed to prevail once again? Endnotes These themes have been developed in Reconstruire Beyrouth, les paris sur le possible, Maison de l’Orient, Université de Lyon, 1991. VALUE=1>See Mitri Nammar, “Le Plan Directeur du Centre de Beyrouth,” URBA, July 1983. See Jad Tabet in Reconstruire Beyrouth, les paris sur le possible, op. cit. See Abdo Kahi, Le Centre-ville de Beyrouth, Direction Générale de l’Urbanisme, 1980. The conference of the Urban Research Institute, held in Beirut in May 1992, with the support of the Ford Foundation, exemplified this mood; as did a manifesto issued by the Engineers Union, or that of the so-called “six engineers” who met to criticize the plan. A declaration generally attributed to Salim al-Hoss, prime minister in 1977. The great haste of the promoters was particularly noticeable on the occasions: when three poorly written draft law was submitted to the parliament; when the master plan was first presented, despite its containing many technical deficiencies; and when so-called dangerous historic buildings were hurriedly demolished, even before waiting for the adoption of the whole plan or ascertaining whether the buildings were indeed dangerous. In addition, the improper methods used to demolish the buildings damaged sections of other structures which were to be preserved. The adoption of the project by Parliament delayed its implementation for several months. The Deputy from Beirut, Najah Wakim, made public accusations of corruption, and was threatened with having his parliamentary immunity suspended. Cf. the writings of R. Sennett and of other great American urban sociologists, on the disappearance of public spaces in large American cities in favor of culture of highways and avenues. The criticism of the Directorate General of Urbanism (Direction Génénrale de l’Urbanisme) is, in part, directed at this feature of the plan. The economic profitability of such architectural projects turned out to be a disappointing in the Defense quarter in Paris, as well as the London docks area. Other, more fanciful, suggestions spoke of 200 hectares. The Dar al-Handasah firm, which has been responsible for several important projects in the Gulf and in Saudi Arabia, has, in the case of Beirut, presented poorly-studied proposals. It’s amazing, for instance, how no study was conducted of the sea-bed around the proposed island, when it is known that an underwater canyon of about two hundred meters depth is located no more than two hundred meters away from the island’s edge. The weakness of the firm’s studies on means of transportation was also subject to criticism. The destruction took place in the spring of 1992 and looked very much like a surreptitious effort to evade criticism for the annihilation of the city’s memory. The last Ottoman and Medieval remains in Beirut were destroyed, and it is still not known who ordered the demolition. See George Corm on the way the culture of discord was used, in Géopolitique du conflit libanais, Maspéro, Paris, 1989.

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