Archives par étiquette : Beirut

Seafront Reclamations, Rubble, and Waste: A Metabolic Reading of Lebanese Urbanization

Jana Nakhal and Abir Saksouk from Public Works Studio recently asked me to write about Beirut’s seafront reclamations among a series of pieces dealing with rubble, seen not only a metaphor of the Lebanese condition but its mere material incarnation. You can find the whole series here, the intro piece (Rubble. Back Filling as a Process of Rewriting History) by Jana Nakhal and my own article, which I reproduce here.

Since the outbreak of the waste crisis in the wider Beirut area in 2015, the Lebanese government has resorted to the supposedly temporary solution of storing municipal waste in the coastal landfills of Borj Hammoud, Jdeideh, and Costa Brava. Far from being new or temporary, this solution is in fact merely a repetition of decisions implemented during the Civil War, and in a number of Lebanese coastal regions such as Saida and Tripoli, all of which share several characteristics.[1] For instance, reclamations are often assigned to areas allotted for development in urban plans from the 1950s and 1960s, that were never implemented. These reclamations have become an important source for public works and real estate actors who are linked to leading Lebanese politicians, to dramatically increase profits and, in some cases, monopolize the land rent generated by these developments. Finally, the material that gives these embankments their reality erupts in moments of what we might call metabolic disturbances: when a seemingly sudden urban crisis results in an unexpected flow of materials that need to be stored in a particular place (e.g. municipal waste, rubble). These mechanisms of urbanization are a clear illustration of the notion of the Anthropocene, in that they constitute a new geological stratum created by human action. Continuer la lecture

Linking Economic Change With Social Justice In Mar Mikhael

In 2016, I was honored to be the tutor of this very interesting report written by four brilliant Sciences Po students from the Masters’ Program Governing the Large Metropolis, for the account of Gaia Heritage (thanks to George Zouein) and the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs. But I never referenced it on this blog. The recent blast that delolished many buildings, businesses and places of life in the neighborhood makes it a useful resource that deserves attention.

Here is the full reference and a link to download the report:

Gerbal Lisa, Nicolas Hrycaj, Camille Lavoipierre et Marissa Potasiak. Linking Economic Change With Social Justice In Mar Mikhael, Beirut, Gaia Heritage/Sciences Po/Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, 2016.

According to multiple measures, Mar Mikhael is one of Beirut’s most distinctive neighborhoods, defined by a unique assortment of art galleries and car repair shops, a network of brightly-painted staircases and a long-abandoned train station, and a diverse mix of older, long-time residents and young newcomers. Yet on the issue of gentrification the case of Mar Mikhael is more familiar, as the neighborhood has recently seen a rapid influx of new bars and restaurants, as well as real estate investors and high-rise apartments, all of which have contributed to a neighborhood where:

▸ Housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

▸ Long-time residents face a risk of displacement.

▸ High-rise apartments detract from the neighborhood’s unique human scale.

▸ Shared spaces such as sidewalks, streets, and the stairs are increasingly overtaken by private actors.

▸ Creative industries remain economically vulnerable and socially disconnected.

▸ Residents have little influence over public policy impacting their neighborhood.

By analyzing these recent developments (all of which could be worsened by the implementation of the 2014 New Rent Law) in light of the more long-term, structural processes of change at work in the city – including the development of a powerful growth coalition in the mid- 1990s – this report argues that Mar Mikhael is just the most recent example of a cycle of urban change and gentrification that is transforming the city of Beirut, often in a manner that reduces housing affordability, dramatically alters the built environment, and weakens long-established communities. Therefore, this report offers numerous strategies and solutions for the alleviation of these problems in Mar Mikhael, inspired by the notions such as the right to the city, fieldwork conducted in the neighborhood, and case studies from other rapidly-gentrifying and creative cities around the world. Together these strategies offer a vision for a socially just Mar Mikhael, creating a neighborhood where:

▸ Long-time residents can afford to remain in their homes.

▸ New sources of affordable housing are accessible to both current and future residents.

▸ All residents have access to shared spaces.

▸ Formerly restricted public spaces receive a new life as parks, affordable housing, or cultural centers.

▸ The “human scale” of the built environment is retained.

▸ Arts, crafts, and design industries (ACDs) are economically resilient, and actively invested in the community.

▸ Residents can effectively work together to direct the future of their neighborhood.

Thus the strategies presented in this report center around five main issues. First, on the issue of making Mar Mikhael more affordable, these strategies include:

▸ Building upon the precedents set in Tripoli for state-led affordable housing projects, and Tyre for community-led projects.

▸ Engaging private and philanthropic actors to create non-profit affordable housing developers in Mar Mikhael.

▸ Using Waqf land as a site of affordable housing in the neighborhood. Second, to increase access to Mar Mikhael’s shared, public spaces, including the sidewalks, streets, stairs, and the train station, this report recommends:

▸ Conducting a GIS survey and walkability audit to encourage city officials to enforce existing sidewalk regulations.

▸ Using legal claims under Law 220/2000 as a means of retrofitting the neighborhood’s existing sidewalks.

▸ Closing Armenia Street to cars every Sunday morning to allow residents to walk, bike, and rollerblade freely.

▸ Listing Mar Mikhael’s still-unprotected stairs as worthy of preservation.

▸ Advocating for plans that would permanently transform the Mar Mikhael train station, while implementing short-term uses such as an open-air cinema or weekend market.

Third, on the issue of maintaining Mar Mikhael’s human scale, this report recommends:

▸ Designating Mar Mikhael as a protected zone, with regulations to limit building height.

▸ Creating incentives such as transferable development rights to encourage developers to preserve the neighborhood’s scale. Fourth, to foster a neighborhood-based creative economy in Mar Mikhael, some strategies include:

▸ Raising the awareness of the arts, crafts, and design industries (ACDs) regarding local concerns through joint cultural events and a community-based platform for communication and cooperation.

▸ Highlighting the link between creative activity and the larger urban environment through regular urban tours of Mar Mikhael.

▸ Developing systematic, consistent opportunities for training and assistance for the ACDs through workshops and conferences. Finally, creating a neighborhood council for Mar Mikhael represents this report’s fifth solution, which necessitates:

▸ Broadly defining neighborhood council membership and authority.

▸ Finding a political ally who can give it the institutional legitimacy necessary to successfully influence government policy.

▸ Employing Beirut-based universities, foundations, and private parties as sources of funding and administrative support.

Reforming Failed Infrastructure, Struggling for the State: Lessons from Lebanon

Watch the full video of the Centre for Policy Research-CSH (Centre de Sciences Humaines) workshop, featuring Eric Verdeil on ‘Reforming Failed Infrastructure, Struggling for the State: Lessons from Lebanon’ on the 30th of october 2018.

The talk considers infrastructure as a site for the examination of urban governance in Lebanon, in a context of failure of the state to provide basic public services such as electricity and waste. The argument is threefold. First, public infrastructure is a site of political struggle. Political actors seek to make infrastructure serve certain political and social interests, demonstrating their belief that these state institutions and instruments produce a range of effects worth competing for. Second, the talk challenges the view that neoliberalism and sectarianism are radically narrowing and marginalising the state and its institutions. Third, despite failing to deliver the expected service outcomes, the complex assemblage of more-or-less reformed infrastructural policy instruments produces strong social effects in terms of wealth distribution. These instruments accentuate Lebanese society’s gaps and inequalities. This outcome is largely unintended, as is often the case with public policy instruments. It is a product of the work of state institutions, however, and not proof of their absence. To make this argument, this talk explores urban services in Beirut through the main types of instruments that successive governments and their advisers—commonly from the World Bank and other international organisations—have adopted for their reform: the geographic boundaries of the zones where urban services are organised; the services’ financing instruments, such as subsidies and pricing; and public-private partnerships.

Eric Verdeil is Professor of Geography and Urban Studies at Sciences Po, Paris and researcher at the Centre for International Research (CERI).

The question and answer session that followed can be accessed here.

This talk is based on this article (a kind of Q&A summary is also to be found here)