Post-war urban ‘reconstruction’ in downtown Beirut: social and environmental destructions in a privatised area

Topics: Social Geography, Urban Geography, Middle East
Keywords: Beirut, destruction, reconstruction, privatisation, activism
Session Type: Paper
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In downtown Beirut, the privately owned real estate company Solidere commanded the ‘reconstruction’ effort after the civil war (1975-1991). Its profit-oriented plans have been condemned by academics and activist groups alike, for it consists of what Heiko Schmid (2006: 368) describes as an ‘extreme privatisation of the urban’: a profit-oriented process that has physically and intellectually excluded owners, tenants, refugees and former elites to prioritize private, international investments. It created a new legal framework and a decision monopoly in the hands of Hariri and some of his close collaborators. 80% of Beirut city centre’s buildings were destroyed in the ‘reconstruction’ process.
Activist groups such as Save Beirut Heritage (SBH), the Civil Campaign to Protect the Dalieh of Raouche or Nahnoo have been contesting what they conceive as an urban planning and social failure of Hariri’s grand plans: the monopoly on the destruction and building of infrastructure in Beirut, the rapidity with which public space and historical buildings have disappeared and the anarchical and often illegal construction of new buildings. Beirut has completely transformed into what locals call a ‘ghost town’: a deserted, quiet, highly secured area.
This paper looks at the geographic and social impacts of urban planning failures in Beirut and more particularly at 1) the environmental and social impacts of the privatisation of the city and 2) how activist groups have tried to reclaim public space and be in charge of the future of their own city.

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