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OUR LATEST POSTS

A lot of bottles will be piling up on the streets tonight. Soon they will be in landfills or riverbeds, adding to the mountains of garbage that are destroying our environment.  But what if the bottles (71 million per year) went to the right place? What if the they could be reused to help support Lebanon’s endangered glass blowing industry–one of the oldest trades (think Phoenician) that the country has ever known? And what if you could do something about this?

The good news is you can. You can help support this new project by simply sharing the crowd funding campaign, donating a few dollars or buying your holiday gifts online from Lebanese artisan glass blowers. The money will go toward purchasing a glass recycling truck and glass recycling bins to be placed around Beirut.

It’s called the Green Glass Recycling Initiative Lebanon (watch the video above) and it’s being spearheaded by Environmental Engineer Ziad Abichaker. His projects have already had a significant impact on Lebanon’s growing recycling industry. These include existing programs that process waste at several towns in Lebanon, used to produce fertilizer and building materials, such as those used to construct the country’s first recycled building and brewery, which I covered earlier this year.

You can also watch Ziad’s Ted Talk here.

Give this initiative some thought next time you are throwing away bottles or complaining about pollution in Lebanon.

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It seems unthinkable today, but did you know that there were plans to build a train line from Lebanon to Syria as recently as 2002? The price tag of the project was around $700,000– “the cost of a minister’s house,” exclaims Elias Maalouf, the head of the Train/Train NGO.

The group is now trying to revive plans to build a Byblos-Batroun line as an initial project to help get the momentum going for more investments in a nation-wide network. With no public transport and more cars and traffic everyday, going without trains is a luxury our lungs (and minds) can no longer afford.

Elias and the others have accomplished a lot in the last few years, holding exhibitions across the country, giving lectures and workshops, publishing books and now preparing studies to go forward. But they could use your help.

Tomorrow the Train/Train group is holding their second brainstorming session and it is open to the public. It will be held at Berytech in the Beirut Digital District at 7PM. And if you can’t make it, get in touch with them through their Facebook page to find out how you can help.

Architects, engineers, students, activists and just plain concerned citizens showed up to the last meeting:

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Will you be there?

For a little inspiration see this previous post on Lebanon’s 100 years of locomotive history and engineering innovation. And for some more background, see a recent piece in The Independent as well as a post on Gino’s Blog with links to some cool videos and interviews. Thankfully the issue is getting media attention, but it will also take volunteers on the ground to make the project happen. As we all know in Lebanon, the government won’t act without real public pressure. Your pressure.

 

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If you need directions to the digital district, it’s on the street parallel to Falafel Sahyoun in Bachoura (Bechara el Khoury street), near downtown/ring bridge. Feel free to contact me for more details by using the ‘contact us’ form at the top of the page.

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The Daily Star

As battles rage in Tripoli, much of the focus seems to be on the fighting itself, the death toll, the army strategy, the bombing raids by helicopter and the weapons seized. But how did all this get started? Who are the players behind the violence and why?

One of the main assailants appears to be Ahmad Salim Mikati. Interestingly he was reportedly arrested previously in connection to possible involvement in a series of bombs targeting fast food restaurants, attempts to send bombs to foreign embassies as well as deadly clashes with the Lebanese army as far back as 1999, well before the fighting began in Syria.

So why was he released after just 6 years in prison and what do his previously involvements tell us about this man and his objectives and support base?

I’m using a new open source fact checking tool called CheckDesk to try to compile what is being reported and what is not being reported in this case. Contribute to the story here. Also check out the other stories on the main page. There are both English and Arabic sections.

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This may be your last chance to see some of the oldest buildings in Furn El Hayek, including these early century storefronts, which are about to be demolished.

 

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The shops are built into an old stone wall that hugs a corner in the Achrafieh neighborhood, overflowing with greenery–an increasingly rare site in the concrete city Beirut has become.

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I was told by older residents that this was once a garden connected to two nearby buildings (seen at the right corner) built during the Art Deco period in the early 1900s.

Naji, an activist with Save Beirut Heritage, drew our attention to the endangered buildings about 10 days ago, when he posted some pictures on Facebook including this one:

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But when I visited the area yesterday, I found the same building covered in tarp with the balconies and window facades now torn out –valuable items in the antique market, one would suspect:

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The buildings were classified as “protected” by the Culture Ministry. However that designation was voided by the high court or Majlis el Shura, which reportedly ruled in favor of the landlord who had appealed against the designated protection. And apparently he won.

The second building behind it has already been gutted:

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Floors and ceilings broken through:

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Revealing the old sandstone construction pieces, now used as glorified paper weights, holding down the demolition panels on the sidewalk:

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The old sandstone walls are also revealed in the exterior property wall:

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Which neatly wraps around the block, near the shops:

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If you make it today or tomorrow, you might still catch a glimpse of the early 1900s architectural features that will be lost:

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As well as some of the contemporary graffiti, that has colored the abandoned block over recent years, as residents have died or moved out:

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When new towers are developed in the area, will there be any place for posters or street art?

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There are still a few old buildings in the neighborhood, from Art Deco and earlier eras:

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But they are rapidly being replaced, by the looming towers:

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Uniform facades, free of any ornamentation:

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No distinct balconies or metal work:

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Which city would you rather live in?

More importantly, why is this happening and what can be done? Similar demolitions are taking place across Achrafieh. So why are courts ruling in favor of the property owners despite the Culture Ministry’s designations, produced by expert architects? Does the Culture Ministry lack the lobbying power or capacity to appeal such high court decisions or to provide a legal framework for heritage protection that will have more influence in the courts?

I will try to tackle some of these questions in an upcoming column. Any feedback, particularly from people who know the laws, would be appreciated.

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If you would like to visit the area, it can be accessed from Charles Malik street, near the BLC bank (Tabaris area). Take the diagonal road (Chehade) that goes up the hill. It is just passed the restaurant Beirut Cellar, the green patch on the bottom right corner.

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Serena Shim filming a report at a Baghdad checkpoint earlier this year. Source: Facebook.

I didn’t know Serena Shim very well and I haven’t spoke to her in years. She was killed yesterday in Turkey, apparently in a car accident. Her employer, Press TV, is linking the death to threats she had received from Turkish security services a few days earlier. But so far there isn’t a lot of evidence to better understand the conditions of the crash.

I met Serena about 8 or 9 years ago at a media production company we worked at in Beirut. She was fresh out of school and began anchoring a program. She had lived in the US and would say things like “I come from the Burj,” with a thick Detroit accent. Her reference was to Burj Al Barajneh, a densely populated neighborhood in south Beirut close to a major Palestinian refugee camp. She also occasionally wore ‘boots with the fur’ which were in fashion at the time.  Serena donned the veil only on camera due to the policy of her employer.

Though some of us in the office didn’t think she was ready to anchor a program, Serena ended up proving everyone wrong and went on to cover conflict zones around the world from Iraq to Ukraine. She was hard working and enthusiastic. But I will always remember her sassy attitude and the way she would make us laugh during the brief period we worked together. RIP Serena: we can only imagine where your career would have taken you.

Watch her last broadcast here, as she describes the pressure she was under by Turkish authorities, who had accused her of “spying.”

 

 

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It was great to finally meet Karem Shehada (left) and Mohammed El-Madhoun (right) tonight. Mohammed is the editor in chief of Watania News Agency, Gaza’s most prominent news outlet and Karem is head of IT. The two were co-participants with myself and Beirut Report in 4M, a six month accelerator program to support independent media in the region. But Karem and Mohammed never made it to Beirut– where the program was being held– until today, for the last week of the cycle. This is because of repeated closures at the Egyptian/Gaza border following the war, as well as the election of Egyptian general, Abdel Fatah Al Sisi. (Palestinians were far freer to travel and cross the border under deposed president Morsi, they said).

At 25, it was Karem’s first time out of Gaza and first time on an airplane. It was Mohammed’s first time on a plane since he was a child. But the trip was not easy. The two had to travel to the border–which they say can only be accessed through “wasta” (connections) and where they say Egyptian guards charge up to a whopping $700 per person for crossing– far out of the range of most Gazans. Once in Cairo, they and other Palestinians are escorted to the airport, where they are held in the basement–they are not allowed out and there is barely any food inside. Along with the other Palestinians, they were forced to sleep on the floor overnight and had to pay triple or quadruple the price to have food brought to them by Egyptian airport workers. Both were really excited to be here. “I’m trying to absorb everything,” Karem said, wide-eyed and with a big smile as he looked up and down Hamra street.

They only had one complaint: “I can’t believe how slow the internet is,” Karem exclaimed, telling me the upload and download rates in Gaza are 4mbps, more than 4 times the average download speeds in Beirut and more than 10 times the upload speeds.

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For those interested, the guys and I will be speaking at the 4M media conference this weekend. See link for details.