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gentrification

Before and after pictures were at the heart of the project to rebuild downtown Beirut following the Lebanese war. These images filled the pages of promotional material, coffee table books and photography exhibits hosted and commissioned by Solidere, the private real estate firm that undertook the project. Some of these images can still be found displayed at the airport today, 25 years after reconstruction began:

Credit: Ayman Trawi
Credit: Ayman Trawi

Even holograms have been made to showcase the transformations.

But then there are the before-and-after pictures you don’t see-those that cover the vast majority of  neighborhoods in the old city reconstruction zone, which were not restored but demolished.

Take this image that was recently uploaded to Facebook by Gabriel Daher. (If you like old Beirut buildings, you should definitely be following him.)

Photo: Gaby Daher

You might recognize the large Capitole building on the right, a former cinema that still stands today and is more recently known for hosting nightclubs like the now defunct Buddah Bar and its current rooftop lounge. The Riad Solh statue would later occupy the empty space in the corner, which seems to be still under construction here.

While Capitole–and the corner building just left of it (formally used by Pan American Airways) are often seen in old photos of the city,  what is less often seen is the neighborhood in the foreground.

Here is another shot of the neighborhood as posted on the same Facebook thread by another great archivist, Kheireddine Al-Ahdab. This time the perspective is from above the Capitole building (left) revealing a large swathe of buildings across the street, bordering the Lazarieh tower on the far left.

Al-Ahdab identified this neighborhood to be known as Ghalghoul. So what happened to it?

I was able to track down this photo of Ghalghoul from 1991. Many of the buildings appear to have survived the war:

Photo: Rene Burri

But during reconstruction, the entire area was eventually leveled.

In this picture from 2013, we can see Ghalghoul has been reduced to a series of parking lots. All that remains is the double arched building in the photo above. Its blue canvas roof now replaced with red tiles.

IMG_3764

The big hole in the foreground was supposed to be a mall but that project was stopped when ruins were found on the site and a public pressure campaign began not long after photos of the excavations were leaked to the public. You can read more about those discoveries here.

In this shot we can see that the Capitole building on the far right has been restored, but now faces a large void where Ghalghoul once stood.

Dozens if not scores of buildings were razed, leaving barely any trace of the neighborhood.

Here is an aerial view showing the extent of the destruction in between El Amir Bachir street and the Fouad Chehab highway ( Route 51) and in between Syria street and Cheikh Toufik Khaled-nearly all flattened as parking lots.

In fact the only time Ghalghoul saw life again in the postwar period was during the protests of 2006-2009, when a tent city was established in its parking lots by opposition parties calling for the resignation of the government.

Photo: Richard van der Graaf

I tried to find more about Ghalghoul but the only results seem to be images of its destruction shot in the early 1990s, such as this 1995 series by Fouad Elkhoury. Many of the buildings were still standing:

Fouad Elkhoury

Until the bulldozing began:

Fouad Elkhoury
Fouad Elkhoury

It’s often said that more of Beirut was destroyed by the bulldozers of reconstruction than through the shelling of the war. In fact, some 80 percent of the old city was reportedly demolished under the Solidere plan. So while there are plenty of pictures of the 260 odd buildings that were restored, you won’t find any trace of the hundreds of buildings that were leveled, entire neighborhoods and streets erased, not only in Ghalghoul but everywhere large parking lots are found today such Martyr’s Square, Saifi, Zeitouni and others. Wadi Abu Jmel, Beirut’s old Jewish quarter is among these. I was lucky enough to document some of the last buildings and meet the Wadi’s last resident before she died in this piece a few years ago for Al Jazeera.

How many other untold stories are out there from people and neighborhoods that were left out of Solidere’s vision?

If anyone has any memories of Ghalghoul or other razed neighborhoods, please feel free to share in the comments below and I would be happy to update the post.

 

 

 

Screenshot of video via Jad Ghorayeb

 

A number of images are appearing on social media today documenting the demolition of one of Lebanon’s first major factories and reportedly the oldest brewery in the Middle East.

Photographer Jad Ghorayeb posted this video this afternoon on Facebook:

Demolition has begun.. @ "Laziza Grande Brasserie du Levant"

Posted by Jad Ghorayeb on Monday, March 27, 2017

 

Activists tell me the demolition of the old Laziza brewery in the very dense working class Beirut neighborhood of Mar Mikhael could cause public health problems, as well as long term gentrification effects driving up the cost of living, and thus indirectly evicting residents and small family-owned businesses that have existed for generations.

Photo: L’Orient Le Jour, posted Oct. 2016

The old sign has recently been removed, seen in this picture taken his morning:

And scaffolding went up last week:

So why is this happening, and if local residents are not a priority, who is?

Capstone Investment

The Laziza brewery, established in the early 1930s, will be demolished to create luxury flats by famous Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury, known for his exclusive nightclubs and appartments, affordable by a tiny fraction of the population.

According to the developer, Capstone Investment Group, the site will become “Mar Mikhael Village”

“Mar Mikhael Village entails the conversion of an old brewery into chic and trendy Lofts that exemplify contemporary city living in the hip area of Mar Mikhael.”

On his website, Khoury makes the argument that the height of the floors make it impossible for residential housing, lamenting its loss. He says a “ghost” of the building will be preserved, bringing back the sign and creating a small homage to part of the facade, dwarfed by a new massive superstructure.

Bernard Khoury website
Bernard Khoury website
Bernard Khoury website

Khoury says the demolition is “unfortunate” but inevitable: “The project’s relationship with the memory of its predecessor no longer lies in the mummification of the edifice that was to be recuperated, but instead rests on the acknowledgment of its unfortunate demolition, the tracing of its now-absent morphology and the poetry of its vital disappearance.”

But was a luxury residence really the only possibility here?

A piece that recently appeared in L’Orient Le Jour takes issue with Khoury’s comments, and questions their self-serving appearance. The piece argued that architects and investors bear a responsibility to the city beyond lip service and lamentation. Here is an excerpt translated from French via Google:

“But if the building is not suitable for housing, then the will to build should not be used as an excuse to demolish it. The problem does not lie in the inability of the Brewery to adapt, but in the choice of program which is unsuitable. Other programs, cultural, commercial, leisure, could indeed have been imagined there.”

The building should be preserved in its entirety and in all its parts whose composition is exceptional, witness of its rich history. But if it were nevertheless to concede to the financial reality, it would have been possible for example to preserve the central building and to allow itself to build on the rest of the ground. Real estate in Beirut is one of the most profitable in the world and even if this share of the 13,500m2 building is not exploited, the project will remain largely profitable.”

Yet this story is not just about the brewery but also the broader Mar Mikhael neighborhood, one of Beirut’s best preserved, and the dozens of developments and mega construction sites that are taking a toll on residents:

“The heritage situation in Beirut is indeed catastrophic: delusional real estate, absence of Masterplan, an obsolete heritage law that is struggling to be replaced by a modern law, blocked by politicians … As a result, demolished historic buildings and traditional neighborhoods Disfigured.However, the area where the Grande Brasserie du Levant is located is largely preserved and is a rare chance to preserve a historic quarter for the future. Such a massive project, replacing such an iconic building, is a violent act that will only initiate the disintegration of this precious urban fabric.”

Important questions raised by this project

What do local residents think of what is happening to their neighborhood? Why are their views rarely heard and why is the conversation on these mega projects frequently narrated by super wealthy real estate companies and starchitects? Why are people who own so much dominating a conversation over people who have barely a place to live?

How will projects like this one effect the residents health and livelihoods? What sort of pollution do these projects entail? How do they affect air quality, traffic, road closures and ability to do business? Do they also encourage other projects that will have similar effects, bringing more cars and pollution to the neighborhood?

Who are the developers, who owns Capstone Investment Group and what are there intentions, not just with the brewery but elsewhere in the city? Do big companies like this give back to the city, in terms of taxes and local development, or are the profits largely tax free?

What is the role of law and regulations? Are there laws to protect residents, average citizens living in the neighborhood? Do they have any rights to having their homes and livelihoods protected? Or were the laws and zoning regulations written to protect developers, who are often politically-connected elites?

What is the role of the ministry of culture? Some have said the previous minister opposed this project, has something changed? What about the urban planning departments, the municipality of Beirut, architecture and engineering syndicates? Are these government and professional bodies speaking on behalf of the country and the public or do they work in the interest of the powerful and well-funded?

Activists are planning to organize around this project so I will have more updates and background as it  becomes available. Any insights from readers, residents, old photos, etc would also be appreciated.

 

UPDATE:

A few hours after this post went up, a reader pointed out that there are actually two sets of plans for the “Mar Mikhael Village.” Although Bernard Khoury’s website and the Capstone Investment website both feature designs that incorporate part of the old brewery facade, Mar Mikhael Village also has their own website and Facebook page, where there is no sign of the old facade. In it’s place at the bottom center of the illustration, is a darkened, tilted modernist structure that has no resemblance to the original brewery:

And instead of the brewery sign, we have a similar shaped sign that reads “Mar Mikhael Village”:

Did Mar Mikhael Village just pull a fast one on us? Or are these old pictures? What happened to Bernard Khoury’s poetic “ghost” metaphor?

Also how did a single apartment complex already garner almost 14,000 likes on Facebook since it launched a few months ago?

UPDATE 3:

Photographer Jad Ghorayeb has just posted a beautiful set of photos of the brewery’s interiors. It’s hard not to imagine the potential for a community space, library or cultural venue:

How often do we find a 1930s factory with spiral staircases?

Or a space that recalls an industrial and national heritage that is long forgotten. Thanks to the developers, any potential for reviving it will now be fully erased, replaced by an exclusive gated community. See more photos from Jad’s full album posted on Facebook and also be sure to follow him on instagram for more of his stunning heritage photography.

Photo: Jihad Kiame

Two years ago the Governor of Beirut issued an order to stop demolition of this historically listed Art Deco building in Gemmayze, and shared the news to much fanfare on Facebook, as we reported at the time.

But the image above was taken today and we can clearly see the destruction has resumed after a two year period of quiet. So what happened?

This is not the first time Governor Ziad Chbib has made promises that turn out differently with the passage of time. In a press conference last year, governor Chbib voiced opposition to construction within the city’s only park, Horsh Beirut. He also seemed critical of construction on Beirut’s only public beach Ramlet El Baida. But construction has resumed in both of those projects.

#بلدية_بيروت تبدأ اعمال البناء على قسم من #حرش_بيروت وهو جزء من العقار 1925 وبذلك تستكمل مهمتها بقضم آخر بقعة خضراء في بيروت #اوقفوا_سياسة_قضم_حرش_بيروت

Posted by NAHNOO on Sunday, March 5, 2017

 

And despite a court ruling against construction on the coast, which is prohibited in the Lebanese constitution, the governor failed to enforce the ruling.

Picture taken today shows that construction has resumed on Ramlet El Bayda beach. #الشط_لكل_الناس #StopEdenRock Pic via Firas BouZeineddine

Posted by Paul Samrani on Monday, March 13, 2017

 

These developments only seem to prove that activist victories must be maintained and government officials can never be left alone or relied upon without continuous monitoring. What is going on with the governor’s promises? Are they mainly PR moves to placate a public outcry? Or is the governor less powerful than private business interests? Or is there more to this story?

Let’s not forget that the developer in this case has allegedly harassed activists and threatened violence, as we reported previously.

***

UPDATE: Shortly after posting this, I was informed by a member of the Save Beirut Heritage preservation collective that the building will not be completely demolished: it will be entirely gutted but the facade will remain. Four additional floors will also be added. Here is an artist conception:

 

The Save Beirut Heritage activist informed me that this was a “compromise’ agreement. In fact, the preservation of facades seems to be a popular move being implemented across Beirut, with major construction concealed behind a thin layer of the past. But is facade preservation considered a form of architectural preservation, especially when a building is extended with double the number of floors and turns out looking and feeling radically different than the original?

The nice thing about Gemmayze is that it is one of the few neighborhoods that survived the civil war as well as the even more destructive demolitions of the post war period. It had been one of the few places where one could imagine what Beirut once looked like in the last century, the so-called ‘golden days’ old timers rave about. But that is rapidly changing as more Art Deco and low rise buildings are being torn down, in favor of mega structures, multi-million dollar apartments few can afford and luxury car garages. The result is a radical change not just in the building itself but also the shops, the street life and the overall fabric of the neighborhood, its affordability, its inhabitants.

Go to Gemmayze while you can and enjoy and document as much as possible. In a few years, the neighborhood may be as unrecognizable as the “makeover”  this building is currently undergoing.

A wide range of ancient structures have been uncovered in downtown Beirut that may provide important clues to the city’s millennia-old history. The archaeological digs have been going on for at least several months near the construction of the massive multi-tower project known as Beirut Digital District. Unfortunately walls around the site prevent the public from getting a good view. That is unless, you find a hole in the wall:

Upon a closer look: a row of small buildings is visible from recent excavations. They appear to be on platforms, interspersed with smaller podiums or column bases, and one seems to have steps:.

Below is a closer look at the building in the foreground, taken a few months earlier before the buildings in the background had been fully excavated:

I’ve shown this image to some archaeologists who have mentioned the vaulted structure and what seems to be a smokestack in the background, could be part of an oven of sorts.

Here’s a closer shot:

The assumption is that the site may have been used as a pottery factory. But this is just speculation at this point and we’ll have to wait for the archaeologists’ final report.

From another angle we can see the front facade of the previous vaulted structure, which has an arch.

It is almost as if there is a clearing or path between the two rows of buildings, with a hard white rock surface between them. Here’s another perspective from the back side of the arched building, showing the space between it and the other structures:

Even more intriguing is another row of structures behind these, again with what seems to be a clearing in between them. There is a circular structure on a platform and two other structures with step-like features:

Here, we can see a closer view of both the circular and square bases of what appear to also have been small buildings. The one on the right appears to have column bases.

Here from a different angle we can see the circular building to the right of the column bases, also on a type of platform:

From yet another angle, overlooking these two, we can confirm that these look like column bases, with four on every side, the corner columns appear double-sided:

I began to wonder, what type of building could have 12 flat half columns, all linked together in a box square? I looked through hundreds of pictures online of ancient Roman structures. Most columns on ancient buildings are circular and widely spaced out, part of big temples. I couldn’t find any that matched this small square 12 half column form. Until I stumbled upon this image:

This is Absolom’s tomb in Jerusalem, not too far from Beirut and which some date back to the early Roman period, during which Beirut was prominent, so the time period and location are not too far off.

Here’s another view with a detail on the 12 column square structure with double-sided corner columns:

I want to emphasize this is just my speculation based on numerous image searches and could be something entirely different and perhaps even more interesting.

But there is much more to explore on this sprawling site.

Moving from the multi-column base to the circular structure, which appears to have bedrock inside of it, we can see the back sides of the two small stone structures/buildings in the first image of this post:

Here’s another image of the circular structure from a photo taken earlier this year:

Image: Typhanie Gilbert

Moving in the opposite direction, to the right of the multi-column structure, we can see another stone structure next to it, more of the exposed rock bottom in the middle and what looks like a type of pool or basin right of center. It’s not clear if the steps to the right form any type of structure or were part of the digging process:

I’ve seen this gray basin-like bowl before in an image a friend sent me several months ago. Here we can see a group of neighborhood children playing near it:

Photo credit: Typhanie Cochrane

By tilting the camera angle we can see the children are standing on what appears to be a cobble stone-like path:

Photo credit: Typhanie Cochrane

Unfortunately, the path or floor seems to have disappeared in a photo of the same spot taken a few weeks later, after a heavy rain. Did it collapse or was it moved? There also appears to be some burials in the vicinity:

Finally there is one more very interesting feature to talk about on this site. It looks like a massive wall:

Photo: Typhanie Cochrane

Here is a closer view from a top angle, that appears to show a drain or “manhole” feature:

Photo: Typhanie Cochrane

Could this wall link up with other ruins that are believed to make up the a city wall surrounding Roman Beirut? See previous posts on this site that exposed excavations on what some believe is the Roman Gate of Beirut, found only a few blocks north of here, as well as a wall-like structure found during construction of high rise in Safi a few blocks to the East.

Will this wall help us draw a map of Roman Berytus or do these stones belong to an entirely different structure?

What will happen to this site?

The only reason we usually have excavations in Beirut is because someone has purchased the land for a major real estate project. If ruins are found, by law the developer must alert authorities, allow archaeological excavations and fund those excavations until completion is determined to be complete.

A decision is then made on whether or not the ruins will be kept in place, moved or demolished in order to make way for the real estate project. How that decision is made is often not a very transparent process and ruins found on many plots across Beirut have been cleared over the last few decades, such as the Roman chariot racetrack or Hippodrome of Beirut (documented on this blog) and which was gutted and is now the site of a luxury real estate project.

The developer has promised to bring back a small portion of the ruins but it is unclear if the public will be able to access the site, as I reported for the BBC. Whatever the case, because the racetrack remains have now been completely razed, the public will never get to see the outline of the track, they will never be able to see the site in its original open air context, to understand its relationship to the city, to imagine what it must have been like to sit there, towering over ancient Berytus and watch the races. If all goes according to plan, the public will only glimpse a small portion of the stone wall in the basement car garage of a fancy apartment building, seen through a small window, if that window is accessible at all.

In the past, I have been physically assaulted by developers and verbally threatened by a high-ranking government official for publishing pictures of ruins. But I believe the Lebanese public has a right to see these images. I believe all citizens have a right to see the history of their city or their country before it is rearranged, manipulated or cleared entirely to make way for yet another bland high rise structure– a cash cow for investors, but a loss of heritage and identity for the public, a potential tourist project to benefit small local businesses, a place for school children and adults to visit, learn dream and get inspired.

So will the hippodrome scenario of clearing be repeated here? Or will the site be saved as was the case with the Roman Gate site, where construction was halted amid an intense public pressure campaign?

“Beirut Digital District”

The massive plot of land where the ruins have been found was formerly the site of a French hospital before the civil war, and according to records produced by gentrification activists Public Works Studio, the site had been used as the “Heart of Christ” hospital as early as the mid 1800s. It is located in the largely impoverished neighborhood of Khandaq Al Ghamiq or Bachoura, bordering the luxury towers of downtown. Some remains of the original hospital building can be seen in pictures I took of the site during a tour of the neighborhood back in 2014:

It seems the hospital was destroyed either during the war or in its aftermath. The good thing about old stone construction from the 19th and early 20th century is that it lacks deep foundations and thus a lot of ancient Beirut has been uncovered for these reasons:

The abandoned plot was used as a playground for local children until it was purchased in 2007 by a real estate firm called “El Alia” according to Public Works research, and construction surveying began and heavy machinery arrived in 2013.

The plot of land borders the Beirut Digital District (BDD) project, a private real estate project that will encompass a series of high rises that developers say will be “dedicated to innovation and creativity.” Here are some artist conceptions:

 

Lebanese ministers have voiced support for the project, promising to offer subsidized internet and tax incentives to help make it a technology cluster to boost the economy. At the time of its launch, the telecom minister even claimed BDD would “heal the wounds” of the civil war and the project was fawned over by CNN as “Lebanon’s Silicon Valley.” Critics say the project is the same old high end real estate gentrification under the guise of entrepreneurship buzzwords and will only drive up prices in the impoverished neighborhood while offering rents far too expensive for struggling start-ups or any average Lebanese to afford.

A detailed master plan of the project shows that it encompasses the old hospital plot where the archaeological excavations have been ongoing. For some reason, these maps are no longer available on the BDD website. But I used CahcedView.com to retrieve them:

 

If we match this masterplan to a Google Map satellite image of the ruins site, seen as the patch of dirt on the left…

 

We can see that the blue dotted line on the left, used to mark BDD parcels, encompasses the ruins site:

It’s unclear why this detailed map has been removed from the BDD website. Has this plan been abandoned? Or was this too much detail to divulge?

The curent masterplan of the project available online contains no plot details, but just gives a vague silhouette of the proposed towers and buildings:

So is the ruins/hospital plot still part of the BDD project or is it owned by the El Alia company and is there any relationship between the two? If the former is true, how would BDD handle the discovery of ruins on its property?

Actually this is not the first time ruins have been discovered on the BDD project parcels, which are being built only a few blocks away from the oldest prehistoric settlements of Beirut.

In 2014, I noticed an excavation taking shape at another BDD plot (BDD 1075), revealing an arch structure:

A few weeks later, around Nov. 2014, excavations revealed a second, and longer arch structure even closer to the street:

 

Could these structures be related to those found on the old hospital plot, which is just down the street from BDD 1075? Or did they belong to a different civilization?

When construction of BDD 1075 began, it seemed they were trying to build around the ruins, as seen in this images from December 2014:

But now in 2017, since this BDD project has been completed with a wall around it, it was hard to tell if the ruins were somehow preserved inside, on site:

It’s hard to tell from aerial shots of the project online if anything was preserved in the parking lot near the round glass building, where the arched ruins once stood:

So a few days ago I stopped by to check. Looking inwards at the parking lot from the street entrance, the circular glass building can be seen on the right:

We can see the parking lot is completely empty with no ruins visible on site. Were these ruins deemed not valuable enough to preserve on site? Was the parking lot weighed of greater importance than potential ancient structures? What happened to the ruins in that case? Are they in storage? Will they be displayed elsewhere?

The bigger question is: Will the ruins on the old hospital plot meet a similar fate and become parking lots for BDD or another project?

Interestingly, BDD recently touted its praise for Lebanese heritage in a Facebook post about an older building that has been restored and will become part of their project:

The BDD community is still growing! BDD 1281 is the newest addition to our expanding district. Even though BDD’s aim is…

Posted by Beirut Digital District on Friday, February 10, 2017

 

In the comments section of the post, I asked what BDD was doing for the local community in response to claims about destructive gentrification effects the project may have on the neighborhood. They answered by claiming the project is supporting 15 local families and helped rebuild a local public school. That doesn’t seem to be an extraordinary amount of public service for a neighborhood of thousands and also for the wide government support and tax and bandwidth incentives BDD is supposedly getting.

However it would be interesting to explore these issues further and to ask BDD if their pledge to support Lebanese heritage and history may be extended to ruins found on the plots they are now developing, which may likely also contain ancient structures.

What’s next?

I hope to speak to BDD and other major Beirut real estate developers on their approach to preserving heritage as part of a crowd-funding investigative reporting project I have been working on with Press Start. I also hope to speak to more archaeologists and government antiquities officials to learn how decisions are made on preserving sites, what happens to ruins that are removed from the ancient sites and what are the challenges of communicating these finds with the public.

In the meantime, feel free to share these images and this post to help me get some answers. And If I’ve got anything wrong, I encourage responses from authorities or officials reading this who can help clarify the nature and status of these ruins. I will happily update the post with any comments left in the comments section below.

***

 

UPDATE:

Shortly after completing this massive post, I noticed a story was just published by local French newspaper L’Orient Le Jour, detailing some of the finds. Indeed, it does seem the site is a burial ground or cemetery from the first century A.D. with some 250 tombs discovered!

Among the unearthed findings were jewelry, skeletons and these fascinating statues presumably used as part of tombs to the dead:

The top figure may have been used to mark the grave of an important Roman individual, while the Sphinx below seems to have ancient Egyptian origins or inspiration:

In one grave, a person is even buried with a horse, perhaps a sacrificial offering for getting around in the afterlife?

Finally, the article also includes these undated images from the early period of excavation at the old hospital plot. Here we can see the circular structure and the rectangular buildings (tombs?) before they were excavated as seen in the photos at the beginning of this post:


Here are some comments from the lead archaeologist quoted in the piece, as translated by Google:

The figure of the lion in a funerary context has an ancient oriental origin. It generally refers to a symbolic aspect. In the Roman world, and especially since the Augustian era, its representation is commonly used as a military iconographic icon that could indicate that the tomb was intended for a Roman veteran, “said Georges Abou Diwan, adding that the meaning of the figure of The lamb in this framework is being studied.

“The scientific methods used in this excavation have enabled archaeologists to better understand the chronological use of the cemetery, its development and the funerary practices adopted in Beirut during Roman times,” the specialist concludes.

The L’Orient article is quite short and there is nothing yet on the big wall structure or the 12 column building, the other small buildings, the circular basin or the former cobblestone path that seems to have been washed away. So we will have to wait for the analysis on those. The article also doesn’t have any news on the future of the site, merely saying that excavations are due to continue throughout 2017.

There are still a lot of lingering questions about the meaning and fate of this site.

 

UPDATE 2 (6/3/17):

I’ve just been alerted to this video report on the site published a couple of days ago by MTV Lebanon. It indicates that the site is indeed a burial belonging to the Roman period and also that it contains part of the city wall as well as a road leading into the city. Burials are typically found along roads leading into the city in Roman times. The video isn’t the best resolution but you can have an idea:

Thinking about the potential Roman road, I looked back at some of my photos of the early excavation period and I had always wondered if these were chariot tracks:

They reminded me of chariot tracks I had seen on a trip to Pompeii, although these are well defined and part of a paved road:

Source

Could it be that the road to Roman Berytus was unpaved or do these tracks belong to another period or are they not tracks at all?

I have recently been contacted by archaeologists from the site who have welcomed me to visit. Considering past violent experiences, I may need to take some friends along this time! But they assured me that things are changing and they want to be more open in the future. Let’s hope so for the sake of the city and the treasures many of us want to see preserved, shared and displayed. If you’re taking part in an excavation project in Sydney, check out mini excavator hire.

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Yes, this blog is mainly about Beirut, but I’ve added a new travel section to share some of my trips and the experiences that may resonate across borders.

In the early 1990s, I watched Beirut patch up its bullet holes and repaint its facades. In the late 2000s, I moved to New York after that city’s transformation had already happened. That’s why I found this photo collection of 1980s New York so interesting.

I spent much of my time in the city living in the old lower Manhattan neighborhood known as the “East Village”– sometimes referred to as the East Rat Trap due to its generous rodent population. That may not have changed much since the 1980s, but almost everything else has. The once gritty, impoverished, crime and drug war infested part of town is today one of the most expensive and “trendiest” places to live–somehow similar to the transformation of downtown Beirut, where most original inhabitants were pushed out to make way for posh cafes and unaffordable high rises.

The New York Times recently published a series of 1980s photos of the village produced by photographer Ken Schles –fascinating to me because I lived all over this neighborhood. I decided to use Google Maps Streetview to create some before and after pictures. Not all the pictures were very specifically captioned, but I knew I could find some of them with the help of memory and google.

This shot was described as somewhere on “8th street between Avenue B and C” (1983)

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 3.32.21 PM

I found the same spot today:

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 3.27.49 PM

Notice the war like concrete block barricade (below right) has been removed, the facades cleaned up and the addition of gentrified graffiti:

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 3.30.23 PM

 

This next shot was a bit more specific, described as “View from 224 Avenue B” (1983)

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 3.32.46 PM

But that is the location of the photographer. The liquor store was across the street (notice same window space above the store)

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 3.33.08 PM

I confirmed this by using streetview’s pan around function to look across the street after entering in the address.

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 3.35.47 PM

I zoomed in and matched the iron work on the fire escape that Schles shot through in his original black and white.

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 3.36.39 PM

Finally, the hardest picture to match was this one, which only offered the caption “Winter (East 4th Street) 1985.

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 3.31.47 PM

It’s a long street, but I’ve been down it hundreds of times and remembered a church. I walked down 4th with streetview and found it:

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In addition to the breeze blocks and boarded-up facades, 1980s New York also reminded me of 1980s Beirut with the proliferation of abandoned lots and open spaces. Yet during redevelopment, the soaring cost of gentrified real estate means that almost no plot is now left unconstructed in both cities. At least in New York a few plots have been saved by the city from developers and turned into “community gardens.” By contrast in Beirut, no plots are purchased by the city and existing parks are not even opened to the public.

Also, not only is Streetview not available in Lebanon, but you may get arrested for taking a picture. That doesn’t stop us though.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this post noted the photographers’ caption on the first image as “…between Avenue A and B” when it actually says “…between Avenue B and C” which matches the location in the google maps photo.

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The green screens have gone up and demolition work has already begun on the top floor. The wrecking crew is working by hand so it will take a while.

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I just spoke to the local Mukhtar and he said many residents are opposed to the project, which he said was rejected by the municipality of Beirut. However, as is often the case, the building owner sued at a higher court and apparently won.

The residents are planning a sit-in and I will have more details on that when they are available. In the meantime, you can go take some pictures. The building sits on a old-fashioned corner facing the Ginette restaurant on Rue Gouraud, near the Red Cross building.

Preservationists say the battle is not over just the building itself but the space it occupies in the context of the neighborhood.:

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How different will this corner be if is occupied by a luxury glass and steel high rise? Again, it’s not just one corner–the entire neighborhood is being transformed. The Mukhtar told me Gemmayze used to be “a village” only 15 years ago, full of bustling small shops and locals, but now it is largely a rowdy pub and night life district.

“It used to take me an hour to walk down this street– just to say hi to all my friends,” the Mukhtar said. “Now I walk down the street and I don’t know anyone.”

 

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UPDATE:

I just noticed The Daily Star has an interesting piece on the building by my colleague Venetia Rainey. She discovered that the building is owned by “engineer Mohammad Rashid Atweh.”

According to her interview with the culture minister Rony Arayagi, Atweh won the case because of the “absence of compensation” from the state. But I wonder, why would the state need to compensate Mr. Atweh to not destroy his own building? The building is in good shape with over a dozen shops and apartments to rent or sell. Why would maintaing or repairing his own building be a “loss”? On the contrary, shouldn’t building maintenance and repair be mandated by the law?

If anyone knows what the owner needs to be compensated for, please let me know.

UPDATE 2 (12/16/2014)

The governor of Beirut has just posted a demolition cessation order on his Facebook page. More details to come.

UPDATE 3 (12/17/14)

The demolition has sparked a debate among the governor and politician Walid Jumblatt, with hope that at least part of the building will now be saved. See this update.

UPDATE 4 (12/18/14)

Activists say they were threatened or harassed for documenting the ongoing demolition.

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Courtesy Tom Young

Next week, Beirut’s storied “Rose House”, which sits on a rare green hill overlooking the Mediterranean, will be open to the public for the first time. The artist Tom Young will be showcasing his work and hosting a series of events beginning next week. He sent me these pictures:

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Young hopes to shed light on the 19th century building, which he feared would be destroyed after learning that its long term tenant of 50 years, Fayza El Khazen, had been asked to leave. So he got in touch with the new owners and convinced them to allow an exhibit, featuring musical, theatrical, film events and activities for children, in addition to some 40 of his painted pieces.

Dubbed, “At the Rose House” the exhibit will run from November 19 until the end of December 2014. Young will also be sharing what he has learned about the history of the home during his two month artist residency there, particularly its importance as a cultural meeting place during the 1960s.

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“I’ve been exploring the house’s context in the city, drawing inspiration from the forest of towers which surround it, and nearby landmarks such as the old lighthouse and Luna Park,” Young said an email. “These places are anchors in the city’s soul.”

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“Rise and Fall” by Tom Young from “At the Rose House” Beirut

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Here’s a video Young has made about the project:

And here are some of the paintings that will be on display:

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“Survival” by Tom Young from “At the Rose House” Beirut
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“Zones” by Tom Young from “At the Rose House” Beirut
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“Age of Innocence” by Tom Young from “At the Rose House” Beirut
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“Arches Mirage Wall” by Tom Young “At the Rose House” Beirut
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“Interior Erasure” by Tom Young from “At the Rose House” Beirut

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Young developed a similar exhibition last year at another abandoned mansion in the Gemmayze neighborhood known as Villa Paradiso. The hope is that art can help us celebrate, remember and perhaps even save some of these buildings, which are being rapidly destroyed across the city to make way for multimillion dollar towers only the wealthiest can afford. But such efforts can only succeed if concerned citizens attend in large numbers to make their voices heard. So spread the word and see you there!

 

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For more info about the exhibit, get in touch with Tom via tom@tomyoung.com and his Facebook page.

All photos courtesy Tom Young

Exhibit opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 11am-7pm, open until 10pm on Fridays