Tags Posts tagged with "Ramlet el Baida"

Ramlet el Baida

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.

Activists have put together this great new video looking at how Beirut’s natural rocky coastline has basically been stolen from the public, destroyed and turned into concrete marinas for private resorts.

 

What’s particularly interesting about the video is that it uses maps to illustrate the radical transformation of the shoreline and brazen transgressions of laws that were aimed at protecting it.

Take for example this map of the Beirut coast before real estate exploitation:

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-5-22-01-pm

And after:

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-5-21-48-pm

 

The video, which was produced by the lawyers’ collective Legal Agenda and the Civil Campaign to Protect Dalieh is based on investigative research that exposed the dubious decree 169 of 1989, which allowed the building of the Movenpick Hotel in contravention of coastal protection laws that preceded it. This set into motion a precedent that allowed more seizure of public coastal properties and the mushrooming of more resorts, as seen above.

Before the Movenpick:

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-5-22-20-pm

After:

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-5-22-30-pm

 

The good news is that decree 169 never went through official channels and was never published publicly, lawyers have found, creating grounds for the launching of a lawsuit against the state, which is currently pending.

In the meantime, more resorts are being planned, threatening to repeat the destruction caused by decree 169 and obliterate the last remaining stretch of public coast.

After a multi-pronged campaign of three years, activists have already challenged a major project planned for the coast of Dalieh and Raouche, and lobbied the Environment Ministry to issue a draft decree to protect the area. But it has yet to pass in Parliament and Dalieh may still may be threatened.

11062805_806488266065217_4333135392180239687_n
The coast of Dalieh, source: Cedric Ghoussoub

Other projects are already underway including the massive Eden Rock marina and towers project, being built just a few feet from the waterline.

15032695_10157834515665492_4763896458984654353_n
Excavation for Eden Rock resort on Ramlet El Baida beach, source: Firas BouZeineddine
15094413_10155469709923136_6105383594882876062_n
Eden Rock excavation, source: Iffat Edriss Chatila

Last week activists made it down to the construction site and attempted to disrupt this public property seizure by yanking out the hoses being used to dredge the area to lay concrete foundations on the beach.

One activist involved in the action was assaulted by an employee of the real estate company and others have been questioned by police or threatened with lawsuits. Interestingly, the police have not asked to question the developers of the resort about the destruction of the public coastline and the billions of dollars that will be made at the public’s expense.

Instead of investigating the project’s destruction of the natural environment, seizure of public lands and dubious legal foundation, local broadcaster Future TV,  chose instead to produce an entire music video-like report lavishing praise on the developers and congratulating them for their achievements.  Activists have come up with this clever montage that mixes the propagandistic report with the situation on the ground:

 

If all of this sounds crazy and unjust to you, you can join over a dozen civil rights and environmental organizations this Saturday (Nov. 26) for “El Shat La Kil El Nes” (The Coast For All The People) in what promises to be a massive march calling for accountability from the billionaire class that runs this country, and approves such projects.

15178329_392954067762118_5466200835834850415_n

The march begins at 4PM near the gate of the public beach at Ramlet El Baida. Here is the event page

For more on how the coast has been privatized and destroyed across Beirut and the rest of the country, you can see my piece in the Guardian last year “A City Without a Shore: The Paving of Beirut’s Coast”

The Beirut Madinati political collective also launched an online protest to the disappearing coast:

15078815_10157790333490301_3916346567258709730_n

Artists have been chipping in as well, such as this illustration by Omar Saliba Abdel Samad:

15055819_10157913000250724_2070000964851288812_n
Caption: “Beirut with no coast?!”

A couple of weeks ago activists also confronted Beirut’s governor on how construction was approved on the coast and why other countries have managed to keep hotels off the sand, which should remain public. He didn’t seem to have a lot of answers when confronted with historic maps and laws that cast doubt on the legality of such construction. Watch the live recording provided by the NGO Nahnoo, which hosted the event, here:

 

IMG_0381

This week, Beirut residents celebrated Job’s Wednesday (Orba’at Ayoub) at Ramlet El Baida, a tradition that stretches back generations. Legend has it that Job, a biblical prophet also revered in Islam, was directed to swim in the Ramlet El Baida waters to help heal his illnesses.

For decades, Beirut families have gathered on the last Wednesday of April for a picnic in his honor.  “There were thousands of people, all of Beirut came out,” Samir, a 70-something local resident told me, reflecting wistfully on the 1950s. “Everyone used to walk all the way from their houses to the sea. My father used to take me.”

For the occasion, women often prepare a special sweet dish called “mfatka:”

IMG_0299

IMG_0349

The tradition was kept alive this year with dancers, fireworks and a souk.

But the crowd that came out was much smaller than the hordes of people that thronged the coast in 1950s, before the unregulated real estate boom that has literally walled in the shore and erased much of Beirut’s extended sand coast and dunes:
IMG_0363

There are also fears that Ramlet el Baida, the only remaining free beach in the capital, may fall victim to well-connected investors and privatization. Until the late 1980s, this coast was protected from construction by Lebanese law, but land-owning politicians have recently changed those laws, paving the way for large developments that will benefit them and their associates.

At the far south end of the Ramle beach is a multi-million dollar development known as Eden Rock. And on the northern side, the natural shore of Dalieh has also been claimed by a political dynasty who have commissioned a Rem Koolhaas design. Will Ramlet el Baida face a similar fate?

The Civil Campaign to Protect Dalieh is making its voice heard and working to ensure the continuity of public coastal access and activities. They placed a banner at the event.

IMG_0346

We inherited Dalieh from our parents and grandparents and we will pass it on to our children and grandchildren.

Many from the crowd enjoyed it so much they took selfies:

IMG_0359

IMG_0410

The activists also tried to reach Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad, who was busy taking selfies himself:

IMG_0334

IMG_0336

But as exited after the brief visit, he never stopped once to look up at the banner:

IMG_0338
IMG_0340

IMG_0341

Hamad has repeatedly claimed the beach will be saved from development, but he has yet to translate those promises into action and has refrained from calling for the protection of Dalieh, which is owned by a political dynasty he is very close to.

The evening ended with fireworks:IMG_0450

IMG_0455

And more singing and dancing:

IMG_0464
At the end, Dalieh organizer architect Abir Saksouk-Sasso was welcomed on stage and gave a brief speech about the campaign.

Beirut seafront traditions, and the working class that participates in them, have been hit hard by the zeal for luxury development, which is literally pushing people out of the city.

IMG_0481

But it’s nice to know that many still believe in holding on.

IMG_0483