Not a GiB matter per se, but definitely a noble cause that calls urgently for some more GiB-type sensitivity.
Not a day goes by without them tearing down another colonial, Ottoman or traditional Lebanese mansion in Beirut. Stone after stone, one landmark after the other, they’re burying historic Beirut. Taking away its charm, its character. Violating its memory, its culture. Their crimes happen overnight, as they come down like thieves, while we watch helplessly.
I’m not being overly nostalgic and sentimental. Let’s be clear about something: As average Lebanese, we don’t mind “modernization” and the Dubai-type towers. We might even find some pride in them, as they serve our country’s ambitions of grandeur, don’t they, and they might well signify our economic comeback. As average Lebanese, we don’t mind the contrast of new v/s old – it’s actually part of Beirut’s charm. But why do we have to tear down the historic buildings to be able to have skyscrapers? Why not just build them elsewhere, or at the very least try to get creative with half measures like this?
Why not try to attract investors who actually give a damn, people who can see the value of owning and preserving one bit of Beirut paradise lost?
How can we turn a blind eye to the fact that this construction frenzy in the last three years might actually be just another “real estate bubble” that can only burst open? We’ve seen it happen elsewhere: if and when it happens here, it will be too late for Beirut.
And it’s not too far fetched of a scenario. The truth is that the overpriced multi-million luxury apartments they’re building are often bought by Arab investors as financial placements, they remain empty 11 months a year, and they alienate from large parts of the city the 99% of Lebanese people who can’t afford them, including in our new flamboyant, plasticky, ghost-town Downtown.
Who’s to blame here is one hell of a tricky question.
- The owners of the historic properties? They often can no longer afford maintaining their old family house, let alone renovating it after 20 years of war and another 20 of abandon. They’re not offered any help or incentives for doing so, while they get hammered by the entrepreneurs with juicy buyout offers.
- Blame the entrepreneurs? Well they are business people, ruthless sharks ruled by money and driven by profit – and God knows there’s profit to be made from turning an old 2-story mansion into a 20-story modern building. What could you expect from them as they wander around free from legal regulation?
- Or maybe blame the state? What state?! Oh… you mean the corrupt “urbanism” authorities that give away corrupt construction permits to corrupt entrepreneurs?
It’s such a deadlock situation that in this total passivity (collusion?) of the official authorities, we’re almost tempted to blame the non-profit organizations like UNESCO and the NGOs for not classifying enough properties, not protecting enough buildings, not countering enough projects, not rallying enough forces, and not standing strong enough in the face of the state/entrepreneurs duet… Isn’t it ironic?
Enough already! This is happening too fast, too blatantly, too savagely. It’s a saddening reality even for the most down-to-earth among us. We have to do something about this. Save Beirut Heritage!
(Photos taken on the same day around Monot and Gemmayze).