Emerging Trends in Urbanism: The Beirut Post-War Experience

An Essay on a presentation made by Robert Saliba to Diwan al-Mimar on April 20, 2000

Prepared by Mohammad al-Asad and Majd Musa in association with Robert Saliba, 2001

Support for the publication of this essay has been made possible by a grant from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. Additional support has been provided by Darat al-Funun - The Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.


Robert Saliba (1) is an urban planner who has been involved in the practice and teaching of urban planning for the past twenty years, especially within the context of Beirut. Consequently, he has had the opportunity to observe firsthand the changes that are taking place in the models and practices of urban planning affecting Beirut. He therefore devoted this presentation to the emerging trends in urban planning that have appeared in Beirut, particularly in the period between 1990 and 2000, the decade that followed the 1975 - 1990 Lebanese civil war. This essay deals with the issues that Saliba discussed in his presentation as well as the questions and answers that followed it.

Establishing a Framework

Saliba began by illustrating the framework that he will use to explain these emerging trends in urbanism. He emphasized the importance of using a criterion for classification that would allow one to more easily elucidate the complex process of planning. This includes the issue of "specificity," which demands a differentiation between two types of trends. The first is "general trends," which consist of imported models that can be found in many countries within the Middle East. For example, "participatory planning," which is a popular recent trend in planning, is a general planning trend that is being practiced in different governance systems in the region, such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Of course such a trend is being modified according to the different local political and socioeconomic settings. The second type of planning trends consists of "particular trends," or those that are unique to a specific context such as that of Beirut. It is to this second trend that Saliba devoted his presentation. Saliba also provides another criterion for classification, which is the "spatial scale." Whenever one talks about an evolving trend in urbanism, one needs to clearly specify the level of planning that one is addressing. That may be the level of the neighborhood, municipality, metropolitan region, or nation.

Saliba discusses another important point within the framework of this presentation, which is the relationship between the new trends and the old practices of urban planning. To Saliba, emergent trends cannot be isolated from the historical perspective, and most new trends originate from past practices and models. This raises the need for a "chronological approach." Consequently, he emphasizes the importance of defining the periods in the history of Lebanon that were of significance to the development of urban planning, and also defining the models and practices of urban planning related to them. Saliba identifies those "originating models of planning" to include the three categories of "colonial planning, modern planning, and post-modern planning." Saliba then discusses the contemporary planning trends that have resulted from those models in Lebanon in the 1990s, and discusses the issues of "spatial scale" and "specificity" they address.

 Colonial Planning

The first planning model to be discussed is the colonial one, which Saliba attributes to two periods. The first is the 1830s - 1910s, which is the period of late-Ottoman rule in Lebanon. The second is that of the 1920s - 1930s, which is the period of the French Mandate. Saliba states that the Ottomans were responsible for much of Beirut's early modernization, which he describes as an effort of "secondhand modernization." In that period of Ottoman control over the Levant, planning models were mostly Western ones that were first applied to Istanbul, and then to the different provincial capitals of the Ottoman state. Beirut had acquired the status of a provincial Ottoman capital during the second half of the nineteenth century. In addition to Istanbul, Cairo, which began to compete with Istanbul during the nineteenth century as a Muslim political and cultural center, was the other reference model for the secondhand colonial planning process to affect Beirut during that period. In this context, Saliba mentions that the Ottoman reform program known as the "Tanzeemat" was applied to Beirut partly through modernizing the city's building regulations and upgrading its infrastructure. (2)

During the French Mandate period, the French superimposed a Beaux-Arts / Haussmanian model consisting of wide boulevards intersecting at monumental squares over the city's medieval fabric, which already had been partially razed during the late-Ottoman period. Unlike other examples of colonial planning in the region, where a dual city model was used and the old city was left intact and the new sections were constructed adjacent to the old ones, in the case of Beirut, colonial planning proceeded by superimposition instead of juxtaposition. Beirut's medieval fabric consequently had disappeared to be replaced with the colonial early modern Beirut. Saliba believes that this issue is of considerable importance when discussing the identity of the city of Beirut. (3)

 Contemporary Trends and Manifestations Resulting from Colonial Planning

Since the 1980s, a new group of historians has emerged in Lebanon, and these historians have begun to seriously investigate the issue of colonial planning. They are studying developments that took place in the early twentieth century in order to understand the evolution of the city of Beirut today. Those historians have adopted what can be referred to as a "new historical consciousness," which departs from old methodologies that were limited to studying the effects of the physical aspects of colonial planning on the city's contemporary planning. Consequently, they concentrate on examining the ideologies underlying colonial planning as well as the processes that define it. Saliba believes that such a change in the historians' perspective of planning is due to the fact that the modernist approach to planning, which revolved around the actions of the public sector, began to be questioned, and even disqualified, in the 1990s. On the other hand, a new consciousness has emerged that addresses "decentralization and participation" in planning. This has led to an interest in investigating the past to explore whether governments imposed colonial planning processes, or whether those processes involved negotiations with groups outside the official governmental structure.

Saliba mentions that one manifestation of the appearance of new trends in historical thinking in Lebanon is a 1998 symposium entitled "Imported - Exported Urbanism," which was held at the American University of Beirut (AUB). The symposium helped crystallize a new approach towards urban history. Although the symposium was not limited to the discussion of planning in Beirut, some participants raised important issues relating to the context of Beirut. For example, the historian May Davie argued in the symposium that the French, who created the Place de l'Etoile - an example of Beaux-Arts / Haussmanian planning in Beirut - negotiated their plan with the rich local landowners and waqf institutions of the city. Davie supported her point of view by the fact that the French did not implement their radial plan for the Place de l'Etoile in totality and as originally intended. (4) This is evident if one examines the first master plan developed for Beirut, which dates to 1931 and is known as the "Danger plan." (figure 1) The plan shows how the original area of the "Etoile" (French for star) was conceived in the shape of a star. The original plan for the Etoile area was not fully implemented, and was truncated in certain locations, especially where religious buildings existed. In addition, the plan shows the importance that had been given to upgrading Beirut's port due then to the rising competition brought about by the Palestinian port of Haifa, which was being developed by the British. In the end, only parts of the original Danger plan were implemented. Those include the port area and parts of the Place de l'Etoile, which were superimposed on the fabric of the medieval city.

Figure 1: The 1931 Danger Master Plan for Beirut.

Figure 1: The 1931 Danger Master Plan for Beirut.

This is an example of how colonial planning often was only partially implemented. It indicates that even during a period of foreign domination, a process of negotiation took place between the French and the local population. Therefore, Saliba concludes that the title of the AUB symposium "Imported - Exported Urbanism" was meant to indicate that even during the colonial period, the Lebanese were not merely passive receivers of Western planning models. Instead, they negotiated the manner in which these particular models were implemented to suit their interests. However, Saliba adds that the situation differed from one city to the other in the region, and that colonial planning models were applied more successfully in cities such as Alexandria, Cairo, and Damascus.

Saliba adds that generally it has been very difficult to successfully implement planning models in Beirut. To him, there has been a profound reluctance among Beirutis to accept planning models in the different periods of the city's modern history, a phenomenon that mainly can be attributed to the city's mercantile-sectarian underlying order. This has resulted in a situation of "planning chaos" in Beirut and also in Lebanon, and this difficulty in the implementation of planning rules and regulations in the specific socioeconomic context of Beirut is one of the issues that Saliba explored in this presentation.

Addressing the Destruction of Beirut's Colonial Heritage

Saliba mentions that one of the most controversial aspects of recent planning developments in Beirut has been linked to the concentration of colonial era structures in Beirut's center. What is taking place is that buildings located in the periphery of Beirut's Central District, mainly those dating back to the colonial period, are being demolished and replaced with new developments. Those developments consist mainly of high rise structures that take advantage of the excessive built-up to lot area ratio permitted under the still applicable pre-war zoning regulations. The new developments are stimulated by the rise in the prices of land and real estate located in the periphery of the city's Central District, which can be attributed to the reconstruction of Beirut's Central Business District according to international standards. In response to the crisis of the continuing destruction of the city's colonial heritage, new reactions to the issue of conservation have evolved. Those reactions have included research projects and academic studies on the one hand, and practical approaches on the other. Since 1990, considerable urban and architectural historical research and surveys on colonial architecture and planning in Lebanon have been carried out. Saliba expects that this development will help integrate the colonial period into the Lebanese "national heritage," although he adds that there still is resistance to such integration.

 Traditional Planning - the Level of Neighborhood Planning

One of the practical reactions to the ongoing destruction of Beirut's colonial heritage has been the emergence of comprehensive planning studies being carried out - for the first time in Beirut - at a micro-scale, i.e. the urban neighborhood scale. Before 1990, planning studies in Beirut dealt with the city as a whole, and addressed the municipal and metropolitan scales. In 1990, Saliba and some of his colleagues started a series of studies on districts located at the periphery of the city center. Those studies were stimulated by the expected negative impact that the reconstruction of the center would have in terms of separating the center from the rest of the city.

 Emergency Strategies

Another reaction to the ongoing destruction of Beirut's colonial heritage has been the application of "emergency strategies." In this context, Saliba cites the work of APSAD (Association du Patrimoine et de la Sauvegarde des Anciennes Demeures), a Lebanese non-governmental organization concerned with the protection of the country's architectural heritage. In 1995, APSAD carried out a preliminary survey of Beirut's buildings that had been built before 1930. The survey aimed at listing buildings of special architectural or historical interest, and therefore of conservation potentiality. The list that resulted from the survey included 1,015 buildings, and the list was presented to the Lebanese Minister of Culture so as to implement the necessary procedures for the protection of these buildings. The minister did take the decision of freezing construction activities relating to the listed buildings for two successive periods of six months each. During this period, the Lebanese General Directorate of Urbanism was supposed to make the necessary planning decisions relating to the protection of these buildings.

Although the work of APSAD had the positive impact of increasing public awareness concerning Beirut's colonial heritage, it also had a number of negative consequences. Some of the owners of the listed buildings applied considerable political pressures that resulted in removing their properties from the protection list. Following that, they more often than not tore those historical buildings down to replace them with new profitable real estate developments. Interestingly enough, the number of listed buildings has been contracting continuously to reach 500 buildings. (5)

 New Approaches to Preservation

A third reaction to the ongoing destruction of Beirut's colonial architectural heritage has been to propose an approach to preservation that incorporates financial mechanisms as an integral part of the preservation process. Here, Saliba presented the example of Bizri, Salama, and Tabet, who proposed the legislation of a "preservation tax" on buildings located in historical areas. In turn, this tax would be allocated for preservation purposes. (6)

Another contemporary planning trend in Beirut has been to approach preservation through corporate planning, a process that was put in place by the launching of the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of the Beirut Central District, Solidere. (7) Solidere provided a market-oriented conservation strategy through which it was able to preserve the Place de l'Etoile and the Foch - Allenby areas, the two most important areas in Beirut's Central District that date back to the French Mandate period. Solidere was able to implement conservation strategies in the two areas within a period of four years; an achievement that most probably would not have been possible had another planning approach been adopted. Through this process of corporate planning, Solidere was able to transfer air rights from one section of the Central Business District to another in order to preserve the buildings located within the designated conservation area. However, this project is still surrounded with controversy, primarily resulting from the mandatory incorporation of the owners in the company as shareholders.

Outside the city's Central District, another approach to preservation has been adopted. This is the "incremental development approach" undertaken by the private sector. Such an approach was necessary there because of the difficulty of applying the concept of air rights transfers that was used successfully in the Solidere area. This is the result of the high population density in Beirut's peri-center districts, in addition to the fact that each district has its surviving architectural and urban identity as well as its rigid and "blanket" zoning codes. However, the restrictions that one faces when attempting to preserve Beirut's peri-center districts have led to some creative ideas. Those are expressed in the trendy restaurants and nightclubs that have emerged in those districts. The Furn el-Hayek area is a good example of this approach, where small developers have taken advantage of the authentic character of the traditional buildings of the area and turned them into commercial assets. (8) Another representation of incremental development is that being carried out by the entrepreneur Bshara Nammour, and which Saliba refers to as the "Nammour trend." Nammour added vertical extensions to a number of colonial buildings. Such additions allowed him to maximize the commercial potential of those buildings, but they also were carried out in a manner that attempted to achieve a level of harmony with the original structures. Although this "incremental approach" is highly controversial, Saliba argues that it is efficient and effective. He adds that buildings in the city were produced through an "incremental process" in the first place, i.e., they were not built at one particular period, and consequently argues that such an incremental process provides a valid option for addressing particular problems of preservation.

Yet another contemporary planning trend that has emerged in Beirut is the "incremental participatory planning" process. Here, joint ventures are established between the inhabitants of a certain neighborhood containing historical structures and those who own businesses in that neighborhood. The latter would finance preservation works. In this case, particular properties of the assigned neighborhood are initially selected for enhancement, and the process would gradually spread to include the other parts of the neighborhood.

 Modern Planning

The second period of Beirut's modern history, which brought another model of planning to Beirut, is that extending from about 1940 to 1975. This is the period to which Saliba refers to as that of "modern planning." Here, Saliba mentions three main events that illustrate the establishment of modern planning in Beirut.

 The Ecochard Plan

The first event is the Ecochard plan, which was devised in 1943, and is named after Michel Ecochard (1905 - 1985), the French architect and urban planner responsible for it. The plan reflected a "functional rationalist" approach to planning based on the functional zoning of different activities. Although that plan was never implemented, Saliba mentioned that it has had a considerable "intellectual impact" on the planning models that followed it. Interestingly enough, the Ecochard plan has had more of an impact on planning in Damascus than in Beirut. Ecochard promoted his plan as one where the "technical expert defends the public interests," and he worked against the principles of "liberal capitalism," which prevailed in Lebanon and Syria under the French Mandate. Ecochard wanted to concentrate the decision-making process in the hands of the state and the municipality. Another important issue that Ecochard plan presented was the establishment of a "regional perspective" for Beirut, for he believed that planning concepts for Beirut should fit within an overall regional vision. (9)

The 1954 plan

The 1954 plan was the second event of modern planning in Beirut. It was devised by a group of Lebanese planning experts, who took a different approach than that of the Ecochard plan. According to Saliba, the 1954 plan was the most damaging plan to Beirut because it was the outcome of the numerous pressures that were exerted on the planners by politicians, businessmen, and property owners. That plan included the upgrading of existing zoning regulations, and it defined the city as five concentric zones, which decrease in density as one moves away from the center. That plan, however, did not take into consideration Beirut as part of its larger context, an issue that the Ecochard plan had addressed and emphasized.

 The 1964 Plan

In 1964, a Greater Beirut Plan was adopted with the help of Ecochard, and has been mistakenly referred to as the "Ecochard plan." In fact, Ecochard withdrew from participating in this plan when it began to undergo modifications with which he did not agree. According to Saliba, the 1964 plan was important because of its encompassing definition of Beirut. That plan did not deal with municipal Beirut, as was the case of the 1954 plan, but addressed a "Greater Beirut."

The 1964 plan also established new legislation that allowed planning processes to be carried out by joint public-private real estate companies. In such a case, the government would establish the joint company and would own 25% of its shares, whereas the owners of the involved real estate properties would own the remaining 75% of the shares. The company would then be responsible for the preparation of a master plan for the area, as well as selling the resulting new development. This joint public-private approach to planning was then opposed by the owners of real estate properties, and therefore was not implemented. Interestingly enough, the Lebanese businessman and current prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri (10), has reestablished that legislation in the early 1990s - but gave it a different scope - so as to establish Solidere.

 War-Period Planning

The 1975 - 1990 civil war presents the third period in Beirut's history to bring new models of planning to the city. This period produced two plans: a 1977 plan by the French consultant L'Atelier Parisien D'Urbanisme (APUR), and a 1983 plan by the regional consulting engineering firm Dar al-Handasah.

The 1977 plan (figure 2) was the first reconstruction plan for Beirut, and it followed a joint public-private approach to preservation. Since the damage done to Beirut's Central District by 1977 was not extensive, the 1977 plan preserved most of the city's existing urban fabric. It also proposed that the less damaged parts of the Central District would be reconstructed and rehabilitated by local property owners, and that the heavily damaged parts would be reconstructed by small-scale real estate corporations. The shares of such corporations would be distributed according to the previously existing legislation, which stipulates that real estate owners would hold 75% of the shares and the government would hold 25%.

Figure 2: The 1977 APUR Reconstruction Plan for Beirut.

Figure 2: The 1977 APUR Reconstruction Plan for Beirut.

The 1983 plan was the first plan to address Metropolitan Beirut. In fact, it is the only one to be conceived for Beirut until today that addresses the metropolitan level. The plan, which has not been adopted, concentrated on proposing sub-centers to be located around the city's central business district.

Saliba believes that the urban plans devised during the civil war period did not have any clear impact on the reconstruction of Beirut that took place in the 1990s. To him, no direct continuity can be found between either of the two war-period plans and the planning process in Beirut as it is taking place today.

 Post-War Period Planning

The last period of Beirut's history to be addressed by Saliba is the 1990 - 2000 post-war period, which, according to Saliba, has brought to Beirut the model of "post-modern planning." (11) Saliba identified three major events that have affected planning in Beirut during this period. The first event is the 1991 plan, which was the second reconstruction plan to be conceived for Beirut - the first being the 1977 plan discussed earlier. The 1991 plan, like the 1983 plan, was conceived by Dar al-Handasah. It was highly controversial and received harsh criticism, especially for its proposal for the creation of a single real estate company that would be responsible for the reconstruction of the Beirut city center. The second event to affect post-war planning in Beirut is the 1994 plan, which is the third reconstruction plan to be conceived for Beirut. In the 1994 plan, modifications were introduced to the 1991 plan that took into consideration the harsh opposition that arose against that plan. The 1994 plan was first designed by Dar al-Handasah and then presumed by Solidere. The third event is the 1989 Ta'if Agreement, the political agreement for the ending of the Lebanese civil war that was signed in the Saudi Arabian city of Ta'if. This agreement is being applied today and it probably will have an impact on Beirut's urban development.

Beirut's 1990 - 2000 Planning Trends

During the post-war period, new planning trends evolved in Beirut. "Corporate planning," in which one real estate company is fully responsible for rehabilitation and redevelopment works, was carried out for the first time in Beirut in the reconstruction of the city's Central District through Solidere. This trend is not particular to Beirut and is being applied in other cities around the world, as with the London Docklands project and the La Defense Project in Paris.

Another planning trend that emerged in Lebanon during this period is that identified by Saliba as "radical planning." It is represented by the Elyssar plan formed in the early 1990s. The Elyssar plan was originally intended to follow the scenario of corporate planning, and was to be applied to Beirut's southwestern suburbs, which have a very high concentration of Lebanon's shi'i Muslim community who primarily moved there from the south of Lebanon, and primarily consist of illegal settlements. The proposed plan was opposed by Hizbollah, the military-political organization that is a main representative of Lebanon's Shi'i Muslims. This resulted in the introduction of political negotiations in the planning process, and led to a number of important achievements. The first is that the private company proposed for carrying out the reconstruction process in the southwestern suburbs was replaced with a public company. The second is that the Elyssar project succeeded - at least theoretically because it remains early to judge the full results of the process - in making the government consider the illegal settlers as an integral part of the redevelopment of these areas. Consequently, the settlers are to be relocated away from the project's conservation area to an area that remains within the overall boundaries of the project. The third achievement is that the Elyssar project provides an example of how the local inhabitants have participated actively in the decision-making process affecting the setting up and running of this new public corporation. (12)

Another planning direction that also emerged in Beirut during this particular period, and that has become an important trend in planning is "participatory planning," which also is referred to as "community action planning" or "participatory level appraisal." According to Saliba, participatory planning in Lebanon is tied to the decentralization policy established by the Ta'if Agreement. Although this approach to planning definitely is not unique to Lebanon, it is receiving widespread acceptance there. This is being demonstrated in the numerous consulting roles that planners, architects, and universities are taking on for local municipalities in Lebanon. Here, Saliba cites an example of the participation of foreign universities in participatory planning, the 1997 Prince of Wales' Urban Design Task Force in Lebanon. Here, foreign students and their tutors tackled the post-war challenge of reconnecting the different parts of the city, with an emphasis on community participation among other themes of urban design. In addition to working on reconnecting the center of Beirut to its peripheries, they carried out an additional exercise that dealt with Sidon and concentrated on reconnecting the old Medina with the new city. To Saliba, this taskforce mission is an example of "university involvement leading nowhere." It was totally disconnected from local politics. Moreover, it reflected the work of an outsider who tried to impose particular preconceived Western concepts on a non-Western context. (13)

Another approach to planning that was brought to Lebanon during the past decade is "environmental planning," which, according to Saliba, is the major planning trend of today. The adoption of environmental planning was supported by the emphasis that international aid agencies put on applying environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies to urban projects before providing them with financial aid. The World Bank, for instance, hires specialists to carry out EIA studies for the projects it finances. Saliba added that he participated in two such studies that were carried out in Lebanon, and that addressed the state of the environment on the national level and along Lebanon's coasts. Although EIA studies are being carried out for some projects in Lebanon, those studies still are ignored in the implementation phase. (14)

Saliba concluded by referring to his ongoing research work that focuses on the inability of implementing planning policies in Lebanon. He pointed out that Lebanon does not suffer from a lack of planning laws or regulations, but from the failure to implement such laws and regulations. He attributes this failure to the weaknesses of existing management systems. To solve this problem, many would usually start from the hypothesis that "one has to change the system of governance in order to be able to implement planning regulations." Saliba, however, believes that one should reverse this paradigm, and states that "we cannot change easily an established system of governance, but we can come up with responsive changes to the implementation game of laws and regulations in order to fit within the existing governance system."

Questions and Answers

One issue discussed following Saliba's presentation was the role that international and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can play in developing participatory planning approaches within a context such as that of Jordan. Some international NGOs are training civil agencies in Jordan in participatory rapid appraisal approaches that aim at effectively involving local communities in the developmental process. A number of those NGOs also have ties with the Jordanian Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDC), which is the main public sector organization involved in housing issues, and have trained employees of the public sector in participatory approaches. Another level of participatory planning that is being applied in Jordan is the community consultation process, which is being investigated by the Urban Management Program that is being carried out by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The community consultation process has been applied in the archaeological site of Petra, and now is being adopted by HUDC. It was added that while in Lebanon the civil war promoted the participation of NGOs in the process of urban development, in Jordan, the availability of international funds and technical assistance has promoted such a role for NGOs.

Within the context of the issue of participatory planning, one Diwan member expressed the view that participatory planning remains an "immature" process, particularly in developing countries. It often is misused in that it aims at legitimizing actions that are far from the local community's wishes. Such actions may express the political will of certain progressive groups who wish to legitimize issues relating to their agendas through the implementation of participatory planning. It was added that rapid rural appraisal, as a level of participatory planning, is subject to few ready-made prescriptions, and is traditionally done through governments.

In this context, Saliba was asked for clarifications on the credibility of the participatory planning approach in Lebanon. In replying to this question, Saliba emphasizes that both universities and practicing architects are abusing the issue of participatory planning in Lebanon. On the one hand, universities are often willing to take part in projects funded by international agencies that require the implementation of participatory planning even though those universities are often not qualified to carry out such processes. Also, a number of architects who know little about participatory planning try to get work that involves participatory planning from funding agencies, and do so primarily for reasons of financial gain. In such a case, those architects would hire specialists in the field of participatory planning to carry out the planning process on their behalf even though they do not have the competence to supervise the processes. Such matters, according to Saliba, will eventually lead to diminishing the credibility of the participatory planning approach vis-a-vis local communities in Lebanon.

Another issue that was raised relates to the role of corporate planning in urban development. In this context, it was mentioned that merchants who moved to Amman from Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon in the 1920s and 1930s, played a very important role in the city's urban development. This active role of the merchant class persists today in that Jordan is a country that promotes free trade and free investment. Saliba was asked about his views relating to the role that the merchant class is playing in Lebanon within the framework of corporate planning.

Here, Saliba mentioned that the involvement of the private sector in planning is a very well established phenomenon in Lebanon. After all, Lebanon traditionally has been characterized by a preeminence of the private sector and the absence of the government as an active participant in planning, as well as in many other areas. In this context, Saliba adds that having Rafiq al-Hariri, a prominent businessman, as the Lebanese Prime Minister, is not a new phenomenon. In fact, al-Hariri expresses a sort of Lebanese "persona" especially in the importance he gives to the private sector. In this context, Saliba believes that the pre-war and post-war approaches to urban planning in Lebanon are almost alike. However, the war-period did transform the private sector's participation in the planning process from the level of the merchant class to the corporate level, specifically that of Solidere. In fact, Solidere has been able to implement plans with a degree of effectiveness that is new to Lebanon, while previous periods have been characterized by an inability to implement planning decisions.

Here, one Diwan member commented that the failure to implement planning decisions is an issue that is not unique to Lebanon, but is a general phenomenon that exists in most developing countries. He added that such a phenomenon could be attributed to two factors. The first is a political one. When the political system is powerful, planning decisions have a higher chance of being effectively implemented. This is because planning in developing countries is mostly centralized and sponsored by governments. The second is an institutional factor. Here, it is noted that, in most developing countries, ministries and agencies that have no executive authorities usually are the ones involved in the planning process. In fact, the role of public-sector institutions such as the ministry of planning usually is restricted to drawing up policies and plans, but not implementing them. In Jordan, for example, ministries such as those of Tourism and Antiquities, Public Works, and Municipal and Rural Affairs and the Environment have the mandate, but not the obligation, to implement plans. Consequently, we are faced with a problematic situation characterized by the fact that institutions that have the mandate to plan do not have the mandate to implement their plans, and those that have the mandate to implement plans do not have the mandate to carry out the planning. It is probably because of this situation that the implementation of planning in developing countries is often obstructed.

Saliba was asked about the body that is responsible for devising the various master plans for Beirut. Saliba answered that the development of master plans was the responsibility of the Lebanese Ministry of Planning until 1977, when that ministry was replaced with the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR). CDR also is responsible for planning at the national level, but Beirut's reconstruction is one of its priorities. He added that the Lebanese General Directorate of Urbanism (GDU) is the governmental entity that has the power to develop master plans and to implement them through planning laws and regulations. Another party that is also involved in planning processes in Lebanon is the Supreme Corporation for Civil Regulations, but this body only has a consulting role.

Another question inquired about the way in which Beirut has evolved during the past few years, and the way Saliba views the condition of Beirut's planning today. Here, Saliba stated that this is an inquiry that cannot be answered within the context of a short question and answer session, and that the evolution of Beirut in the post-war period has been addressed in a number of books and scholarly articles to which one can refer. (15) He added that the condition of Beirut today is an unhappy one. However, he believes that this ongoing period of Beirut's development is providing planners and architects with rich experiences that are enhancing their professional expertise. To Saliba, the most important development to affect Beirut during the past decade is that the reconstruction process has been transforming the city into one that is more "realistic" and far more interesting than it used to be. Before the eruption of the civil war, Beirut was a bourgeois enclave that was economically and socially isolated from the areas surrounding it. Now, with the reconstruction processes taking place in the city center, the inhabitants of the suburbs are able to penetrate the center. Also, the situation in Beirut's southern suburbs is forcing planners and architects to seriously face the problems of migration from rural areas to urban centers.

Saliba also was asked about the relationship between Beirut's Central Business District and Beirut's southern suburbs, and the way the inhabitants of such suburbs view the planning process that is affecting the Central District. Here, Saliba mentioned that Solidere's Central District originally was perceived as an island that catered to the global market and that was linked directly to the airport. Hence, businessmen would land in the airport, proceed to the Central Business District to perform their different business transactions, then return to the airport for departure, thus bypassing the whole city. Saliba added that this is a reductionist view of an "extremist" interpretation of the role of the Central Business District. After all, the Central District cannot survive on the patronage of corporate heads only. The majority of its users will be middle and lower income employees and service workers who live in the periphery, including the southern suburbs, and who have to commute to the Central District on a regular basis. Furthermore, the new waterfront along the Central District is a continuation of the city's Corniche, which forms the largest open space in the city. This new section of the Corniche fronting the city's hotel area already has been appropriated by the city's inhabitants, including those of the southern suburbs, as a recreational area where people promenade and gather. Thus, the Central Business District cannot be viewed as an island that is segregated from the surrounding suburbs.

Saliba added that in spite of the existence of NGOs in Beirut's southern suburbs, the approach to planning there has been of the "modernist" kind. The plan devised for the southern suburbs consists of replacing all illegal developments along the seacoast with luxury resorts and private beaches. Those new developments would finance the construction of the residential areas within the suburbs. This approach, according to Saliba, will have dramatic wide social consequences that are of the same magnitude as those resulting from Solidere's approach to planning in the Central Business District. (16)

Another question inquired about the role that Beirut is taking as we enter the twenty first century. Here, the questioner referred to the writings of Thomas Friedman who described old Beirut as a fictitious body, and as a "city of mirrors" that distorts the scale of the human proportion. (17) The questioner asked whether during the past decade the available technical, economic, and political capabilities, which are probably the essential factors necessary for allowing the implementation of planning to succeed, have been able to transfer Beirut from the "fictitious" to the "real." Saliba's answer is that Beirut has been transferred to the "real" through the reconstruction processes that have been taking place over the past decade. However, he believes that Hariri's underlying assumptions for the reconstruction of Beirut are highly controversial. Hariri's first assumption is that Beirut would reclaim its pre-war position as the main center of the region, which is debatable considering the numerous political and economic changes that have been taking place in the region since the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war a quarter of a century ago. The other assumption is that the physical transformation of the center of Beirut would lead automatically to the revival of Beirut's pre-war economic role. Saliba, however, argues that the economic role of a certain city is not dependent on its physical qualities alone. The overall regional setting has changed, and therefore the basic assumptions behind the reconstruction projects for Beirut need to be revised.

Saliba was asked whether the reconstruction of Beirut's Central District is responsible for the continuing deterioration of the peri-centers that surround it, even though those centers were able to survive the Lebanese civil war. Saliba answered that the planning approaches that took place in Lebanon over the past 75 years have gone through successive phases of "centralization, decentralization, and re-centralization." During the late Ottoman and the French Mandate periods, the centralization approach to planning was adopted with the rebuilding and reinforcement of the Central Business District. In the 1960s, the decentralization approach came into being with the decay of the Central Business District and the rise of competing sub-centers such as al-Hamra district. Finally, during the post-war period, planners have been returning to older practices of centralization by applying a kind of "re-centralization" that is evident in reviving the Central Business District. This, in turn, is resulting in the decay of metropolitan centers that boomed during the war-period such as the port-town of Jounieh. On the other hand, the phenomenon of Solidere has not halted the rise of such peri-center districts as Furn el Hayek or the fashionable Verdun area. Saliba adds that Beirut's southern suburbs, for example, have became well-established and will not be much affected by the reconstruction of Beirut's Central Business District because they have developed their own industrial, economic, and population base. As for other sub-centers such as al-Hamra or Mar Elias, they are currently undergoing a period of transition and it remains early to determine exactly how they will end up.

Saliba was then asked whether the reconstruction of Beirut's Central District is expected to bring back to Beirut its residents who immigrated during the civil war to surrounding towns such as Jounieh. Saliba answered that it would be better if those immigrants stay in places such as Jounieh. To him, the war was able to achieve something important that planners have not been able to achieve for the past 25 years, which is the effective implementation of decentralization. He adds that 80% of Lebanon's population is located in the coastal zone while large inland areas, such as the Biqa' Valley, remain under-populated. According to Saliba, when one discusses the issues of centralization and decentralization, one needs to address these issues at a national scale rather than simply at the scale of the city or metropolitan center. The preparation of a national plan for Lebanon has been addressed frequently since the end of the war, but has yet to be successfully realized. In fact, the European Union finalized in early 2000 a national plan for the development of southern Lebanon, but the implementation of that plan has been held up as a result of the continuing political tensions affecting that area.

The last question inquired about the extent to which reconstruction efforts in Lebanon depend on encouraging Lebanese immigrants to return from abroad. Saliba stated that the reconstruction process is dependent on bringing Lebanese capital, but not Lebanese immigrants, back into Lebanon. In the case of Solidere's project, for example, a certain percentage of the company's capital was assigned to foreigners. In this context, Saliba added that it should be kept in mind that a large numbers of Lebanese traditionally have immigrated abroad, long before the outbreak of the civil war, and it is estimated that the Lebanese living outside Lebanon are three times as many as those living inside it.


(1) Robert Saliba is an architect and planner, and a post-graduate researcher at Oxford Brookes University's Joint Center of Urban Design. He taught architecture and planning at a number of Lebanese universities including the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese University, and Université St. Joseph. He also served as a planning consultant for the World Bank on a number of studies related to Lebanon, and was a city planning associate at the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles.

He is the author of the monograph Beirut 1920 - 1940: Domestic Architecture between Tradition and Modernity (Beirut: Order of Engineers and Architects, 1998). He also has written a number of scholarly articles on architecture and planning in Lebanon.

 (2) The Tanzeemat or "regulations" was an overall reform program launched under the rule of the Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Majid (1839 - 1861). Its official purpose was to "put into force the current European standards of law and administration, with civil equality and standard liberties for all." See Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam. Vol. 3, The Gunpowder Empires and Modern Times (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 231 - 232.

 (3) Saliba discussed the issues of incorporating the colonial period into the national heritage and the identity of the city of Beirut in a public lecture he delivered in Amman entitled "Deconstructing Beirut's Reconstruction: 1990-2000." For additional information on this subject, see the documentation of the lecture in the e-publications section of this web site.

 (4) See May Davie, "Beirut and the Etoile Area: an Exclusively French Project?" in J. Nasr, M. Volait, and F. Zewdou (eds.), Imported versus Exported Urbanism (London: Spon Editions, forthcoming).

 (5) According to Saliba, the short protection period given for the listed buildings resulted in hasty planning decisions. Those who put together the list relied on a preliminary visual survey that lacked "elaborate criteria for typological classification and preservation." Consequently, the adopted conservation approach was one that dealt with individual buildings instead of promoting an area conservation strategy. See Robert Saliba, "Emergency Preservation of Beirut's Peri-Center Districts: A Framework for Debate and Action," Al-Muhandes 7 (Summer 1997): 71 - 75.

(6) For additional information on the work of Bizri, Salama and Tabet, see the Environment and Heritage section of the Lebanese daily Arabic newspaper, Al-Nahar, October 1, 1998.

 (7) For additional information concerning Solidere, see http://www.solidere.com/. Also see the documentation of Saliba's public lecture, "Deconstructing Beirut's Reconstruction: 1990-2000" in the e-publications section of this web site.

 (8) For additional information concerning the incremental approach to preservation in Beirut, see Robert Saliba "Emergency Preservation of Beirut's Peri-Center Districts: A Framework for Debate and Action."

 (9) For additional information concerning the Ecochard plan and its impact on planning in Lebanon, see Marlene Ghorayeb, "The Work and Influence of Michel Ecochard in Lebanon," in Peter Rowe and Hashim Sarkis (eds.), Projecting Beirut: Episodes in the Construction and Reconstruction of a Modern City (Munich and New York: Prestel Publishing, 1998).

 (10) Rafiq al-Hariri, a prominent businessman, held the post of Lebanon's Prime Minister from 1992 - 1998, and was re-elected to the post in October 2001. He is the main stockholder, and also the initiator, of the Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of the Beirut Central District, Solidere.

 (11) Modern planning is a product of the late 19th century, and initially aimed at mending the cities that were decaying under the influence of industrialization. Its focus had been on a comprehensive approach to planning concerned with large-scale developments, and therefore has been criticized as serving capitalists interest more than the less-powered public. It emphasizes the functional zoning of different activities and the incorporation of non-ornamental, mass-produced modernist architectural designs.

In response to the shortcomings of modern planning and to socioeconomic changes, the modernist paradigm started to be challenged by post-modernism in the 1970s and the 1980s. Post-modern planning focuses on a step-by-step approach that is concerned with small-scale developments and allows for public participation in the planning process. It emphasizes mixed land-use zoning, playful references to past architectural styles, pluralistic and organic strategies, the local context and human scale, the recreation of community and vernacular forms, and the renewal and regeneration of urban fabrics.

For additional information concerning modern and post-modern planning and the differences between them, see David Macleod "Post-Modernism and Urban Planning," at http://www3.sympatico.ca/david.macleod/POMO.HTM.

 (12) For additional information on the Elyssar project as an alternative model of reconstruction and redevelopment, see Mona Harb el-Hak, "Urban Governance in Post-War Beirut: Resources, Negotiations, and Contestations in the Elyssar Project," in Satine Shami (ed.), Capital Cities: Ethnographies of Urban Governance in the Middle East (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, forthcoming); and Mona Harb el-Hak, "Transforming the Site of Dereliction into the Urban Culture of Modernity: Beirut's Southern Suburbs and the Elyssar Project," in Peter Rowe and Hashim Sarkis (eds.), Projecting Beirut: Episodes in the Construction and Reconstruction of a Modern City. Also see Mona Fawaz, Islam, Resistance, and Community Development, Master's thesis, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1998.

 (13) Concerning the Prince of Wales' Urban Design Task Force in Lebanon, see Robert Saliba "The Prince of Wales' Urban Task Force in Lebanon: The Difficult Reconciliation of Western Concepts and Local Urban Politics," Urban Design International 2-3 (September 1997): 155 - 168.

 (14) "The goal of EIA is to prevent environmental degradation by giving decision-makers better information about the potential impacts that an action could have on the environment." See David Macleod, "Primer on Environmental Impact Assessment," at http://www3.sympatico.ca/david.macleod/EIA.HTM.

 (15) For additional information relating to planning conditions in Beirut immediately following the Lebanese civil war, see Khaled Asfour, "The Reconstruction of Beirut: A Dialogue Across Borders," Mimar 40 ( 1991): 18 - 19. This article can be directly accessed at the Internet at http://archnet.org/library/documents/. Also see Angus Gavin, "Heart of Beirut: Making the Master Plan for the Renewal of the Central District," in Peter Rowe and Hashim Sarkis (eds.), Projecting Beirut: Episodes in the Construction and Reconstruction of a Modern City; and Rodolphe el-Khoury, "The Post-War Planning of Beirut," in Peter Rowe and Hashim Sarkis (eds.), Projecting Beirut: Episodes in the Construction and Reconstruction of a Modern City.

 (16) For a criticism of this approach to planning in Beirut's southern suburbs, see Mona Harb el-Hak, "Urban Governance in Post-War Beirut: Resources, Negotiations, and Contestations in the Elyssar Project."

 (17) See Thomas Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989).

 List of Figures

Figure 1: The 1931 Danger Master Plan for Beirut.

Figure 2: The 1977 APUR Reconstruction Plan for Beirut.