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UTC Beyrouth heritage
17 Mar 2021
BEIRUT POST-BLAST RECONSTRUCTION
Climate-Heritage Planning to Build Back Better
On the 17th of March 2021, the Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC) on “Beirut Post blast reconstruction: Climate Heritage planning to build back better” tackled the dual concerns of cultural heritage preservation and climate change in the context of Beirut’s post-blast reconstruction, the aim being to Build Back Better. The UTC program was launched for the implementation of the UN New Urban Agenda (NUA) adopted in 2016 and the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be achieved by 2030. This UTC was the fifth of a set of conferences discussing urbanism and climate change. This webinar follows multiple conferences and debates which all contribute towards an integrated vision to achieve Beirut’s reconstruction. Most importantly, this seminar was organised in the wake of a conference organised on the 14th of March 2021 by the Order of Engineers and Architects of Beirut, which reiterated the Beirut Urban Declaration and strengthened it by disclosing 10 concrete proposals for immediate action to rebuild, rehabilitate and revitalise the neighbourhoods hit by the blast.
The UTC was organized by ICOMOS in partnership with the American University of Beirut (AUB) and specifically the graduate programs in Urban Planning, Policy and Design (MUPP/MUD) in the Department of Architecture and Design and Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA), the Institut Français du Proche-Orient (IFPO), the Metropolitan and Territorial Planning Agencies global network (FNAU-MTPA) as well as the Institut Paris Region (IPR). The two round tables gathered local institutions (Mohafat of Beirut, Urban planning Directorate from the ministry of public works and transportation, Antiquities Directorate from the ministry of Culture and Agriculture, Order of Engineers and Architects of Beirut), international organizations (UN-Habitat, UNESCO, UNDP, World Bank), experts (Institut Paris Region, Khattib we Alami, URBI), academicians (AUB, IFPO), and NGOs’ representatives (ICOMOS Lebanon, Climate heritage Network, Gaia Heritage) of the heritage, urban planning and climate sectors.
The blast that occurred on the 4th of August 2020, taking off at the port of Beirut, the heart of the city, and expanding within a 2-mile radius, took the lives of more than 200 persons, wounded more than 6,000 and dislodged hundreds of thousands of others. The explosion also damaged over 8,000 buildings, mostly concentrated in the historical centre, of which 640 are of heritage value and 80 are now at a risk of collapse. Moreover, 64 art galleries, 20 libraries, 713 creative industries and 3,500 creative industry jobs are threatened. According to the European Union, United Nations and World Bank co-written ‘Lebanon reform, recovery and reconversion framework (3RF)’, damages are estimated at 3.8 to 4.6 billion USD, with the housing and the cultural sectors most severely affected. This urban crisis added to an already critical situation within the country, which is facing political, social, economic, and sanitary difficulties, leading to the collapse of essential public services. The reconstruction process is made even more arduous by the weakness since the blast of the national government and unsteady local institutions that are unable to coordinate funds, workers, volunteers, and most importantly to inspire trust within the population. However, aid has come in the form of more than 500 NGOs and institutions that have mobilised, alongside the population, the Lebanese army and the Mohafez of Beirut. Dialogue and coordination between all these actors are critical to ensuring an integrated vision and response to the disaster.
Urban planning is at the heart of the politics of reconstruction as it impacts physical and social dimensions. However, despite its rich historical background and urban fabric, Beirut has had over the last decades a chaotic urban history. The 1954 urban plan known as ‘zoning’ attributing high occupation coefficients to ancient districts provoked an increased pressure and urban densification in the historical districts. The post-war reconstruction after 1990 was characterised by the Solidere plan, favouring the construction of modern buildings and the gentrification of neighbourhoods, resulting in the disappearance of countless historical buildings and in the displacement of local communities. A master plan already exists for Beirut metropolitan area but has never been applied due to lack of political will. Thus, Beirut has also been plagued for decades by the absence of a coordinated urban planning and public policy.
Aim of the UTC
This UTC aims at mapping recommendations for the reconstruction of Beirut to Build Back Better, but also to position this recovery framework within Lebanon’s and Beirut’s specific context, assets, and drawbacks. This webinar was intended to lay out some creative solutions, alternatives, and recommendations towards rebuilding the city, while keeping in consideration one of the most critical challenges yet to be faced: climate change. The destruction might give the city of Beirut an opportunity to Build Back Better in acknowledgement of the rising climatic crisis, whilst being respectful and at the service of the public and its interest. The recovery process must be mindful of both climate change and the historical and cultural fabric of the city. Sustainable development and cultural heritage are not opposed but rather complementary. Although the explosion was, without question, a disaster, a blessing should be extracted from this evil as an opportunity to integrate within a new urban design and planning actions to adapt to the unavoidable consequences of climate change, but also to mitigate its impact. Cultural heritage should equally be one of the major stakes in the recovery process as a tool for physical, social, and economic reconstruction, but also as it is at risk from climate change.
The integrated vision for Beirut’s reconstruction and this UTC are premised on the assumption that it is desirable to create an inclusive urban context in which the development model is redistributive and socially just, protective of heritage, and ecologically sound. As such, the rentier model that has dominated the growth of the city over the recent decades must be questioned. The historic neighbourhoods that were damaged by the blast used to precisely challenge this landowning rentier model, by making an adaptive economic re-use of its cultural heritage, attracting successfully creative industries, cultural and tourism activities and relatively maintaining a social variety. In addition, given that the post-blast recovery is occurring in the shadow of the breakdown of public institutions and a major financial meltdown, it is unlikely that any large-scale traditional master-planning will be possible or useful. Every disaster is unique, and no general action plan can be made applicable to every situation but must be fitted to each specific case. Guidelines are not all adapted to Beirut and recommendations need to be customized before they are applied to the Lebanese capital.
Most of the recommendations were based upon principles that are characteristic of the UNESCO and World Bank CURE framework: people-centred and place-based policies with sustainable physical and socio-economic recovery. As mentioned by Yasmine Makaroun, such a CURE framework should be applied to Beirut’s situation, and customized to its specific needs and context. The contribution of this webinar were characterised by other prevailing principles and needs, such as the interconnectivity between all the neighbourhoods, to be respectful of the past and open to the future, to be environmentally sound, to rethink the institutional mechanisms, to coordinate sustainable reconstruction and to strengthen the role of local and central agencies. Objectives were added to those such as to stress the reconstruction of Beirut on Climate Heritage Planning, to offer an opportunity for dialogue, to give perspective for the implementation of the Declaration of Beirut, to summarize previous initiatives and debates and to share the best practices for innovation in climate resilient urban planning.
This conference was divided between two panels, the first one focusing on climatic and urban planning challenges, but also opportunities and recommendations, and the second one justifying how heritage has a crucial role to play in both the physical and social reconstructions, as well as in climatic resilience.
Eric Huybrechts, ICOMOS-CIVVIH, Institut Paris Region, FNAU-MTPA: Presentation of the UTC
Teresa Patricio, President of ICOMOS
Christine Knudsen, Director of External Relations, Strategy, Knowledge and Innovation, UN-Habitat
Marwan Abboud, Mohafez (Governor) of Beirut: Introduction
Panel A – Climate resilient planning
Kamel Dorai, IFPO: Introduction
Fouad Awada, Director general of Institut Paris Region: Keynote speaker
- Fadi Saliba, Directorate of Urban planning of Lebanon
- Jad Tabet, President of the Order of Engineers and Architects of Beirut
- Vahakn Kabakian, UNDP
- Georges Abi Sleiman, UN-Habitat
- Karima Ben Bih, World Bank
- Mona Fawaz, MUPP-MUD and Beirut Urban Lab /AUB
- Edgard Mourad, Khatib & Alami
Panel B – Culture and Heritage
Serge Yazigi, AUB: Introduction
Yasmine Makaroun, ICOMOS Lebanon: Keynote speaker
- Karim Hendili, UNESCO Task force for the Reconstruction of Beirut
- Habib Debs, architect and urban planner, URBI
- Christianna Johnnides Brotsis, World Bank
- Andrew Potts, Climate Heritage Network
- Howayda Al-Harithy, MUPP-MUD and Beirut Urban Lab/ AUB
- George Zouain, Gaia Heritage