Rebuilding Beirut: An Urban Project of Memory and Reconciliation
The Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) caused vast destruction to the city of Beirut, particularly in the area now called the Beirut central district. The reconstruction of the city can be explained as a project that seeks both to be faithful to the architectural legacy of the Ottoman and French mandate eras, and to modernise the city as a commercial and financial centre that connects the Levant to the Europe. The reconstruction of the city also seeks to use public space for national reconciliation and healing. The public nature of the reconstruction of the city is, however, a largely private sector enterprise. Whereas the construction activity of the city in the 1950s and 1960s was essentially government-led, and was in large part the result of Keynesian economic planning, the reconstruction of the 1990s and 2000s is essentially private sector-driven, and can be seen as a product of neoliberalism. This helps explain the largely commercial nature of the redevelopment of the Beirut central district, although the role of public space in reintegrating the western and eastern parts of the city features prominently. The reconstruction of the city needs to be understood as a largely elitist project focusing on the commercial and waterfront areas to the exclusion of other urban spaces, such as the southern suburbs of Beirut and the Palestinian refugee camps where large slum areas remain.
Keywords: Public Space, Memory, Forgiving, Neoliberalism, Cultural Sustainability
Dr. David Humphreys
Senior Lecturer in Environmental Policy, Geography Discipline