A Unique Land­scape on the Coast of Beirut

Ekaruna - - Special Report -

Dalieh, a unique nat­u­ral site along the coast of Beirut, 140,000 square me­tres of ur­ban coast­line in a nat­u­ral land­scape pocket, and the last of the coastal head­lands, over­look­ing the em­blem­atic ‘Sakhret el-Raouche’ - also lo­cally re­ferred to as Raouche. It is a land­mark nat­u­ral rock for­ma­tion that dom­i­nates Beirut’s view from the sea, a scene that has been found on many of the city’s post­cards since the 1950’s. It in­cludes a pros­per­ous bio­di­ver­sity, a rich va­ri­ety of ge­o­mor­pho­log­i­cal fea­tures, as well as an im­por­tant site of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­mains. For decades, this area has acted as an un­scripted gath­er­ing space and has en­com­passed a vi­brant in­for­mal econ­omy re­volv­ing around fish­ing, fa­mous fish restau­rants, boat tour­ing, pad­dling, and scenic pho­tog­ra­phy. Fam­i­lies and friends had found in this space a nat­u­ral des­ti­na­tion for week­end pic­nics, lovers a quiet and idyl­lic set­ting, sea-go­ers a strate­gic swimming and fish­ing des­ti­na­tion, and com­mu­ni­ties an ad­e­quate set­ting for the cel­e­bra­tion of their fes­tiv­i­ties.

Like most of the western coast­line of Beirut, Dalieh prop­er­ties were the re­sult of the vi­sions of Ot­toman, and later French author­i­ties, to en­trust the city’s com­mons to the no­ta­bles and main fam­i­lies of the cap­i­tal. The of­fi­cial cadas­tral prop­erty records in­di­cate that since the 1920’s and up un­til 1995, those prop­er­ties had mul­ti­ple own­ers; they were all mem­bers of the so-called “old fam­i­lies of Beirut” (Dic­ta­phone Group, 2012). How­ever, the prop­erty ti­tles did not con­tra­dict with the prac­tice of Dalieh as a col­lec­tive coastal com­mon. Per­haps one of Dalieh’s most en­dur­ing and dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics is the un­scripted qual­ity of its set­ting, al­low­ing for mul­ti­ple, over­lap­ping – yet never con­flict­ing – ac­tiv­i­ties to oc­cur. This is be­cause Dalieh does not ful­fil the le­gal def­i­ni­tion of a public space, it is a nat­u­ral open space, where ac­tiv­i­ties are not reg­u­lated or con­trolled by state author­i­ties. Ur­ban and build­ing reg­u­la­tions had rel­a­tively pro­tected Beirut’s seafront for decades. In 1995 how­ever, those small land parcels owned by Beiruti fam­i­lies were pur­chased by sev­eral real es­tate com­pa­nies that con­sol­i­dated them to­gether, into a sin­gle prop­erty own­er­ship be­long­ing to sev­eral real es­tate com­pa­nies, all owned by a well-en­dowed and very pow­er­ful Le­banese po­lit­i­cal fig­ure. Hav­ing used the area for gen­er­a­tions, city dwellers paid lit­tle at­ten­tion to the own­er­ship of this prop­erty. How­ever, fol­low­ing a num­ber of re­cent events, a few of the area’s users be­came aware that Dalieh is pri­vately owned. Since sum­mer 2014, rapid trans­for­ma­tions have abruptly in­ter­rupted Dalieh’s so­cial and eco­nomic life; fish­er­men were com­pen­sated and evicted, their stalls and restau­rants de­mol­ished, con­crete wave-break­ers de­posited on the site, dam­ag­ing its nat­u­ral veg­e­ta­tion, and the site has been fenced, re­strict­ing ac­cess to a nar­row open­ing and erod­ing the eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity of the tra­di­tional fish­ing port at the Minet el Dalieh. Nu­mer­ous clues point to a loom­ing threat of an ex­clu­sive lux­u­ri­ous pri­vate touris­tic re­sort de­vel­op­ment to sup­plant Dalieh, stitch­ing the area to sim­i­lar de­vel­op­ments that have mush­roomed over the past decades along the city’s coast.

Why a Cam­paign?

The Dalieh Cam­paign was es­tab­lished in March 2014, to ad­vo­cate the preser­va­tion of this spot as an open-ac­cess shared space for all city dwellers and visi­tors. It is com­posed of a work­group of con­cerned cit­i­zens, mainly, en­gaged pro­fes­sion­als

in the fields of build­ing and land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture, ur­ban plan­ning and de­sign, ar­chae­ol­ogy, her­itage man­age­ment, in ad­di­tion to Dalieh users, fish­er­men and swim­mers, en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists, artists and de­sign­ers, and a coali­tion of non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The ob­jec­tive of the Dalieh Cam­paign is the preser­va­tion of Dalieh as a cul­tural land­scape her­itage site in Beirut and a shared open space. The cam­paign is op­posed to any high-end ex­clu­sive pri­vate de­vel­op­ment on the site that would erode its so­cio­cul­tural prac­tices, and to any per­ma­nent struc­ture that could dam­age its sen­si­tive phys­i­cal fea­tures. Since its in­cep­tion, the Dalieh Cam­paign has car­ried out nu­mer­ous ac­tions in­clud­ing an online pe­ti­tion, meet­ings with key stake­hold­ers, fil­ing law­suits to re­voke leg­is­la­tion, or­gan­is­ing com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties in Dalieh, tak­ing part in public de­bates at univer­si­ties and com­pil­ing guide­lines for the preser­va­tion of the site, in ad­di­tion to sub­mit­ting the can­di­da­ture of Dalieh to the World Mon­u­ments Fund List for 2016, which will be an­nounced in Oc­to­ber 2015.

The cam­paign has gen­er­ated an on-go­ing public out­cry, in the form of protests, dis­cus­sions, media mo­bil­i­sa­tion and letters to of­fi­cials. Most of­fi­cials ac­cept the ar­gu­ment in prin­ci­ple but are not will­ing to en­dorse the cam­paign openly be­cause of po­lit­i­cal al­liances. In March 2014, how­ever, and af­ter sev­eral months of meet­ing with the Dalieh Cam­paign, the Le­banese Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment drafted and is­sued a de­cree clas­si­fy­ing Dalieh as a na­tional pro­tected area. The draft law was sent to the Le­banese Leg­isla­tive Court (‘Shura Coun­cil’) for ap­proval, af­ter that, it would re­quire a vote by the Coun­cil of Min­is­ters. While this con­sti­tutes a fun­da­men­tal ef­fort on be­half of the Min­istry to­wards pro­tect­ing the site and cre­at­ing ob­sta­cles to real es­tate de­vel­op­ers, it im­poses strin­gent re­quire­ments to as­sess the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact since it is not suf­fi­cient to elim­i­nate the loom­ing threat of con­struc­tion on the site. Any ar­chi­tec­tural in­ter­ven­tion that mod­i­fies this seafront land­scape, par­tic­u­larly one that pri­va­tises a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of this public land­mark, will have re­sound­ing neg­a­tive im­pacts. The pri­vate re­sort pro­ject en­vi­sioned on Dalieh threat­ens a unique ecosys­tem com­pris­ing a rich ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and ge­o­log­i­cal site.

Beirut Coastal Com­mons and Pri­vati­sa­tion

Of­fi­cial prop­erty records of July 2014, in­di­cate that ap­prox­i­mately 95.06 % of Dalieh is pri­vately owned by 3 real es­tate com­pa­nies be­long­ing to very pow­er­ful de­vel­op­ers and in­flu­en­tial po­lit­i­cal fig­ures. Com­pared to present cadas­tral maps - those dat­ing back to the pe­riod of the French Man­date over Le­banon, clearly in­di­cat­ing that cur­rent pri­vate land hold­ings en­croaches over the mar­itime public do­main - de­mon­strat­ing that prop­erty bound­aries in Dalieh have been il­lic­itly mod­i­fied to pro­vide the pri­vati­sa­tion of a large sec­tion of the nat­u­ral site.

Amend­ment to (and vi­o­la­tion of) the reg­u­la­tory frame­work gov­ern­ing the marine do­main in Le­banon is not a re­cent oc­cur­rence. Over the past twenty-five years, pol­icy-mak­ers, min­is­ters, and mem­bers of the po­lit­i­cal elite have ob­sti­nately mu­ti­lated le­gal statutes to serve their pri­vate in­ter­ests.

Or­der 144 dat­ing back to 1925 and still in ef­fect to­day, de­fines what con­sti­tutes Public Prop­erty and for­mu­lates rights of ac­cess to nat­u­ral re­sources. It clas­si­fies the sea as an in­alien­able mar­itime public do­main that can­not be sold nor owned. The 1954 Beirut Master Plan de­fined zon­ing reg­u­la­tions and pro­hib­ited con­struc­tion on the coast, and es­pe­cially in Zone 10 where Dalieh is si­t­u­ated.

Since the mid-1960’s, pres­sure ap­plied by de­vel­op­ers and the prop­er­tied elite have re­versed the full pro­vi­sions against build­ing in this zone. This fa­cil­i­tated in­creas­ing build­ing co­ef­fi­cients to lev­els reach­ing 60%, and al­lowed for the pri­vati­sa­tion of ar­eas typ­i­cally used as public spa­ces.

Con­trary to the pre­vi­ous pro­tec­tive le­gal mea­sures, in 1966, de­cree 4810 was passed to al­low own­ers of prop­erty ad­ja­cent to the sea to pri­vately ex­ploit the mar­itime do­main due to pres­sure by real es­tate de­vel­op­ers. Another law 402/1995 was is­sued to en­able landown­ers with a plot larger than 20,000 sqm to dou­ble their to­tal ex­ploita­tion fac­tor and quadru­ple their sur­face ex­ploita­tion if a ho­tel is to be built. This in­cludes zone 10 where Dalieh falls. Ad­di­tion­ally, another de­cree, 7464/1995 was is­sued to al­low for the ex­ploita­tion of the mar­itime public do­main in Zone 10. The last al­ter­ation (April 2014) to the build­ing and zon­ing reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing Zone 10 pro­longed the ef­fect of Law 402/1995 for 19 years.

The le­gal ju­ris­dic­tion over Dalieh and its pro­tec­tion as a nat­u­ral her­itage and gath­er­ing space is a re­spon­si­bil­ity shared by sev­eral in­sti­tu­tional bod­ies which in­clude, The Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, the key agency en­trusted with the preser­va­tion of the site, and the High Coun­cil for Ur­ban Plan­ning with the power to refuse grant­ing ex­cep­tional de­crees and amend­ments and the man­date to pro­pose new leg­is­la­tion for the pro­tec­tion of the site.

Lodged on the prime sea-front area and pri­vately held by wellen­dowed de­vel­op­ers look­ing for lu­cra­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties, Dalieh is an at­trac­tive real es­tate in­vest­ment and a strate­gic lo­ca­tion for a pri­vate high-end mar­itime re­sort. The main chal­lenge to en­sure the pro­tec­tion of the site is, there­fore, a le­gal one. This en­tails re­vok­ing de­crees and laws that al­lowed the ex­ploita­tion of the marine public do­main that stand in clear con­flict with ear­lier pro­tec­tive mea­sure.

Dalieh’s Sig­nif­i­cance: A Nat­u­ral and Cul­tural Her­itage

Dalieh and Raouche are the last re­main­ing coastal karstic (lime­stone) out­crops of the Cre­ta­ceous pe­riod (around 95 mil­lion years ago), con­tain­ing fos­sils of sea urchins, oys­ters and gas­tropods. Ne­olithic re­mains dis­cov­ered around 1915 sug­gest that Dalieh was prob­a­bly the first in-situ flint in­dus­try site on the Mediter­ranean coast and per­haps the first hu­man set­tle­ment in Beirut.

Dalieh shel­ters steno-en­demic species (crit­i­cally en­dan­gered) and na­tive coastal plants that are sig­nif­i­cant to the Le­banese marine ecosys­tem, now re­stricted to small ar­eas in Le­banon. Nu­mer­ous stud­ies con­ducted by Green­peace, the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture, the Le­banese Min­istry of the En­vi­ron­ment, among oth­ers, high­light the eco­log­i­cal value of Dalieh as a ter­res­trial habi­tat for fruit bats and birds, as well as a marine habi­tat with a net­work of un­der­wa­ter caves and ver­metid (worm snails) reefs where a unique marine life flour­ishes - in­clud­ing a com­mu­nity of monk seals.

Dalieh is equally im­por­tant at the so­cio­cul­tural level. The Ara­bic word Dalieh des­ig­nates any plant that hangs down, typ­i­cally used on ver­nac­u­lar roof ter­races where fam­i­lies, neigh­bours and friends gather to mark the end of the work­day. It was the site of ex­ten­sive ur­ban agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­ity un­til the 1960’s, and is still as­so­ci­ated with Beirut’s tra­di­tional fish­ing history, boosted in the 1950’s af­ter the es­tab­lish­ment of the Minet el-Dalieh fish­ing port. Un­til the 1960s, it was where Beirutis con­gre­gated on the last Wed­nes­day of April ev­ery year to celebrate Job’s Wed­nes­day (Ar­baat Ayub) as­so­ci­ated with the mir­a­cle of the Prophet Job, who is said to have healed from his pains af­ter swimming pa­tiently in the sea. Dalieh was also a fam­ily pic­nic site and a des­ti­na­tion of ‘Si­ran’, an ac­tiv­ity that in­volved strolling and food prepa­ra­tion in nat­u­ral ar­eas. Un­til re­cently, Dalieh has hosted the grand an­nual Nowruz fes­tiv­i­ties, the Zoroas­trian New Year, cel­e­brated by the Kur­dish com­mu­nity on March 21st of ev­ery year.

Dalieh Ideas-Com­pe­ti­tion

“Re­vis­it­ing Dalieh: Call­ing for Al­ter­na­tive Vi­sions along Beirut’s Coast” is an ideas-com­pe­ti­tion or­gan­ised un­der the pa­tron­age of the Le­banese Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, and with the sup­port of the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Beirut’s As­fari In­sti­tute for Civil So­ci­ety and Cit­i­zen­ship, Na­ture Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter and Neigh­bour­hood Ini­tia­tive.

The com­pe­ti­tion aims to pro­vide a plat­form for the pro­tec­tion, preser­va­tion, main­te­nance and en­hance­ment of Dalieh as a shared open space. It is an open call for pro­fes­sion­als and stu­dents in the de­sign-re­lated dis­ci­plines to pro­pose a plan to main­tain Dalieh as an open-ac­cess shared space. The com­pe­ti­tion is so­lic­it­ing cre­ative, sen­si­tive and sus­tain­able vi­sions, spa­tial con­fig­u­ra­tions, as well as pro­gram­matic, and in­sti­tu­tional pro­pos­als ca­pa­ble of bal­anc­ing be­tween the area’s eco­log­i­cal, so­cial, and eco­nomic needs, and re­flect­ing on its own­er­ship sta­tus, trig­ger­ing ques­tions such as: Who owns? Who con­trols? Who man­ages? Who main­tains? Artists, le­gal scholars, econ­o­mists, so­ci­ol­o­gists, and other dis­ci­plines, are en­cour­aged to par­tic­i­pate as mem­bers within de­sign-led teams. A jury of mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary na­tional and in­ter­na­tional pro­fes­sion­als and public fig­ures will re­view the sub­mis­sions and se­lect the win­ning schemes which will be show­cased at a tour­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, start­ing with the Beirut De­sign Week in June 2015 and will be fea­tured in a pub­li­ca­tion about ad­vo­cacy to pre­serve Dalieh as a an open-ac­cess shared space. A crowd­fund­ing cam­paign has been launched to spon­sor and sup­port the com­pe­ti­tion and its re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties.

Dalieh Camp­gain Press con­fer­ence, 2014 Cour­tesy of Habib Bat­tah - Beirutre­port.com

Panoramic im­age show­ing, Dalieh caves, tra­di­tional fish­ing boats, edge of the two break­away rocks lo­cally as Rouche and view from Dalieh of the ur­ban wa­ter­front, 2010 Cour­tesy of Tala Tab­bakh

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