The other side

How high­ways di­vided Beirut’s neigh­bor­hoods

Executive Magazine - - Contents -

How high­ways di­vided Beirut’s neigh­bor­hoods

Mar Mikhael usu­ally evokes im­ages of a buzzing

nightlife and hip restau­rants; what few of the neigh­bor­hood’s vis­i­tors re­al­ize, how­ever, is that there is more to Mar Mikhael than Ar­me­nia Street. Even fewer are aware that Mar Mikhael is not bor­dered by Charles Helou Av­enue, but that it in fact splits it in two.

Lo­cated in Medawar in east Beirut, Charles Helou Av­enue was con­structed in 1958 to link Beirut’s north­ern en­trance to the Beirut–Tripoli high­way. High­ways and roads were cen­tral to plan­ners’ at­tempts at shap­ing the city and man­ag­ing ur­ban­iza­tion. In fact, prior to the 1964 mas­ter plan for Greater Beirut, writ­ten by the French ar­chi­tect and ur­ban plan­ner Michel Ecochard, the only plan that was ap­proved by the gov­ern­ment was the 1954 one, which was a lit­tle more than an net­work of in­ter­sect­ing roads with no zon­ing reg­u­la­tions and high den­si­fi­ca­tion fac­tors.

Ecochard him­self was fa­mous for his nu­mer­ous high­way projects, the most fa­mous of which is the Le­banese coastal high­way, built in the 1930s. He thought in­creas­ing the ve­hic­u­lar ca­pac­ity of ex­ist­ing roads would fa­cil­i­tate the trans­port of work­ers into the city. This mod­ernist ap­proach to plan­ning was com­mon in the West in the first half of the 20th cen­tury; en­gi­neers con­ceived high­ways ac­cord­ing to traf­fic trends to max­i­mize the ef­fi­cient cir­cu­la­tion of goods and peo­ple. TORN COM­MU­NI­TIES

In the­ory, high­ways re­duce trans­porta­tion costs, al­low for spe­cial­iza­tion in pro­duc­tion, and en­able re­gions to de­velop a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage. In prac­tice, how­ever, in ad­di­tion to pro­duc­ing con­ges­tion and pol­lu­tion, high­ways hol­low out the com­mu­ni­ties they cross through. There is also ev­i­dence that sug­gests that high­ways are dis­pro­por­tion­ately routed through un­der­priv­i­leged neigh­bor­hoods. In the United States, for­mer trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary An­thony Foxx has claimed that most of those dis­placed by high­way projects were low-in­come African Amer­i­cans. Road projects de­stroyed 1,500 build­ings and 200 busi­nesses in the now-van­ished neigh­bor­hood of Brook­lyn in Char­lotte, North Carolina, while in­ner-city high­ways led to a 30 per­cent de­crease in the pop­u­la­tion of Syra­cuse, New York.

Sim­i­larly, the con­struc­tion of Charles Helou Av­enue meant that the ef­fi­cient cir­cu­la­tion of au­to­mo­biles was pri­or­i­tized over the well­be­ing of Medawar’s com­mu­ni­ties. Parts of Nour Ha­jin, an Ar­me­nian camp in the north of Mar Mikhael, were wiped out as the camp shrunk from 25,000 to 18,000 square me­ters. The Saint Therese Church was de­mol­ished to make way for the av­enue. The av­enue also stood as an ob­sta­cle for those liv­ing north of it, as they were now blocked from reach­ing Mar Mikhael Church by foot.

Res­i­dents of Mar Mikhael’s port side re­called in the first few decades af­ter the av­enue was built that hun­dreds had died at­tempt­ing to cross the av­enue over to the other side where most shops, such as con­ve­nience stores and butch­ers, were lo­cated. Ac­cord­ing to the same long-time res­i­dents, those cross­ing the av­enue were also easy tar­gets for snipers lo­cated in tow­ers in nearby Saifi dur­ing the civil war, fur­ther dis­con­nect­ing the two sides. The only pedes­trian bridge

A street in Mar Mikhael’s north­ern side. A pub­lic gar­den can be seen on the right. Source: Khalil Hariri

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lebanon

© PressReader. All rights reserved.