July 30, 2006


THE FALL, RISE & FALL OF BEIRUT: The latest bombing of Beirut comes at a time when the ancient city has finally emerged from the rubble of a 15-year civil war. The regeneration has been a stunning success, guided by a certainty, clarity and almost poetic sensibility (CHRISTOPHER HUME, 7/30/06, TORONTO STAR)

That conflict, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, was a time of astounding self-destruction. But the reconstruction that followed is widely regarded as one of the great examples of urban regeneration. It is familiar to planners and planning students around the world as a process that worked wonders, a model for the rest of the world.

It was often referred to in these parts when the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. was being set up; experts said it offered many lessons for this city.

One of its most ardent admirers is Toronto urban designer Tony Coombes. He spent several years in Beirut during the mid- to late-1990s as an adviser to Solidere, the corporation created in 1994 by the Lebanese government to oversee the rebuilding of central Beirut.

The mandate and structure of Solidere — which is still in operation, or was until the Israeli onslaught — has been much studied. It was the key to the success of Beirut's revival.

As Coombes explains it, Solidere acquired the land in the central district of Beirut and issued shares to owners and tenants on the basis of their property holdings. Three tribunals were created to ensure that those involved received what to which they were rightfully entitled. Another stipulation was that no one person or business could own more than 10 per cent of Solidere shares.

The intention was to enable Solidere to set rules, makes business deals, establish design guidelines and work directly with developers. Shareholder dividends were paid from funds raised selling land to developers.

As Coombes recalls, the time he spent in Beirut was one of uncertainty: "The electricity could go off at any time and the phones didn't necessarily work. The central district had been destroyed. No one was living there but squatters."

"Solidere was an extraordinary response to an extreme situation," he says. "It was essentially an invention of the great prime minister, Rafik Hariri, who himself put money into the company."

A self-made billionaire who twice served as prime minister of Lebanon, Hariri was assassinated on Feb. 14, 2005. His death, for which many held Syria responsible, inspired a grassroots democratic movement that toppled the government and saw Syrian forces leaving Lebanon after 26 years of occupation.

The reconstruction of Beirut continued throughout those anxious days. According to Coombes, the process itself created a small army of administrators, architects, designers, builders and artisans to carry on the work.

Says Coombes: "It became one of the great urban reconstruction companies in the world. It was a tour de force, a heroic act, one of the most astonishing examples of city-building of the last 50 years."

Solidere even managed to transform the vast landfill site in the old harbour into a new public space.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 30, 2006 9:09 AM

Stability and prosperity aren't in the interests of terrorists/Islamists/insurgents/freedom fighters or whatever is the preferred PC term of the moment. The last thing they want is citizens freely pursuing happiness in their own way.

If such a thing were to spread to neighboring countries, what would happen to the "repository of Lebanese Shi'ite political aspirations" aka Hezbollah. This is so obvious, yet I haven't seen it mentioned as a possible reason for this most recent flair-up of violence or the continued insane behavior of those who have achieved, after sixty long years of yearning, their hearts' desire, their very own state of Palestine.

Posted by: erp at July 30, 2006 9:54 AM

And that's a trip too far for Hispanic construction workers, in any event. It would require an especially wily coyote.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 30, 2006 5:41 PM


The same is probably true in Afghanistan, where the Taliban will blow up or kill anything that isn't 'of them' (schools, businesses, roads, runways, etc.). Too bad none of them ever felt Mullah Omar's gilded love rooms needed re-decorating with hand grenades.

And we can only hope Baghdad doesn't become like Beirut, circa. 1976-1986. Mookie and al-Douri (along with Damascus & Tehran) would like that, to be sure, but I doubt if most anyone else would.

Posted by: ratbert at July 31, 2006 1:31 AM