I was going to write something long and windy on the allegations and burden of proof of chemical weapons use – from both sides of the morass – in Syria.
But I can’t not say anything on this monstrosity, detailing plans to put up a super highway across east Beirut, which will destroy some of the Lebanese capital’s few remaining (and totally lovely) old buildings.
Here’s what the area where the highway will go – through Ashrafieh, Mar Mikhael and Getawi (note the nice old red topped buildings) that will be torn down):
Now, as heartbreaking as this might be, local authorities tearing down buildings (especially old, valuable ones) is nothing new in Beirut or indeed the rest of Lebanon, hence the formation of vital lobby groups such as Save Beirut Heritage.
But the logic of this project is extremely daft. It will ruin one of Beirut’s few remaining old (some would use the horrid word authentic) neighbourhoods in favour of another avenue for traffic jams. It will further encourage car use in a city already choking from fumes and journey delays. It will further reduce the already artificially circumscribed areas that attract tourists which, for a country as heavily dependent on tourist dollars as Lebanon, can be ill afforded. And, as much as anything else, the plans cut through neighbourhoods where a lot of the press lives. So at least we can hopefully cause a stink.
There is cause for optimism and negativity. Optimism, because there is no government, nor is there likely to be one, nor are governments or local council groups ever particularly proactive and effective when they do exist. Similarly, while private industrial or commercial property projects mushroom across the town, Beirut is hardly a proactive place when it comes to investment and delivery of infrastructure, which I guess this awful project purports to be. For example, the bridges around Emile Lahoud and Jisr l Wati were only meant to last a few years. They are temporary structures that successive governments just never got around to making permanent (or safe).
Negativity, because recent history has shown us that civic interest lies at the very bottom of governmental or municipal priority. The irony in all this is that this road/bridge structure couldn’t even be argued to be necessary were it not for the intervention in the Rafik Hariri years of one Mr Ghazal, who put a stop to a big highway linking Sagesse to the sea road because his impressively tall tower stood right on its route.
He must have “lobbied” hard enough and got his wish, landing the regenerating captial with its retrospectively charming “Bridge to Nowhere”. So the biggest bars to this project remain regrettably out of public control; it’s more likely to not be built due to incompetence/nepotism than it is due to civil society. Not that that means we shouldn’t raise hell about this.