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Managing visions and projects for the City of Beirut

Visions et projets pour la ville de Beyrouth

الرؤى الإدارية والمشاريع الخاصة بمدينة بيروت



The paper will present the challenge for Beirut, which is to try and work to improve some trends and good practices, in order to take the capital back to its previous prominent position in terms of dynamism, beauty and sustainability. This requires to establish proper urban planning at all different levels, in order to eventually comply with our vision and to identify the needs which are specific to the population’s aspirations.

L’exposé définit les défis auxquels est confrontée la ville de Beyrouth, qui est de travailler à améliorer les usages de la ville, afin que la capitale retrouve le rôle qui fut le sien en termes de dynamisme, de beauté et de durabilité. Cela exige d’établir un plan d’urbanisme adapté à différents niveaux, afin que cette vision se réalise en harmonie avec les aspirations de la population.

تعرض هذه الورقة التحدي الذي يواجه بيروت والذي يتلخّص بمحاولة العمل على تحسين بعض الميول والممارسات الجيدة، من أجل إعادة العاصمة إلى موقعها البارز السابق على مستوى الديناميكية والجمال والاستدامة. إن ذلك يتطلب وضع تخطيطٍ عمراني مناسب على مختلف المستويات، من أجل الاستجابة لرؤيتنا وتحديد الحاجات المرتبطة بطموحات السكان.

Entrées d’index

Mots-clés : urbanisme, plan d’urbanisme

Index géographique : Beyrouth

Keywords : Beirut, urban planning

فهرس الكلمات المفتاحية : بيروت, تخطيطٍ عمراني

Texte intégral

Photomontage des noms de rue à Ashrafieh, Beyrouth

Image 1.jpg

Photo C. Pieri

1It is a privilege for me today to participate in this session representing the Municipal Council of Beirut. It is a priceless occasion for Beirut to host such conferences draining wide professional attention far from the grim atmosphere of politics.

2A challenge in a city like Beirut, that was the beauty of the region, is to try and work to improve some trends and practices to take Beirut back to the position it maintained for long years.

3Another challenge we face is the ability to look at the whole and over all perspective of the city, rather than focus on projects or even at neighborhoods... A challenge that will require proper urban planning at all different levels...

4A committee of urban planners, architects and professional figures has been formed by the current Municipal Council. Five challenges were identified and five sub-committees were formed namely: Strategic Planning, Open Spaces, Preservation of Heritage, Mobility and Rehabilitation of Undeveloped Neighborhoods. We have started the process of setting guidelines for the development of a Strategic Plan based on a comprehensive vision of the regional role of the Capital and development objectives. This initiative is a high priority for Beirut, as the most recent physical Master Plan dates back to 1954. We are fully aware that the implementation of any vision, even if modest, is an extremely difficult and complicated venture, and surely will require administrative and legal reform and may well be beyond the reach of municipal power and necessitate a wider and more far-reaching national intervention. We also know very well that some of our ideas and decisions might not be very popular, especially in a society used to chaotic development rather than to communal and long term pay back achievements.

5Nevertheless, we have to assume our responsibilities and surely we will make a difference. The Municipality of Beirut, without waiting for the development of urban planning studies identified a series of immediate actions in public spaces. The Municipality has the financial resources to implement the projects, but lack the professional expertise to prepare terms of reference of such technical projects. Here comes the valued collaboration with Ile-de-France Region who are assisting the Municipality by providing their technical support and professional expertise.

6A major “pilot project” is a study of Soft Moving Plan between the Pine Forest and Beirut Downtown through Damascus Street. The choice of this priority project is based on the value of linking these two major sites of the city which both have public spaces constructed of high quality. This project will promote the adoption of alternative modes of travel in the city (pedestrians, bicycles, public transport). It must also be an opportunity to renew the image of the city by encouraging more qualitative public spaces. Environmental effects will be encountered by improving the living environment the urban landscape, Social effects will also be envisaged because an improved meeting place will surely facilitate the social links between communities.

7On the other hand, I will grab this opportunity today to talk about a new project that the Municipality is very eager to implement soon which is the creation of Beirut Central Park. Beirut Municipality would like, with the support of Ile-de-France Region, to create a large park facility required by the Beiruties: “the Central Park”. This project will gather and redevelop the area of the race course parcel (20 hectares), Horch Beirut park (30 hectares), Omar Beyhum Avenue that today split this two main spaces and will gather them into a new landscaping approach. Moreover, it will take into account the landscaping development of avenues and round-abouts (Tayouneh, Chatila, Museum, Barbir) and neighbouring municipal parcels surrounding Central Park with the goal to magnified the main entrances of the Capital City and to better integrate Central Park inside the town. The goal is to offer to the population, in the core of the agglomeration, a large green space of more than 50 hectares-70 ha. Located at the crossing of communities, it will contribute to the reconciliation process and to the strengthening of the social link between the Lebanese. This large project will participate to the municipal effort to enhance the presence of vegetation presence and green spaces in the city, with a larger biodiversity, a better developed area, a more visible and a more open facility to the public. A better integration of the hippodrome in the urban landscape will give the possibility to use the image of the Horse to make the city more attractive, and to give the possibility to urban population to recover a better contact with the animal world. In fact, the Horse is a strong value in the Arab world. To make association of this image with the urban development will be a new asset for the positioning of Beirut in the competition with other large cities in the Middle East countries.

8As to their historical context, these parcels were initially included in the historical pine forest that was planted by Emir Fakhreddine during xviie century to stabilize sand dunes of the Southern coastal plain of Beirut. The opening of Omar Beyhum Avenue, at the place of an ancient caravan way, has definitively separated the parcel of the hippodrome to what became Horch Beirut Park, famous promenade of the Beiruties till 1975. The racecourse was previously extended over the Pine residence (built as a casino in 1920), but quickly the tracks were reduced after a land shift that explain its small dimension, but enough for racing and well managed for Arabic racing, related to large international hippodromes. During the civil war (1975-1990), this largely open area of the “demarcation line” was used as a passage way between Beirut East and Beirut West. Israeli bombing of 1982 destroyed all the facilities and burnt the pine forest; the remaining buildings recall numerous traces on their walls.

9The reconstruction process redeveloped Horch Beirut Park on the basis of an ambitious project defined during an international competition of landscaping: site modeling, pine replantation, promenades, walls and fences, sport facilities, large playgrounds for children, parking, ficus alley, lighting of the main entrance. In the same way, the hippodrome was also redeveloped: grades, lighting, stables, plantations, etc. Children facilities was implemented in the middle of the racecourse but the low frequentation of the site by the public, due to low visibility and the urban cut due to Fouad 1er boulevard, creates the condition to suppress these facilities.

10Omar Beyhum Avenue and the main crossings (Chatila, Tayouneh, Barbir, Museum) that surround Central Park, was redeveloped by the Lebanese State in a functional way in favor of cars by implementing systematically tunnels that create large urban cuts and difficulties to access to Horch Beirut and the Hippodrome. Moreover, these projects do not take into account the other mobility modes, nor the site identity or the landmarks to be implemented at the Capital city main entrances.

11The present project aims to recover the lost unity of Beirut pine forest, to enhance Beirut main Southern entrances of the Capital city, to strengthen the social link and to upgrade the ecological context in the center of Beirut agglomeration.

Horch Beirut Park

12This park is today largely underused, partially because of the time necessary for trees to be developed and to avoid degradations on this perfectly realized and functional space, but with facilities only partially implemented and a management that needs upgrading before a complete opening to the public. The main guidelines defined in the initial project have to be reviewed. A specific thinking has to be developed on the way to open the site to the public and on the completion of facilities to be implemented in Horch Beirut Park. What type of facilities to be retained from the initial project (green theater, central lake, monumental fountains, children playgrounds, rose garden, large bird park, etc.) but not implemented? What new facilities to propose? How to program and manage the opening to the public?


13The hippodrome is equipped with the main facilities necessary for competitions: grades, lighting for night racings, restaurant, offices, 300 boxes, presentation round, parking, gardens, stables... Every day, 350 horses are trained on the site, including those housed in the site and others coming from the suburbs. Some rare extra-equestrian events are programmed (Wine fair, concerts, Plants fair, weddings, photo exhibition...). During large events at the Pine Residence (French ambassador), the center part of the hippodrome is used as parking area. The hippodrome shows some high quality vegetation structures (original pine groups, large ficus alley, ornamental plants, etc.), that are well cared (nursery, maintenance) and gives already the image of a park. The idea is to open more this area to the public. Equestrian activity – competitions and training – will be maintained and strengthened to support the management of competitions, to house 600 to 700 horses and with developments for promenade and relaxing ways. It will be completed by recreation and sports activities, using the site at different time during the day without disturbing equestrian activities. The facilities will be light (non aedificandi zone) and will preserve the park identity of the site. A visual opening in the wall will be realized. A green link is to be implemented through the hippodrome parcel to link Horch Beirut to the Museum Street. Some activities, to be concentrated mainly in the central part of the hippodrome are possible under the condition to avoid any disturbance of the equestrian activity. In parallel, the equestrian activities will be strengthened to replace them at the international standards. Despite of landscape aspects, the diversification and the public opening of the present study, the support of the competition horse activity survival is a priority that will need to mobilize all competent authorities. The grade building is unachieved and underused. The potential of this equipment is really important to house indoor activities as conferences, seminars or restaurants, and polyvalence have to be looking for.

Omar Beyhum Avenue

14Omar Beyhum Avenue is a large radial street with over dimensioned carriageway that facilitate dangerous speed practice in an urban context, and that create difficulties for pedestrian to cross the street. This situation will be amplified with the opening of tunnels on each end of this avenue. This way is bordered by a blinded wall on the hippodrome side and a linear fence on the Horch Beirut side that create a large urban cut avoiding to make an unified area for Central park. The project will fix the manner to create a major perspective in the City and to make the link between Horch Beirut and Hippodrome site: landscaping of the sidewalks and fences, specific physical development for temporary closing of the carriageway, etc. The main concern is to give a more comfortable and attractive use of the area for pedestrian and cycling, both on its length, than on the crossing, if possible giving priority to soft mobility over motorized traffic; it ought to create a specific identity of a Parkway, based on famous international references like Central Park in New York, Hyde Park (Park Lane) in London, Bois de Boulogne in Paris, Raj Path in New Delhi...

15Beirut Municipality, with the support of Ile-de-France Region, will be defining a program to comply with our vision and identify the needs related to the population aspirations. Then we will initiate, hopefully very soon, a Master Plan through international competition, which will include feasibility study, phasing scheme and operational and management scenarios.

16Last – and before I leave the floor for you –, I want us to always remember that we are dealing with very precious and critical elements, the people of Lebanon, the environment and the land of our country.

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