08 April 2010
The Beirut Central District, or better known as Solidere, always gets a reaction from a visitor to Beirut. The architecture (old and new), the car-less, heavily guarded pedestrian walkways, the international couture boutiques or the remains of centuries of the cities war torn past are an apparition within the heart of this city on the sea.
It could be something about the lack of people. The strange feeling of not being in Beirut anymore. While the site of these recent constructions are placed upon the remains of a downtown and souks nearly leveled by civil war between 1975 to 1990, they don't yet seem integrated into the city as a whole...but what neighborhood in Beirut seems integrated to the city?
In the evenings, the pedestrianized streets are amok with children running about, on bicycles, with Filipino maids chasing after them. Elaborately dressed visitors from the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the greater Gulf sip coffees from sidewalk cafes while taking long pulls from a nargila. Above, the darkened and seemingly empty upper floors of the buildings appear like a stage set - not a flower box, a clothes line, not a curtain in sight. The disney-fication of the middle east? the neo-liberal landscape adding yet another layer to this ancient city of conquered empires.
And the towers are rising. The amount of real estate on the market puts Beirut on the map of possible investment capitals. Luxury highrises advertising escapes from the city, showcase beautiful people with shopping bags and green oasis within this post war construction site. What is worth remembering?
The new Beirut Souks designed by Rafael Moneo is opening slowly. The pristineness of the spaces evoke the light and patterning of a cities' marketplace. But absent is the operation of the souk, the informality...the cultural placeness. I could be in Kansas City, Kuwait or Tokyo.
To the east is the gentrifying area known as Gemayze. New bars and clubs as well as the latest restaurants are opening, drawing a noisy crowd in the evenings. The informality of this occupation of skeletal remains is a marked difference from the nearby Downtown, master planned and family friendly.