Exploratory trip to Beirut by Lena Malm and Samuli Lähteenaho

We took a one week trip to Beirut with Lena to look at some of the issues and places I am thinking of researching for my project. Below are 6 photos, 2 from each of the 3 sites, that I hope will give some perspective to the issues I am studying. The common theme is composition of open public space in Beirut and threats of enclosure.

Dalieh is a small mostly unconstructed peninsula on the coastline of Beirut, that has seen a back-and-forth discussion on a proposed construction process since 2013. In this photo you can see parts of the Dalieh area on the foreground with people enjoying their time; on the background you can see the pool and sunshades of famous hotel Mövenpick built in early 2000's. The expectional law that loosened building regulations to allow the hotel to be constructed on the 'public coastline' is known as 'Lex Mövenpick'.

A warm Sunday afternoon drew large crowds to Dalieh to enjoy their time. Many of the people hanging out are refugees from Syria, As visible from the photo the crowds were quite male-dominated, although not exclusively so. Notably swimming was visibly a male-only business in this area. The crane in the middle of the photo is used by fishermen who operate boat< tours in the area, and you can see some of their boats in the background.

The largest public park in Beirut is called 'Horsh Beirut'. The park has been closed for public mostly since the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990, with exceptions given to notables and tourists. It has been gradually opened to public since the last 2 years, however during our visit it was again closed. This was apparently due to a bug infecting the trees and forcing use of strong pesticides. Activists who have campaigned for opening the park told us that if Beirut municipality 'forgets' to open the park after the bugs have been dealt with, they will start campaigning again. In addition to bugs, there is a plan for constructing a football stadium over parts of the park.

A smaller part of the park remained 'open' to public (we had to go through a hole in a fence), although currently unmaintained. However, even on a monday afternoon there were many people around. These two gentlemen introduced themselves to us by saying one of them is Lebanese, other a Palestinian refugee. After a short chat one of the gentlemen engaged in a long narrative about lost love during his time in the UK decades ago. In addition to narratives of lost love, the secluded and run-down part of the park had multiple couples hanging out, with the air of a safe space for affection.

The last and only public beach in Beirut called Ramlet al-Bayda. The other edge of the park has seen a new hotel project almost completely constructed this year, even though the building permit for the project is still disputed in court. The other end saw many people enjoying sunshine on a tuesday afternoon. The beach, frequented mostly by non-elite residents of Beirut, is flanked by new high-rise apartment buildings of the more expensive sort.

Since 2007 the Ramlet al-Bayda has seen sewage water slowly flowing from a couple of sewage gates to the beach and to the sea. Many people we spoke with cited this as a major reason for not frequenting the beach. One activist I spoke with suggested that it has all been deliberate, and some real estate investors who own plots of land on the beach requested the municipality to redirect some sewage water to the beach so that it would fall into disrepute and could be constructed at ease later on. The new luxury-apartments reflected from the sewage water provide a nice contrast, although despite the slowly flowing sewage other segments of the beach were well frequented even on a Tuesday afternoon.