Developing Beirut is increasingly about choosing between bad options
I was reading this post over at Blog Baladi about the plan to build a bridge at the expense of old Buildings in Mar Mikhael and Gemmayze, and I have a few thoughts I want to share.
This is a big deal. This is not some old house with a vague, conceptual or historical significance that will be destroyed to give way to a new building. This will be a gargantuan undertaking that will disrupt real lives and piss a lot of people off for a long time.
Frankly, I don’t think any Lebanese authority has the stomach, the capacity or the legitimacy to execute such a thing. If you add to the mix the message that Save Beirut Heritage have been spreading,that this bridge harkens back to now-discredited theories of urbanism of the 1950s (what kind of development bank would fund such a monstrosity?), you can see why this thing going through is unlikely.
But this situation will hopefully get some Lebanese to think about tradeoffs that they have to be making in the future.
Whither moral clarity
When a rich company tears down an old historical house to make way for an urban eyesore, there is a clear moral outrage story to be told: The greedy government doesn’t care about our history and culture and is selling our legacy to the highest bidders. The bad guy is known, and the cause is noble. But the bridge is a different story.
Anyone who has been stuck in Beirut’s legendary traffic and anyone who knows that the traffic will only get worse with time can tell you that something needs to be done about it. The problem is that all of our options are bad, and we have to make choices: Beirut’s infrastructure is obviously not ready for a metro system, and traffic cannot just continue to get worse as we sit and watch.
Alas, there is no moral clarity in this story. We are our own enemies here. You don’t have to be a devil’s advocate to believe that an urban bridge is our least bad option. You can’t have omelettes without breaking some eggs, and many people will be tempted to let Mar Mikhael take the fall, especially if the buildings’ owners and residents are generously compensated.