Beirut, past & present

Material Information

Beirut, past & present emphasis on urban planning
Alternate title:
Beirut, past and present
Mayassi, Tarek
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
126 leaves : illustrations, maps ; 28 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( Master of Urban and Regional Planning)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
College of Architecture and Planning, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Urban and regional planning


Subjects / Keywords:
City planning -- Lebanon -- Beirut ( lcsh )
City planning ( fast )
Lebanon -- Beirut ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references.
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for thesis research and programming, Master of Urban and Regional Planning, College of Architeture and Planning ; Department of Urban and Regional Planning
Statement of Responsibility:
Tarek Mayassi.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
28286363 ( OCLC )
LD1190.A78 1990m .M388 ( lcc )

Full Text

I INTRODUCTION ................................... 1
A historical sketch ......................... 23
Urban growth ................................ 28
Urban factors and determinants .............. 34
An unprecedented population growth .......... 38
The planning schemes ........................ 45
The building code ........................... 50
The town planning legislation ............... 56
IV THE HOUSING CRISIS ............................ 62
An overview.................................. 62
Major factors affecting housing ............. 65
The management of housing finance ........... 71
"Housing movements" ......................... 77
Suggestions for a government policy ......... 87
V SOCIAL CHANGE ................................. 90
Introduction to change ...................... 90
The impact of the social structure on
urban planning .............................. 93
VI CONCLUSION ................................... 105
REFERENCES.................................................. 112
APPENDICES ................................................. 122

Lebanon is facing a crisis due to the rapid and uncontrolled,
unplanned urban growth. The over-urbanization is generating many
political, social and psychological problems. It is acting as a
retarding pathological factor and has drained much of the country's
available resources. This crisis has manifested itself in nonimple-
mentation of sound planning. For Beirut, this has meant: the uneven
distribution of traffic and high congestion due to the inadequate widths
of streets and the haphazard mixture of land uses; the lack of rational
zoning; the poor subdivision of land; a building code which is not in
conformity with the latest principles of contemporary architecture; the
inadequacy in the provision of open spaces, e.g. playgrounds, parks,
public uses; the allowance of high density building; the insufficient
tax base; the poor site utilization and site planning; the lack of civic
education; the poor public transportation system; and the inadequacy of
decent low-rent housing for poor and medium-income families (Shiber
1967: 377).
As a result, Beirut has become a giant conglomeration of mixed-

up building of all sorts, not brought into propinquity by any logic,
plan or scheme of traffic circulation, land usage or the provision of
amenities. As an example, the traffic situation is so bad that experts
often give up in desperation when invited to proper advice Moreover,
the concepts of normative population density, of national zoning, of
the provision of neighborhood amenities, of providing parks, play-
grounds and green strips are to the city of Beirut and its inhabitants
something unknown. Despite the visibility of the environmental and
social ills associated with rapid urbanization, urban problems have
not yet become public issues.* There is little public debate or aware-
ness of the magnitude and consequences of these problems.
The city of Beirut is spreading along beaches which must be public
domain, and, in depth, crawling up the mountain slopes which are the
natural green belts and open spaces of the metropolis.
The craze of real estate speculation has hit the summer resorts
and the mushrooming of buildings has destroyed the character of vill-
ages. In addition, the major thrust of internal migration has been
from rural to urban areas, mainly into Beirut and its suburbs. This
was due to push factors of instability, rural poverty, overpopulation
of arable land, under-employment and limited future promises. Mean-
while, the city has not been prepared for this sudden shift in pace,
attitudes, and responsibilities, beside the basic fact that it was
not planned to accommodate the new pressures and conflicts. Conseq-
* There was a massive inmigration to Beirut which created rapid
urbanization due to civil unrest which contributed to the social
ills as well.

uently, the city has exploded upwards and outwards engulfing in the
process untransformed rural areas and underurbanized sectors. In
addition, the resulting imbalance has been translated into economic
inequities, social tensions, unemployment, poor services, shortages
in important facilities and the breakdown of vital utilities (Zahran
1973s 33). At a different level, urban migration has had its
repercussions: cultural disorientation, the rise of shanty towns and
squatters, the shortage of facilities and services, blight, social
conflicts, urban violence, speculation and deplorable living conditions.
Given such disquieting features, urbanization instead of being
an enriching experience which usually accompanies any modernization
process, has been more of an uprooting phenomenon. Sociologically
speaking, it has led to alienation and anomie.
At this point, it is important to note one outstanding feature of
urbanization in Lebanon, namely, the disjunction between urbanization
as a purely physical phenomenon (as measured by urban densities, over-
concentration in primate cities, migration etc...) and urbanism as a
qualitative and socio-cultural phenomenon (as measured by the so-called
ethos of openness, vitality, rational interests and impersonal net-
works) Repeated studies have shown that changes in the former,
impressive and far-reaching as they are, have not been accompanied by a
significant change in "urbanism as a way of life" (Wirth 1938; Lemer
1958; Gans 1962; Gulick 1969; Abu Lughod 1971; Ibrahim 1975; Khalaf

1977). Perhaps because of the scale and rapid pace of urbanization,
along with a one-directional pattern of migration, urbanization has
been more a function of "push" from rural areas than a "pull" from
urban centers. As such, a sizeable portion of urban residents are in
but not of the city. The city becomes a place where people mix rather
than combine. The average Lebanese has been living in the city but
his ethos are still not of it. Hence, the phenomenon of ruralization
of the city, i.e. the re-enactment of rural networks into the city.
These urban villagers live in slums in periurban areas and provide the
unskilled, shifting labor force.
The protracted civil disturbances of the past fourteen years
have naturally compounded many of these problems and added countless
others. Initially, because much of the hostilities were centered
around the city and its suburbs, Beirut began to experience a con-
siderable degree of decentralization. Population shifts assumed an
outflow of people from the center and a reallocation of functions and
services in adjoining periurban and rural areas. But as the scale
and pattern of violence shifted to rural areas, the already congested
suburbs of Greater Beirut and the vacated residential quarters were
once again the scene of yet another wave of dislocated and homeless
refugees seeking relief from their beleaguered villages. In fact,
virtually all the residential areas within Beirut and its suburbs
have experienced successive waves of massive population movements
which have had far reaching implications for the demographic and

and urban character of the city.
This successive invasion of waves of displaced migrants has,
among other things, intensified the scale and the extent of illegal
expropriation of public and private property and the violation of
zoning and construction ordinances. Some of the temporary and
makeshift arrangements have become permanent fixtures and, like other
violations, have accentuated the deterioration of the spatial and
physical quality of the urban environment. The demand for urban
space has, despite rampant insecurity and the uncertainty of Lebanon's
political future, led to soaring land values, speculation in land and
intensified further the exploitation of real estate. Resolving the
political, legal and social problems associated with this dislocation
is becoming an increasingly difficult task.
In addition to the swift and extensive nature of urbanization,
the survival of traditional features such as commercialism, familism
and patronage have accounted for the typical antipathy towards
planning (for more details, see Khalaf-1981: 72-78). The persis-
tence of such features has often provided the needed social and
psychic supports to the urban dwellers, but significantly enough,
their continuity has accounted for much of the deficiency in civility
and the erosion of public and national consciousness. These have
acted as barriers to urban planning and zoning. Thus, one cannot
expect a confessional and pluralistic society to naturally lend it-

self to strong central controls no matter how objective or rational
these controls may be. In other words, Lebanese planning has assumed
Lebanese characteristics, often hanging between the legal form of
planning and sheer enarchy in application (Salem 1973: 108).
Lebanese city growth has been predominantly guided by the fea-
tures of exploitation, by unprecedented speculation in land and im-
provements, by arbitrary and non-scientific decisions and by the
whims and caprices of those commonly known as "the vested interests".
During the boom era of the recent past, sound principles of planning
were not only ignored but deliberatly bypassed. Though inspired by
Western concepts, Beirut's urban growth and structure discloses some-
what ironically the inadequacy of Western models. Hence, Beirut's
urbanization has been more the result of fortuitous circumstances
and exogenous historical forces than the direct consequence of
rational planning schemes.
Underlying this dramatic scene of Beirut's urban tragedy, many
questions arise: Why is Lebanon so careless about its urban environ-
ment? Why has it disregarded the technical advice of so many missions?
Whu has Beirut become an unlivable city and a bedlam, when it had an
unmatched advantage in urban posture?

To understand the unruly growth of Beirut, we have established
four levels of inquiry. These broad levels may well constitute the
dimensions of the thesis, i.e. the historical, the physical/spatial,
the socio-economic and the infrastructural. It is important to note
the presence of the political dimension premeating all four levels.
- The historical level is explored by a brief sketch of Beirut's
urban history. Based on traveller's accounts, cadastral maps
and historical documents, we have traced the past of the city
in order to analyze its pattern of growth.
- The physical/spatial dimension includes the review and evalua-
tion of the masterplans designed for the city of Beirut and
which for the most remained blue-prints, moreover, at this
level of inquiry, we are concerned with the legislations form-
ulated to control land-use and zonind, namely the Lebanese
Building Code of 1932 and the Urban Planning Legislation of
- The aforementioned dimensions have several implications at
the socio-economic level. It is expected that these cons-
equences will be translated into social and economic prob-
lems. Several indices could be appropriate measures of
this dimension: housing and the related problem of slums
and squatters, the erosion of public parks and green strips,
traffic, the uglification of the shortlines, and the preser-
vation of ancient sites. However, for our purpose, we have

narrowed our scope and focused on the housing crisis.
- Finally the fourth dimension entails a preliminary explor-
ation into how the various urban actors namely the public,
private and popular sectors perceive and cope with Lebanon's
urban predicament. We are of course assuming here that rep-
resentatives of those three spheres or sectors would give us
a fairly adequate picture of the problems involed in the pro-
duction and management of urban space.
1. The "public" sector, i.e. town planning officials, archi-
tects and engineers who have been involved in or concerned
with urban policy and legislation, programs and planning
2. the private sector, i.e. entrepreneurs, contractors and
self-made men who have participated in the construction
of the urban environment;
3. the popular sector, i.e. specific interest groups and
urban social movements who have attempted to introduce
changes in the urban system.
Determining their assessment of urban problems and their evaluation
of the failure of urban planning in general is substantiated by an
exploration of the infrastructure. This is done through an in-depth,
non-directive interview of a selected sample of architects, engineers
town planners, contractors, entrepreneurs, government officials, envi
ronmentalists, economists, housing specialists and experts.
The dimensions of the thesis posited, we now turn to the review

of the relevant literature concerning urban planning and urban
legislation in the context of developing countries. Major approaches
and relevant theories are summarized in an attempt to place our
problem within a meaningful and relevant context. More important
perhaps, the ambivalence between Western models and experience and
Arab (or more specifically Lebanese) realities are depicted. In its
modest character, the thesis does not attempt to suggest or formulate
specific strategies of change. However, it purports to awaken its
readers to the particular nature of Lebanese urbanization and thus
provide some practical suggestions or implications to town planners
and policy makers for their future plans.
Urban planning, also commonly called "city planning", is a means
of directing cities' physical and social growth and changes to provide
a more healthy, pleasant and prosperous environment. Most broadly,
planning has been defined as a "method for delineating goals and ways
of achieving them" (Gould and Kolb 1964: 503-4)-
Within the context of the American liberal tradition, urban
planning is an instrument of mediation, based on the "power of
experts:", or on the knowledge of the possible between the different
interests involved. There is planning in so far as there is
prediction and a will to achieve certain objectives. But this predic-
tion is possible in a pluralist society only if there is, on the

one hand, agreement as to the very foundations of the system and the
use of institutional means as the basis of planning and, on the other
hand, discussion, negotiation, cooperation and agreement between the
different actors, in such a way as to find objectives that are gene-
rally shared (Castells 1977: 249-250). The liberal perspective has
gradually oriented research towards an anlysis in-depth of the social
determinants of urban planning as a process of regulation-domination
emanating from the political instance.
According to Weaver (1963: 97), urban planning represents "del-
iberate efforts to order the environment so as to realize certain com-
mon goals and values. As such, it is concerned not merely with the
rational allocation of resources, but, more importantly, with the sel-
ection of goals and values toward which these resources should be
directed". In a narrow sense, planning is predominantly concerned
with issues surrounding the physical form of the city, the spatial
arrangement of urban functions and the control and the allocation of
land. Thus, no matter how planning is defined, whether in its narrow
physical perspective or more broader social context, it connotes the
injection of rationality into a particular area of human life (Khalaf
1981: 53).
In the nineteenth century, social thinkers began to perceive that
industrialization could overcome man's poverty, and that society's
problems would no longer result from scarcity but rather from social

institutions' inability to properly use industrialism's immense pro-
ductive power. Socialist thinkers, and later socialist states, pro-
posed and used "planning" to replace the market as a means of alloc-
ating productive resources and consumer goods. Capitalist thinkers
and states used "planning" to overcome inefficiencies and injustices
created by market mechanisms and to make those mechanisms work more
smoothly (Gist and Fava 1974: 644).
The process of planning before the twentieth century was based
essentially on piecemeal engineering, romanticism, individual or group
interests or sheer profit projects ( for a careful documentation of
social origins and history of town planning, see Benevolo 1963 ).
Later on there was a gradual adoption of a scientific approach that
took into consideration permanent values of the human urban heritage
and the expertise of new classes of specialists in a variety of fields
(for more details, see Zahran 1973: 29-30). Enactment of zoning laws,
building codes, land-use and coverage regulations, redevelopment and
subdivision acts were instrumental in re-establishing a measure of
order, coordination and open space, in addition to restoring some
vitality to cities. These, together with urban renewal projects, new
satellites, greater government involvement in extention of utilities,
transportation route, social, medical and recreational facilities stand
as the positive beginnings of contemporary environmental planning.
While urban planning was shaped by the ideas of Utopians such

as Howard, Geddes, and Le Corbusier, ranging from the "Garden City"
and "City Beautiful" to studies of urban and industrial settlements
(Spreiregen 1965), to proposals for building "towns of the Motor Age"
(Stein 1967), to urban structures ruled primarily by the system of
movement e.g. Kenzo Tange's Tokyo Bay plan; concurrently planners
placed social emphasis on urban organization which required radical
realignment of priorities. As building of roads and bridges or urgent
settlements was merely a momentary answer to immediate and pressing
demands but never a comprehensive process. This is clear in Hilber-
seimer's assertion: "the cities of our age are dominated by industry and
commerce and ruled by interest. Some day, perhaps, cities and regions
will be planned and developed according to the needs of men and ruled
by reason" (Hilberseiner 1955: 86).
Hence, the early approaches to planning were either restricted to
the construction of roads, bridges and the provision of utilities as
called for by the necessities of growth and population needs, or emph-
asized the socio-economic aspects of development without due consider-
ation of the physical aspects (Brooks 1971). Expectedly, conflicts
of goals and implementation programs often resulted in delays, cong-
estion and waste. Still, the most recent is the comprehensive app-
roach to integrated socio-economic, cultural, physical and environ-
mental planning, which is universally adopted. Within the integrated
approach, concepts of urban physical planning are based upon communal
needs, resources and conditions of urban areas. It concerns itself

with many objectives namely, slum clearance (Gans 1970) and urban
renewal (Rossi and Dentler 1961), the rehabilitation of decaying
areas, the conservation of certain zones, the protection of histo-
rical, cultural and esthetic assets, the development of open land
for housing, employment centers and services... (for further de-
tails, see Zahran 1973: 40-41).
While the latter approach is the most all-embracing, any gene-
ral theory of the city must somehow relate the social processes in
the city to the spatial form which the city assumes. As Harvey
(1973) argues, the attempt is at building a bridge between those
possessed of the sociological imagination and those imbued with a
spatial consciousness or geographical imagination. C. Wright Mills'
sociological imagination enables the individual to recognize the
role of space in his own biography, to relate to the spaces he sees
around him, and to recognize how transactions between individuals and
between organizations are affected by the space that separates them.
It is manifest in many disciplines: architects, designers, city
planners, geographers, anthropologists, historians... have all pos-
sessed it.
Many of those imbued with the sociological imagination have
come to recognize the significance of the spatial dimension in social
process, e.g. Sommer's (1969) studies of the role of personal "psy-
chological" space in influencing the human reaction to environmental

design. He sought to show how different kinds of spatial designs in
a wide variety of contexts can affect human behavior and activity
systems. Others trained in a tradition of spatial consciousness have
realized how the fashioning of spatial form can influence social pro-
cess, e.g. architects such as Lynch (1960) with his visually imageable
city and Howard with his garden cities and Abercrombie (1959).**
Even the pioneering Chicago school of urban sociology, exempl-
ified by Robert Park and Ernest Burgess, has been concerned with how
the city, "a mosaic of little worlds that touch but do not interpen-
etrate" (Park 1967: 40), affect and is affected by human geography
(for more details, see Park 1967, and Fischer 1982).
Recently also, human geographers have been more active in exp-
loring the relationships between social processes and spatial form
(Harvey 1973). As Pahl argues (1970: 53), there is a reciprocal
relationship between physical distance and social distance. This
"spatial environmental determinism" has become the working hypothesis of
those physical planners who seek to promote a new social order by
manipulating the spatial environment of the city. In its extreme form,
this has led to the often naive view that urban renewal, a few rehousing
projects, a few parks and the like, are adequate cures to complex social
** The Abercrombie plan went well beyond a mere programme of
housing and collective amenities. It aimed at decentralizing
the activities of the Greater London region, halting its growth
and structuring it by means of a zoning in four concentric rings.
For more details, see Abercrombie (1959).

it is precisely such views which have prompted others, parti-
cularly Jacobs (1961), Webber (1963) and Gans (1970), to attack this
form of spatial environmental determinism and to draw attention to an
alternative perspective in which a social process is viewed as posses-
sing its own dynamic that often- in spite of the planner- will achieve
its own appropriate spatial form. Webber, for example, argues that a
new spatial order is emerging as a response to changing technology and
changing social norms. The planner cannot prevent this order. He can
only delay its achievement or impair its efficiency. /Recording to this
view, the planner should be seen as a servant of the social process not
its master (Khalaf, 1981).
The concurrent growth of materialistic determinism has denied the
necessity of human volition in constructing land-usae theories. In-
deed, there is no existing land-use theory from a sociological persp-
ective that encompasses the full implication of human volition contained
in the planning efforts designed to direct the utilization of space in
society (Willhelm 1962: 218). This is particularly true in Lebanese
society where the predominance of materialistic values have made zoning
a reflective rather than an independent social force for controlling
urban land-use. Thus, the argument is whether zoning should reflect
economically relevant conditions or regulate land-use in accordance
with protective notions. And, in spite of the complementary and dia-
lectical relationship between spatial fo*"! and social process, one
should recognize, as Khalaf did (1981), i.he impact of the latter on

land-use patterns and other spatial arrangements in the case of
This literature review has so far been limited to Western models
and theories. However, the growing literature of urbanization and
comparative ecology will enable us to rely on more relevant and
appropriate models and experience to understand the dimensions of
urbanization in Lebanon.
In his study of urbanization in the Arab world, Elkabir (1983)
gives us insight into the relevant literature through his theoretical
perspective. It includes descriptive case studies of Arab cities,
studies and research papers dealing with different aspects of Arab
urbanization (e.g. population distribution, fertility, migration,
housing, politics, city planning, urban policy...), and comparative
studies of different cities, regions and countries in the Arab World.
As such, in the first category, one finds orientalists, geographers,
social scientists and anthropologists who have written monographs
and articles on contemporary cities in the Arab world concerning
spatial structure and historical urban growth (Hacker, I960; Blake,
1968), or concerning social history and the analysis of urban society
(Lapidus, 1969; Abu Loughod, 1971), or towns and small cities (Femea,
1970; Burja, 1971). However, most of these writings say little about
the organization of urban society. Paradoxically enough, there is more
about urban organization in the writings of orientalists and historians

of medieval Islamic cities than in the writings of social scientists
(Khuri, 1975: 6). Nonetheless, these case studies are an important
contribution to Arab urbanization as they provide data and infor-
mation to be used in comparative urban analysis. This indicates
that the study of urbanization in the Arab world is experiencing a
promising trend. Hopefully, new endeavors will be directed to is-
sues of concern to the Arab world and concepts defined and delimi-
tated in their context, not used interchangeably.
Writing in 1983, Elkabir argues that the literature is an excel-
lent example of obscurity, ambiguity and dominance of the evolution
theory which developed in the West (Elkabir, 1983: 233). According
to him, social scientists have seldom tried to deviate from this pre-
set path or to question the validity of their approach. Surprisingly
enough, he neglects important case studies which depart significantly
from this trend. To mention a few, Abu Lughod (1971 and 1980), Gulick
(1967), Khalaf and Kongstad (1973), Brown (1973), have provided sub-
stantive and convincing evidence to indicate how the spatial patterns
and social organization of various Arab cities diverge from the exper-
ience of urbanization in the West or the models developed by Western
scholars to analyze urbanization in newly developed countries.
It is in the light of these and similar studies and research that
we have attempted to analyze the unruly growth of the city of Beirut.
Let us proceed to show how we have done it.

Given the diverse nature of our exploration, much of the data
is derived from, or based upon, five different sources:
1. Traveller's accounts and historical documents which have
already been utilized by other scholars. Notable among
these is the recent book published by Leila Favaz (1983)
which provides detailed historical material regarding the
growth and evolution of Beirut. This will spare us from
digging into archives searching for this information.
2. Special reports appearing periodically such as position
papers, UN publications, progress reports of local organ-
izations, government reports and statistical yearbooks,
newspapers's articles and conferences which studied those
issues, e.g. the Supreme Shi'ite Council conference on
housing (1983), the Seminar on Urban Planning in the Arab
Countries (held in Berlin West in 1981), the Symposium on
the Reconstruction of Beirut (see Ragette, 1983).
3. Masterplans designed for the city of Beirut are reviewed,
analyzed and criticized. In addition, the Lebanese Build-
ing Code of 1932 and the Urban Planning Legislation of 1963
are studied in the context of the legislations formulated
to exert control on zoning ordinances and building. Other
than these two major legislations, special reports such as
those submitted by the Executive Board of Major Projects for
the City of Beirut (1968) and the Livre Blanc (1973), are
4. Unstructured, in-depth interviews of a selected sample of
urban actors as specified by our typology, are carried out.
This constitutes the empirical part of the thesis. The main
objective here is to solicit some vivid accounts and concrete
instances of some of the basic problems and issues as perce-
ived by those who were involved in formulating, administering
or applying urban planning schemes in Lebanon.
The sampling procedure is unconventional, in the sense that it
has selected every group of urban actors in a different way.
The private sector sample is selected on the basis of three
1. generation criterion (young versus old).

2. regional criterion (the so-called eastern and
western parts of Beirut).
3. type of enterprise criterion (big versus small).
These were set to help us in the process of selection from
a much wider sample. The public sector and the popular sec-
tor samples represent both the total population available at
the time the interviews were conducted.
Specific interest groups are surveyed in an attempt to see
how a population affected by an urban issue becomes mobil-
ized, and to reveal the type of protest and the orientation
and evolution of an urban social movement. We are, for
example, interested in finding out whether such movements
or associations seek to link urban issues to general social
issues or whether they seek to separate them by persuing
specific limited objectives. Thus, we can understand how
collective demands are expressed in Lebanon and through what

With such a perspective and methodology in mind, the main assum-
ptions are made implicit. No specific hypotheses or set of propositions
are posited, however, a few queries are posed in an effort to highlight
some of the fundamental hypotheses which guide the various dimensions
of the thesis:
- In our account of the nature of urbanization and urbanism,
Beirut will appear as a prominent primate city. In view
of such prominence, how can a laissez-faire and liberal
tradition that has until now characterized Lebanese city
growth be compatible with the requirements of urban plan-
- As a city in the throes of transition, how can Beirut re-
concile a modern notion of land-use planning with tradi-
tional values and loyalties? In other words, how do we
inject rationality into a society which continues to be
governed by non-rational forces?
- Why is there a discrepancy between urban legislation and
ordinances, and actual concrete behavior and spatial pat-
terns? In the case of Beirut, how has the social struc-
ture affected or determined the spatial structure rather
than vice versa?
- How do we provide for the basic urban amenities when a
dialectical even conflicting relationship exists between
urban planning and pluralism?
- With the persistence of patronage, familism, communalism
and other primordial loyalties, how can zoning laws remain
unviolated? Consequently, who are the pressure groups
exerting control over urban policy implementation?
- How does the deep-rooted weakness of state agencies and
the fragmented political culture translate itself at the
The thesis is an attempt to provide answers to these and other

related questions. Chapter II provides the historical survey of
Beirut's urbanization and accounts for the striking features of the
swift and rapid urbanization process by identifying its determinants.
In Chapter III, two features of the spatial dimension are discussed:
the masterplans designed for the city of Beirut and the urban legis-
lations formulated. To some extent, both represent the failed att-
empts at curbing the haphazard and unruly growth of Beirut. Chapter
IV explores one manifestation of the urban crisis. This aspect cons-
titutes the socio-economic consequence, namely, the housing crisis.
To understand further the spatial and social dimensions, Chapter V,
is devoted to an analysis of the urban infrastructure through the
perception of a selected sample of urban actors.
Finally, the concluding chapter recapitulates some of the salient
features accounting for Beirut's social organization and spatial struc-
ture within the context of the underlying queries posited for the the-
sis. In addition, -it synthesizes between the approaches discussed and
the suggestions proposed by our sample. This further sheds light on
the future strategies that might be adopted by policy-makers, archi-
tects, and town-planners and consultants.

Although Beirut Is one of the oldest cities on the Eastern
Mediterranean, it remained until the 19th century a small, insigfleant
town, overshadowed economically and politically by other seaports and
cities of the interior. Yet in the 19th century that small town was
transformed into the most important city of Greater Syria. If the
economic conditions of the 19th century benefited seaports, one still
has to understand why Beirut expanded and superseded all the famous
ports of the area, like Acre, Sidon, Tyr and Tripoli. The city's
explosion outwards constitutes one of the outstanding new developments
of the urban history of the modern Middle East.
The following is an attempt to put Beirut into its historical
context in an effort to trace its development and understanding the
uniqueness of its pattern of growth by depicting its most peculiar and
striking features.**
** Much of this brief historical sketch is based on Leila
Fawaz's (1983) excellent and compact study of the impact of
merchants and migrants on Beirut's spatial growth as a domi-
nant urban center. For a fuller treatment of Beirut's history
the following references are suggested: Said Chehabe BdDine
(1953; Executive Board of Major Projects for the City of
Beirut (1968); P.K. Hitti (1957); H. Porter (1912); K. Salibi
(1965); S. Khalaf and P. Kongstad (1973); S. Khalaf (1974).
Foreign travellers also left vivid and often instructive
accounts of their visits of Beirut. The following among many
others are worth consulting. Dates refer to year of publi-
cation: Le Chevalier d'Arvieux (1660), Richard Pococke (1737),
Volney (1784), Lamartine (1832), Henry Guys (1838), Gerard de
Nerval (1964).

Beirut is located on the northern end of a hilly site bordered
to the north and west by the Mediterranean and to the south and east
by the Mount Lebanon chain. The site falls sharply to the northwest,
west and east, more gently to the north where Beirut is situated and
is level to the south (Chehabe Ed-Dine, 1953: Chapter I; Fawaza, 1983
8). It was a site with notable geographic advantages. One was that
the narrow coastal plain on which the city was located was widest
near Beirut; another was that its harbor in the bay of St. Georges
was protected from the prevailing southwest winds by the head-land
of Ras Beirut, "an unusual east-west projection in an otherwise
north-south coast" (Fawaz, 1983: 8; see also, Chehabe Ed-Dine,
1953: 221; Executive Board, 1968: 20). The physical attraction of
Beirut derives from its close proximity to sea and mountain. The
sea has always played an important role in the life of Beirut.
From the dawn of history, Beirut was the natural place for fisher-
men, sea farers and traders (Serof, 1983: 85).** Geography pro-
bably accounts for the remarkable continuity of the town's history
since the 14th century B.C. and for its survival through so many
ups and downs as a seaport between Roman and modern times.
** Phoenicians were described as "intrepid seafarers" by
Janet Abu Lughod (1980).

For centuries Beirut's history was tied to the destinies of the
great empires that succeeded one another in the Middle East. Syria's
location made it a crossroad for armies, tribes and peoples coming
from all over the Mediterranean basin or from the Arabian peninsula,
Mesopotamia, or Central Asia. Exactly when in that time Beirut was
built is uncertain. It is only known that it is a very ancient city,
one of the oldest on the Eastern Mediterranean. There is also no
certainty concerning the etymology of its name Biruts which became
Berytus in classical times and Beirut since. But it is now gene-
rally accepted that the name is derived from the Semitic word for
"well" or "pit", Akkadian "burtu", Hebrew "be'er, Arabic "bi'r"
suggesting that the city's supply was ensured by the abundance of
water from wells, the only means of maintaining the local water sup-
ply, at least until Roman times (Fawaz, 1983: 13-14; Serof, 1983:
There is archeological evidence that Beirut existed before the
14th century B.C., but the earliest known reference to it so far
dates from that time. It is found in the Tell Amarna tablets, a
unique source of information discovered in Egypt in 1887. Beirut,
like the rest of Phoenicia, had been under Egyptian rule since the
12th dynasty (1580 B.C. onwards). The tablets constitute the cor-
respondance between its vassal Ammunira and the Egyptian pharaohs.
In the course of his letters, the height of its position and the

developed state of its industry and its richness. He also described
it as being on an equal footing with other powerful city-states of the
period in Syria and Palestine. From the collapse of the Egyptian em-
pire in the early 12th century B.C. to the foundation of the Persian
empire of Cyrus the Great in the 6th century B.C., Beirut's history
is unknown. Whatever its fate after the 12th century B.C., it had
been rebuilt by the 6th. With the end of the Persian empire (550 -
350) and Alexander the Great's conquest of the Syrian coast in 332
B.C., Beirut became part of the hellenistic world. Under the
Seleucids who ruled Syria after Alexander around 200 B.C., Beirut was
renamed Laodicea in Phoenicia. In 140 B.C. a war of succession led to
the city's destruction. When it emerged again it was to live its most
glorious period, first under Roman and then under Byzantine rule (64
B.C. A.D. 635).
It was colonized by veteran Roman legionnaires, elevated around
14 B.C. to the rank of a Roman colony, and called "Colonia Julia Felix
Berytus". It became virtually a garrison town with a castle, a forti-
fied wall and manifested impressive symptoms of rational planning and
urban zones (Khalaf and Kongstad, 1973: 14). The kings of the Hero-
dian dynasty in Palestine embellished Beirut with public buildings,
hippodromes, amphitheaters, an elaborate aqueduct system supplying the
city with its first canals, baths and porticoes to please the Roman
emperors (the discoveries of 1941 and the excavations of 1946-1947
near the Parliament House confirm this). Spectacles of gladiator

shows, circus games and theatrical performances were in vogue then and
the actors from Beirut were known in the Roman world. But the city's
great fame as an intellectual center was due to its celebrated School
of Law which flourished between the 3rd and 6th centuries (Fawaz,
1983: 15; Serof, 1983: 86; Khalaf and Kongstad, 1973: 14). The series
of earthquakes between 551-560 accompanied by a huge tidal wave and a
devastating fire left the city in complete ruin and reduced the popu-
lation to a few thousands. The Arab conquest occupied what remained
of the city in 635 and Beirut became the port of Damascus, the seat
then of the Ummayad Caliphate (661-750). Until 1110, year of the
city's capitulation to the Crusaders, Beirut remained under Muslim
Arab rule.
The Flemish leader of the first crusade, Baldwin I, built the
cathedral of St. John in Beirut, now the Umari mosque. Very Shortly
after, in 1151, the city was pillaged by the Egyptian fleet, and from
then on, until Salah al-Din recaptured it in 1187, Beirut was the
scene of constant battle. Most of Beirut's fortifications were
destroyed by Salah al-Din to weaken the city's defenses in the event
that it might pass into enemy hands and have to be recaptured. The
walls were restored again by John of Brienne around 1228 and the new
fortifications assumed a magnificance which surpassed those wrecked
by Salah al-Din. A few years later (1231), the German emperor
Frederick II besieged the city but had to withdraw when enemy rein-
forcements arrived from Cyprus. Under the Mamluks of Egypt (1291 -

1516), who took the last strongholds of the Crusaders including Bei-
rut in 1291, the city's importance declined noticeably. Beirut's
trade was cut off and her defence entrusted to the Druze chieftains
(Buhturides of the Gharb) whose main interest lay elsewhere. After
the Ottoman conquest of 1516, Beirut fell under Turkish rule. The
Druze emirs (this time the Ma'nids of the shuf), who had won Ottoman
favor, became master of central and southern Lebanon. Under Fakhre-
eddine II (1572-1635), the most illustrious of the Ma'nids, Beirut
was made his winter residence. Trade relations with Western powers
were revived and the city recaptured some of its lost glories. He,
once again, fortified the city and restored its pine groves.
At the end of the 18th century, Beirut once again witnessed an-
other period of decline. In 1772, the Russians, at war with Turkey,
bombarded and plundered the city. Ahmad el-Jazzar of Acre (1720-1804)
freed Beirut from the control of the Druze, restored its defenses, and
built a new castle. Hardly a year later, however, al-Jazzar had to
surrender the city after the second Russian bombing in 1773. Ibrahim
Pasha, some of Muhammad Ali of Egypt, captured the city in 1830-31 which
continued under his control until he was driven out by the British in
alliance with the Turks and Austrians after the massive siege and bomb-
ardment of 1841, which once again harrassed the city and left it in
One self-evident inference can be made from this brief histori-

cal sketch: one should not be misled by Beirut's "prehistoric emin-
ence and seeming momentous history". Beirut is fundamentally a city
of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, it comp-
rised only about 6,000 people and a quarter of a square mile in area
(Volney, 1788). By the end of the same century, however, it had been
transformed into a major seaport and the most important city of Greater
Syria, with a population of 120,000 (Porter, 1912: 34; Khalaf and Kong-
stad, 1973: 17; Fawaz, 1983: 1).** In fact, rural exodus and the spill
of population beyond the medieval walls of the traditional city, as
first true signs of urbanization, began to appear only in the late 19th
and early 20th century.
Beirut's emergence then as a modern urban center is of recent
vintage. A century ago, Beirut was no more than a small fortified
medieval town with six main gates Bab Santiye, Bab Idriss, Bab Yac-
oub, Bab Derkeh, Bab Saraya and Bab Dabbagha (Map No. 1), and a qaur-
ter of a square mile surrounded by gardens. The central core of the
city was built around its historic port and mole with defenses on the
landward side and two towers at the entrance of the port. The town
looked like a stronghold (see Khalaf and Kongstad, 1973: 15-16; Fawaz,
1983: 9) (Map No. 2). Beirut's fortifications, dating back at least
** Some scholars have argued that urbanization started in
Lebanon in 1836 when deep sea vessels had to be accom-
modated for, and not in 1861, as P. Hitti (1957) argues,
when Christians left the mountains to the city.

to the 10th century, were gradually eliminated in the course of the
19th century. Although remnants of the walls could still be found
into the 20th century, by then the town had long ceased to be a
stronghold (Du Mesnil du Buisson, 1921s 235-257; 317-327).**
Another feature stands out. As in most Buropean towns before
industrialization, Beirutis lived and worked within the same area,
carrying on their daily routines within the same urban quarter.
Residential neighborhoods were relatively compact and homogeneous.
Patterns of behavior were largely regulated through kinship and
religious ties. Gross density was high around 300 per hectar and
the town gave an overwhelming impression of congestion (Khalf and
Kongstad, 1973: 16). More important, these "harat" or "ahya" offered
the urban dweller a human scale and types of social networks he could
comprehend and in which he could find a uniquely individual space. In
other words, physical and social space following kinship, communal or
religious affiliations will have several implications, as we shall
see, on the introduction of any rational planning scheme or any system
of urban redevelopment of traditional quarters. Several travelers who
visited Beirut at the time noted how the streets were narrow and
winding, and badly paved, if paved at all. They were also filthy with
animal hides along the roadway, as traffic was a mixture of peo-
** ..With the demolition of the last wall, the city expanded
eastwards and westward from 1840-1876. The famous loy-
tred map in 1876 shows the beginnings of modern Beirut.
See Executive Board..., 1968: 31-43.

pie and camels, horses and donkeys. Moreover, even in the daytime,
the streets were dark, with arches or mats covering many of them and
the thick wall of the adjacent stone houses cutting out the remaining
light. The walls were high; the few openings covered by shutters or
compact wooden trellises glass was not yet in use. Behind the thick
walls, the houses were built in a series of constructions facing a
middle, open space or courtyard which was spacious, cool and cheer-
ful. Architectural features, such as the inward-looking house, the
bent doorway, the dar, the harat and the courtyard, will appear as
clear manifestations of deep-rooted kinship attachments and close
family circles. To the passerby who could not have seen over the
walls, and from the street, the city held a gloomy and unfriendly
aspect (Fawaz, 1983: 10). Writing in 1830-31, Jean Joseph Froncois
Poujoulat remarked: I have never seen anything as bizarre.
Irregular and extraordinary as the construction of the Arab town of
Bayruth" (For these and other graphic details, see Michaud and
Poujoulat, 1835: 70, VII). The austere appearance of the houses is
also pointed out by Domique Chevallier: The houses built in stone,
are higher than those of any other town in Syria; arches, secret
paths, dark passages, narrow and tortuous streets inspire at first a
kind of fright in the traveller who wants to visit the town; each
house constitutes a huge inaccessible dungeon" (Chevallier, 1979: 8).
One consequence of this compact and dense character is clearly

reflected in the spatial structure of neighborhoods and quarters.
Houses were crammed together so that their flat-roofed terraces
communicated with one another, e.g. Lamartine who visited Beirut in
1832 said that the roofs of some houses serve as terraces to others.
This closeness added to the liveliness and friendliness within, for
the flat-roofed terraces were used for laundry, sleeping on hot
nights, and conversing with neighbors. But to the traveller they
could only be seen as strange and confusing. Indeed, much of the
"confused look", irregularity and anarchy of the city of Beirut,
particularly as they manifest themselves in tortuous streets,
labrinthian quarters, unusual lot shapes and sizes, are to a large
extent a reflection of the persistence of kinship norms and primordial
loyalties. Faced with these realities, one wonders how these
colourful arrangements can still be preserved by urban planning
schemes and how planners can route expressways without disfiguring
such natural and edifying features without destroying the communal and
Intimate character of such communities.
Furthermore, the picturesqueness of the old Beirut was added by
the merriness and the liveliness of its bazaar. There all activities
converged: small shops composed of raised booths and topped with
singles, a few neglected public fountains, numerous inns (khans)
and coffeehouses (Guys, 1850: 19-22, I; Flaubert, 1925: 135; Nerval,
1964: 395, I). It did not take long to cross Beirut on foot. The
whole of the fortified town covered no more than 570 meters from the

harbor to its southern gate and 370 meters from its eastern to its
western portals (Fawaz, 1983: 12). Beyond those limits, on all
sides except the shore, cemeteries, sand dunes, gardens and a few
houses stretched in the distance. The sand dunes extended southwest
of the town; west of the town on the seafront was the Pigeon Rock
area; south the pine forest; eastward the hill of Saint Dimitri and,
farther ahead, the Dog River (Nahr el-Kalb), and its ancient ruins,
all favorite spots for riding horses (Urquhart, 1960: 255-6, II;
Lortet, 1884: 69; Burton, 1884: 212-3).
The town seemed isolated because of its fortified walls and
almost deserted suburbs. A belt of hills and mountains stretched
beyond adding natural fortifications on the southeast of town.
This feature, as the French writer Volney, visiting Beirut in 1784,
pointed out, limited the growth of Beirut on its southeast side. It
also prevented it from acquiring any prominence. This was manifested
in Beirut's isolation from the hinterland and, more crucially, from
Damascus, the major city of the interior. However, the Beirut- Dama-
scus road, built in "1858-1863 was a physical manifestation of the link
that had been forged between the city and the interior. While in the
19th century, the landmark signified the political safety of Beirut
and its economic attraction, it has more recently become a symbol of
divisiveness. The Beirut-Damascus road has emerged now as the demar-
cation line seperating East from West; i.e. the predominantly Christian
and Muslim communities, and is becoming more and more as the "invisible

frontier" between the two.
Prior to the 19th century, Beirut had turned to Mount Lebanon for
refuge. But in the 1830's the mountain became more unstable than the
city. Egyptian exactions oppressed the impoverished peasantry and in-
creased political tensions in Mount Lebanon. In the 1840's and 1850's,
civil unrest and strife spread throughout the mountain and caused its
ruin. After the civil war of 1860, the people turned more and more
often to Beirut for direction and refuge (for further historical evid-
ence on the impact of civil strife and communal conflict on the urban
growth of Beirut, see Hitti 1957; Salibi 1965; Chevallier 1971; Khalaf
1979). By then, Beirut offered enough economic, social and cultural
choices to ensure the continued growth of its population. Consequently,
the alteration of Beirut's relationship with surrounding areas and its
ascendancy in attracting migrants started to change the composition of
Beirut's population. Numerical growth, as one could expect, carried
with it some concrete socio-economic changes. This sudden and inten-
sive growth did not only alter the spatial structure of the city, it
also generated forms of differentiation and dislocation which began
to disrupt symptoms of harmony and balance the city had enjoyed.
Most visible, perhaps, were the changes in the sectarian composition
of Beirut. The intensification of sectarianism prompted members of
Christian sects to migrate to the city in proportion to their numbers
in the areas from which they came. For the first time, a coastal city
on the eastern Mediterranean acquired a marked preponderance of Chris-

tians over Muslims. Moreover, Beirut's changing religious composition
became associated with changes in the distribution of economic opport-
unities among its religious communities and subsequently of the socio-
economic composition of its people.** While in other milieus urbani-
zation may lead to an intensification of racial or ethnic tensions, in
the case of Beirut, urbanization resulted in an intensification of sec-
tarianism among the city's major communities.
The spectacular growth of Beirut was due, as can be deduced
from our discussion so far, mainly to the incessant flow of rural
exodus which began in the middle of the 19th century. Several factors,
which we have called "urban", have accounted for this transformation.
First, there was a collapse in the silk industry due to the competition
from European industrial fibres and textiles (Chevallier, 1959: 35-36).
Consequently, vital sources of income in the rural economy were des-
troyed and local markets for artisan and handicraft skills were eroded.
Second, the massacres of 1860, resulting from the growing tensions bet-
ween Maronites and Druzes of Mount Lebanon, was an added strain on the
rural economy and generated further outflow of rural migrants into the
city. Third, the French mandate over Syria and Lebanon generated some
extensive socio-economic and political transformations in Beirut and
made the city a focal point as an administrative center. Several ex-
** For a more detailed study of the growth and changing compo-
sition of Beiruti society in the 19th century, see Leila
Fawaz (1983).

ternal events also provided further impetus for Beirut's rapid and
massive expansion. Most notable among these is the Armenian mass-
acres which broyght around 50,000 Armenian refugees from Turkey.
Successive waves of migrants arrived to the country, and in 1970,
Beirut counted 130,000 Armenians which constitutes 80% of the total
Armenian population. Such population inflow initiated the growth
of dense slums (east and north east) along the urban fringe, e.g.
in 1970, the Bourj Hammoud settlement counted 55,392 inhabitants
per Km square (Bourgey, 1979: 316; see also Riachi, 1960: 109).**
The outbreak of the war in Palestine in 1948 brought another wave
of 100,000 Palestinians into Lebanon. Their number has grown ever-
since and no accurate figure is availabe today due to the recency
of fundamental changes in their infrastructure and demographic com-
positon.*** Another wave of new migants the Kurds, have slowly in-
filtrated themselves into the country throughout the years. Not
more than a decade ago, 60,000 Kurds constituted 5.5% of Beirut's
population. A number of these have moved from periurban slums to
the center of the city in the deteriorating Jewish neighborhood of
** A. Bourgey and J. Phares (1973) argue that 50,000 Syrrian
Armenians came to Beirut and its suburbs since the 1960's
when political conflicts and upheavals erupted in Syria.
A large number of these migrants settled in Bourj Hammoud.
*** Population statistics for Palestinians have been calculated
by UNRWA and the Center for Palestinian Research. The fig-
rues are not always the same. However, those estimated by
the Center seem more realistic. For more details, see A.
Bourgey and J. Phares (1973).

Wadi Abou Jemil (Bourgey et Phares, 1973: 109). Moreover political
events in both Syria and Egypt led to the migration of Syrians and
Lebanese working there, particularly after the Suez crisis of 1956.
This persistent inflow of diverse ethnic and foreign groups had
a decisive impact not only on Beirut's soaring rates of urbanization
but also on its social character and demographic composition. Thus,
in the 1960's the arrival of foreigners to Beirut was five times more
than the departure of Lebanese (Bourgey, 1980: 16). By 1975, foreig-
ners represented 45% of Greater Beirut's total population. This per-
centyage reached 57% when Armenians were included (Bourgey, 1980: 16).
Some of the spatial and socio-political implications of such massive
inflow are many and grievous. First, this is one indication that
Beirut's population growth and subsequent urbanization is more the
result of internal population shifts (rural-urban exodus) and immi-
gration of successive waves of foreigners than natural rates of popu-
lation increase. While this feature is similar to the experience of
cities in the Gulf and Arabian peninsula, it departs significantly from
the pattern observed among developing and Third World countries.
Second, and perhaps more significantly, this has meant that as
much as half of the city's population are aliens: marginal groups
and unanchored masses who have no firm or deep attachments and com-
mitments to the urban communities they reside in. Third, while such
reservoirs of urban masses, particulary in periurban areas, provided

an accessible and relatively cheap supply of labor which facilitated
industrialization, they had nonetheless serious political implications.
Among other things, they had accentuated the socio-economic disparities,
encouraged the growth of slums and makeshift housing arrangements, and
consequently became a source of political unrest and instability. As
will be seen, the so-called "misery belt" of Beirut, particularly the
southern suburbs witnessed the most dramatic and visible transformation
and became the scene of a variety of public protest and collective move-
At the economic level, the subsequent inflow of capital from the
Arabian Gulf and the concomitant speculation in real estate led to a
spectacular construction boom. As a result, early in the 1950's, Bei-
rut began to lose its predominantly horizontal and even sky-line the
first tangible evidence of intensive urbanization. In 1945, the Muni-
cipality of Beirut issued 390 construction permits involving 626 floors
and a total built-up area of 107,246 m square. A decade later, the
figure leaped to 1261 new permits involving 2730 floors and an area of
640,593 m square. New constructions-mostly in the form of modern high
rise apartments and office buildings in reinforced concrete with glit-
tering glass facades and prefabricated aluminum frames began to over-
whelm the urban scene in new residential quarters. In 1965, close to
1200 new construction permits were issued involving 3000 floors and
a total built-up area of one million square meters (Ministry of
Planning, 1969: 150; Riachi, 1960: 106-7; Khalaf and kongstad, 1970:

17). Beirut, at that time, seemed to fit P. Marthelot's definition of
it in 1963, "a city that fills its site".
One of the most spectacular aspects of urban growth in Lebanon
is the phenomenal concentration of population in its great sprawling
capital, and the bourgeoning band of densley populated suburbs surr-
ounding it. The following map shows the stages of Beirut's growth
during the past century or so. The spatial expansion in the short
span of 1800-1970 demonstrates beyond doubt the intensive and swift
character of Beirut's urbanization (Map No. 4). Since 1932, Beirut
has increased by nearly ten-fold, and between 1952 and 1964, it resi-
dential population has trebled totalling an estimate of 900,000 in
1964 (Khalaf and Kongstad, 1973: 10-19). For well-known, but cer-
tainly unwarranted, political and confessional reasons, Lebanon has
not undertaken a population cesus since 1932 when it was a French
mandate. Since independence in 1943, an official attitude fearing
statistics, particularly population statistics, has prevailed. The
only significant effort at collecting demographic data was made in
1970 when the Manpower Survey was undertaken. This was followed by
the Internal Survey in 1971 (Tabbarah, 1978: 3).
According to the 1970 Manpower Survey, the total population
residing in Lebanon was 2,126,325, with an overall density of 245
inhabitants per Square KM, and excluding the 135,500 Palestinians

living in camps (60% of the population resided in urban areas U.N.,
1980: 4). Allowing for an undercount of about 10% and an annual rate
of population groth of some 2.5% (Ministry of Planning, 1972, part 3:
2), the total population residing in Lebanon at the beginning of 1975
is estimated to be 2,600,000 (excluding Palestinians in camps). If
this figure is compared to the population estimate for Lebanon prepared
by the United Nations (2,869,000), it appears reasonable given that the
latter includes Palestinians living in camps (U.N., 1975: 16-17). It
is important to note that population estimates have varied from one
source to another. However, most of the sources consulted seem to
agree that by the early 1970's, Greater Beirut was close to a million
(Bourgey, 1970; Nasr, 1983), absorbing thus nearly 72% of Lebanon's
urban population and about 45% of the inhabitants of the country
(Khalaf, 1978: 18). It is in this sense that urbanization in Beirut
has been associated with primacy in growing metropolitan dominance:
Beirut now being five times that of the second largest city and the
second (Tripoli) four times the third (Zahle) in terms of inhabitants.
In addition, its already choking 100 Square KM had to accommodate an
estimate of 120,000 daily commuters from adjoining suburbs (Ragheb,
1969: 110). One source estimated that close to half of the popula-
tion of Lebanon resided in Beirut and suburbs in nearly 1975 (Tab-
barah, 1976: 5). Another points to the growth of Greater Beirut
between 1959 and 1975, as the suburbs in 1975 contained 2.6 times
more people than in 1959 (Bourgey, 1979: 301).

At the onset of the Lebanese crisis in 1975, any attempt at
collecting demographic data was hampered and the prevailing situ-
ation did not allow for any census taking. Moreover, massive pop-
ulation shifts have greatly affected the demographic composition
of towns and villages alike. People were, and still are, going
back and forth and the resulting migratory movements were either
shortterm / temporary or long-term / permanent. The following
table shows the short-term migrations registered over the period
of war. Thus, a total of 1,500,000 people had fled from their
war-torn areas on a temporary basis (Nasr, 1983: 326-7). Should
these figures be updated, they would be staggering and indeed re-
vealing of what the Lebanese people have endured for the past few
From To No. Date
Greater Beirut Arab Countries-Europe- U.S.A. 350,000 1976
South Lebanon Greater Beirut-Chouf- Sidon 300,000 Spring 78
East Beirut & Suburbs Kesrouan-Matn- Jbail 250,000 Summer 78
East Beirut & Suburbs Kesrouan-Matn- Jbail 150,000 Spring 78
West Beirut & Suburbs South-Chouf-Aley- Beqa'a-East sub- urbs-Matn-Kesrouan 450,000 Summer 82
Source: Nasr, 1983: 325.

years. The war events have particularly affected the composition of
suburbs both demographically and politically (Bougey, 1979: 301-3).
As an example, the southern suburbs are experiencing now deep trans-
formation and change at the structural level and their social exis-
tence is more than ever at stake (for a detailed study of the sub-
urbs, see Selim Nasr, 1974, 1979; Fuad Khuri, 1975; Joseph Phares,
1977; Andre Bourgey, 1979). To be a bit more specific, in Greater
Beirut itself 15% to 40% of the population were affected by migration
between 1975 and 1982 as the following table shows:
East Beirut West Beirut
Out 110,000 75,000
In 125,000 340,000
Net Balance 15,000 235,000
Source: Nasr, 1983: 329.
As appears from the table, East Beirut has more or less preserved its
numerical size while West Beirut has considerably increased in number
outgrowing its eastern counterpart by more than 200,000 people. Esti-
mates indicate that East Beirut will count 400,000 to 450,000 people
while West Beirut will count 900,000, i.e. 1/3 versus 2/3 of Greater
Beirut's population (Nasr, 1983: 329). These growth rates,
although modest if compared to other Arab cities, are staggering.

Bearing in mind that a population growing at the rate of 7% annually
normally doubles itself every decade, Beirut is likely to double in
less than 20 years (Khalaf, 1978: 18). The magnitude of this change
may still be expreesed in more concrete terms: at the current rate of
growth, Beirut has to accommodate and provide housing, schooling, med-
ical services, transportation, urban amenities... for at least 40,000
new residents every year!
One can thus conclude that the relatively swift and recent char-
acter of urbanization has clearly manifested itself in the spatial lay
out of the city of Beirut. More important, it has had concrete impli-
cations for the interplay between the spatial and the social structure
as well as for the nature of the dialectics between planning and the
Lebanese social structure. In elucidating the nature of urbanization
and the interplay between social and spatial structures, it has appe-
ared vital to document the implications of both external sources and
internal considerations. The rapid and instantaneous growth of Beirut
was not only due to internal demographic factors, be the rates of nat-
ural increase of rural exodus. To a large extent, it was also a ref-
lection of external pressures which generated added demand for urban
space and which had a disruptive impact on the government's ability
to implement general masterplans or specific zoning schemes. The
scale and scope of urbanization has outstripped the city's resources
to cope effectively with the continuously mounting demand for urban
space and public amenities. This has been compounded by another pec-

uliar feature of Lebanese urbanization: the survival of communal and
traditional loyalties. Repeated studies have shown that the swift and
extensive nature of urbanization Lebanon has been experiencing, has
been associated, as in the case in most other societies, with the
same degree of decline in kinship and communal loyalties (see for
example, Gulick, 1967; Khalaf and Kongstad, 1973; Khuri, 1975). In
Lebanon, urbanization has not meant the erosion of kinship ties, com-
munal loyalties and confessional affinities and the emergence of imper-
sonality, anonymity and transitory social relations. As in other dim-
ensions of social life, the network of urban social relations, visiting
patterns and the character of voluntary associations still sustain a
large residue of traditional attachments despite increasing secular-
ization and urbanization. Thus, Beirut is more a "mosaic of distinct
urban communities than a melting pot of amorphous urban masses"
(Khalaf, 1981: 61).
Inasmuch as the survival of such features has been the source of
communal solidarity, and provides much of the needed social and psy-
chic supports, it also accounts for much of the deficiency in civility
and the ersion of public and national consciousness. The Lebanese
crisis of the past fourteen years has sharpened these and other dist-
inctive features of the society, namely, its laissez-faire and liberal
tradition. Within such a context, it becomes pertinent to explore how
such seemingly incompatible traditions norms associated with laissez-
faire, freedom and nonintervention, and those necessitated by the

growing need for planning, coordination and control have been re-
conciled in Lebanon.

Given the rapid pace of urbanization and its sweeping character,
as well as increasing demographic pressures, Beirut has growndt^rding
to the whimsicalities of land merchants, real estate profiteers, urban
speculators and inept municipal machines. This chapter intends to
highlight some of the characterizing spatial features of Beirut. Two
fundamental aspects of the spatial dimension will be treated: the
masterplans designed for the city of Beirut and the urban legislators
formulated. Our main interest is to find out to what extent have these
attempts been successful in curbing the haphazard and unruly growth of
In the early 1930's public officials in Beirut began to display
considerable concern for the physical development of the city. Leba-
non was then under the French mandate and all the early "plans" were
doubtlessly inspired and undertaken by French experts. Successive
teams of such specialists were engaged to prepare the necessary
guidelines to direct the future growth of Beirut. A survey of the
salient features of these "plans" is necessary, particularly since
they had set the pattern for other town planning schemes and deve-
lopments (for discussionn of the plans, see Executive Board, 1968;

Salaam, 1972; Khalaf, 1981).
The earliest city plan drawn for the city of Beirut was prepared
by the French consultant Danger. It was the first attempt at a comp-
rehensive study of the capital taking geographic, climatic, geological
and human factors into consideration. This plan determined the major
axes of circulation (Beirut Tripoli; Beirut Sidon; Beirut Damas-
cus) and zoning coefficients and densities of occupation (Map No. 5).
It sited the basic utilities and recommended residential development
along the lines of garden cities. Very significantly, it proposed
for the first time that Beirut should be planned as one unit with its
adjacent and independent villages and/or suburbs. Moreover, Danger
demonstrated a judicious concern to conserve and promote some of the
environmental and esthetic features of the city. As such, the plan
proposed measures for the protection of elevated areas, the develop-
ment of public parks and gardens, the building of sanitary sewers,
the organization of refuse collection and slum clearance. Unfor-
tunately, the Danger plan was never approved and hence its recom-
mendations were never implemented.
The Ecochard plan of 1944 did not fare any better. It was
based on exhaustive studies and maintained that the planning of
Beirut should extend beyond its limited administrative boundaries
to encompass the coastal stretch from Nahr- el-Maout in the north
to Ouzai in the south. Moreover, it provided for the main access

arteries, suggested a commercial ring around the center, and in-
dicated the location of the present airport. It contained an in-
tensive survey of the existing open spaces and gardens, and pro-
posed a complete study for the protection of natural sites. It
even went as far as to provide an inventory for the valuable trees
that should be maintained in Beirut! The plan also went into details
of zoning, the location of industry, civic centers, housing for wor-
kers, popular housing and all the other dwellings from middle-income
to luxury. The city was divided into twelve zones commercial, in-
dustrial and residential with varying densities. Map No. 6 gives
the general highway network as proposed in the plan. Like its pre-
decessor, however, this plan was never preserved and introduced in
later plans.
The Egli Report or plan of 1950 was essentially a reappraisal
of the earlier Ecochard plan. It recommended the adoption of most
of its proposals, particularly the layout of the highway system
(see Map No. 7), but reduced the number of zones from 12 to 5.
Again, this plan was never approved although some of its recommen-
dations formed the basis for further studies which resulted in
the General Masterplan of 1951-54.
However, this General Masterplan the only officially app-
roved plan which has been responsible for the development of Bei-
rut since was nothing but a network of roads derived essentially

from the Ecochard Plan, too narrow in width to cope with the traf-
fic intersection (see Map No. 8). It provided no zoning. It never
touched on any of the factors that could affect future trends and
development, such as the port, airport, industry, tourism and major
transport arteries. Nor did it make any effort to preserve the nat-
ural sites and historic monuments of the city. More important per-
haps, it never looked at Beirut in its regional context. The results
became painfully obvious: commercial centers invaded residential
districts, ground floors and front gardens were converted into shops,
offices located themselves in apartment buildings, streets were over-
congested with traffic, soaring land values made it impossible to
provide for green areas and open spaces and the lack of protection
of natural sites and monuments eroded the little that remained of
the national and architectural heritage (Khalaf, 1981). As a
result, in all these unplanned areas, construction was not cont-
rolled and maximum exploitation was authorized. Moreover, rather
than anticipating and directing the couse of future developments,
planning has often meant the reinforcement of already established
Conditions in the suburbs were even worse. Since there was no
plan or zoning legislation for the outskirts, no limits whatsoever
were imposed on built-up areas. Entire suburbs mushroomed over-
night and started to close in on the city. These suburbs were comp-
letely independent from the city, and therefore, did not come under

its planning scheme. Most of the built-up area was the work of
shrewed speculators (Riachi, 1969: 108-9).
Por example, the growth of the industrial belt around the sub-
urbs is largely a by-product of chaotic and unchecked suburban growth.
The heavy rural urban migration of the 1950's and 1960's and the
consequent availability of a large reserve of cheap labour in the
suburban zones prompted many industrialists to locate their firms and
establishments in those regions.
Another example is the invasion of sandy coast along the new Ouz-
ai Boulevard after the 1958 troubles. In a few weeks, squatters built
thousands of houses on privately-owned land and on public property.
Not only have certain areas grown without a masterplan, but
others have developed contrary to the speculations of rigid planning
schemes. Hamra, the once fashionable and cosmopolitan middle-class
urban district in Western Beirut, is one such dramatic instance. It
grew despite the general conception of the Master Plan to divert the
urban development along the southern axis of metropolitan Beirut.
Because of the absence of traditional patterns of landholding, the
transfer of land was rendered possible through cadastral legislation.
There is evidence that parcels in the Hamra district were individual-
ized as early as 1928; a tendency which must have encouraged land
transactions and speculations in real estate as a viable economic
venture (for more details, see Khalaf and Kongstad, 1973: 30).

This same pattern has repeated itself in a score of other dis-
tricts and suburbs. Thus, at the very time that Beirut and its sub-
urbs were experiencing their most intensive demographic pressure and
urban expansion, planning schemes were either totally absent or de-
ficient (for a summary of the features of the plans, see Appendix A).
Until 1964, time when the first town planning legislations were form-
ulated in Lebanon, the only control that existed was an obsolete build-
ing code. But by then it was too late to curb or redirect the chaotic
Since the building code of 1932 and the town planning laws of
1963 are the two legislative documents responsible for planning and
zoning in Lebanon, a word about each is in order.
The Lebanese Building Code, which has been subjected to four
substantive amendments since its enactment in 1932 (1940, 1954,
1964, 1971) leaves little to be desired except its implementation.
The Code was inspired by the French and is very explicit in some of
its provisions. It covers specific requirements and regulations re-
garding matters such as construction and occupancy permits; the over-
all envelop within which a building must be contained; the unobstru-
cted visual distance between the facade of the building and the limit
of the land (minimum of 4.5 meters to insure a "clear view" i.e. to

permit the opening of a window for ventilation and lighting); set-backs
from both the road and the neighbors; plot ratios specifying coefficients
of surface and total exploitation; the appearance of buildings and their
structural safety; parcelation or subdivision of land; parking space,
penalties etc..
Most of the provions are very stringent in their requirements,
and if applied could have safeguarded the urban environment from fur-
ther abuse, or at least contained some of the ugly manifestations of
the dehumanization of living space Lebanon has been witnessing during
the past two decades. In many respects the damage is irreparable.
What is even more dramatic is the invasion of agricultural land,
which constitutes only 12% of the Lebanese soil, by constructions of
all sorts. This is due to the Building Code itself, since it does
not classify land use nor restrict it. Thus, to permit the misuse
of a parcel of land, insignificant as it may seem initially, is
bound to have long-lasting and irreversable consequences.
For example, article 7 of the Building Code specified that a
newly constructed building cannot be supplied with electric power,
water and telephones unless the proprietor secures an "occupancy
permit" verifying that the actual specifications of the final pro-
duct are consistent with the approved original design of the build-
ing. If implemented, this could impose effective controls on the
rampant construction violations. Municipal authorities, however,

have not been able to detect, let alone contain or prevent the ingen-
ious strategies the Lebanese have developed to transgress this and
other construction ordinances. Quite often, for rexample, proprietors
could, after securing the occupancy permit, add another floor, violate
setback regulations, or convert the use of a floor space from residen-
tial to commercial. Most such clandestine constructions take place
stealthily at night to avoid notice. Even if detected, penalties and
fines are nominal and insubstantial compared to the benifits they derive
from such transgressions. Often a modest bribe to a municipal clerk or
inspector is sufficcient to conceal or ignore the infraction.
Article 18 of the Building Code, which is concerned with the out-
side appearance and esthetic quality of buildings, as well as their
structural safety, requires proprietors to periodically restore, paint
and embellish the facades of their buildings, otherwise the appropriate
authorities are empowered to undertake such beautification at the exp-
ense of the proprietors. This, too, is never enforced, generating as
a result much of the ugly and blighted quality of the urban environment.
The lack of enforcement of such rules reflects the reason why proprie-
tors ignore these requirements, just as much as it reflects the reluc-
tance of municipal authorities to enforce them. In both instances,
however, they are doubtless an expression of deficient civility and
the pervasive lack of concerned citizens in general display for the
quality of public space. Incidentally, while the exterior and facades
of buildings are negelcted, this is not necessarily true of their in-

terior which is generally more cared for. This is no doubt a ref-
lection of the double and often inconsistent standards the average
Lebanese employs in managing "public" and "private" space. As will
be discussed later, the notion of a collectivity and respect for what
is public and thus shared, remains unknown to the individualistic
Lebanese citizen.
No other area, perhaps, is subjected to as many violations, as
that regulating the coefficient of exploitation of land. The Code
makes a distinction between zoned and unzoned areas and specifies the
total and surface coefficients for each, along with the height of the
building, number of floors, setbacks etc... Possibly because of soaring
land values and the eagerness of the Lebanese to exploit every meter of
space he is entitled to, here too the extent and nature of violations
are staggering. This applies to large-scale entrepreneurs, contractors
and speculators, just as it applies to the simple homeowner keen on
maximizing his private interests. The strategies they have developed
for circumventing the law are both subtle and ingenious.
For example, Article 14 of the Building Code specifies the areas
which are normally excluded in calculating the coefficient of explio-
tation; such as open terraces and balconies which do not exceed 20%
of the surface area of the floor, basements and pillar floors, attics,
projections and protrusions devoted for decorative and other purposes.
In each of these instances, proprietors, particularly after securing

their occupancy permits, manage ultimately to extend their construction
to exploit such area, thus exceeding the optimal coefficient required
by the lav.
The conversion of pillar and attic space into full-fledged floors
is by far one of the most recurrent and visible violations. This is
particularly the case in suburban and rural areas where zoning regu-
lations restrict the number of floors to a maximum of three. By fill-
ing in the pillar floor intended originally as structural support, and
by rearranging slightly the attic space, a three-story building becomes
in fact five.
The same is also true of the regulations governing parking space
and garages in the basement of apartment buildings. The Code is equally
stringent here (see Article 19), but most proprietors find their way
around such restrictions and end up leasing such space for commercial
use. The alibis they resort to are legion and quite accessible. All
that is needed is some proof that the passage leading to the basement
is too steep or narrow to permit the entry of vehicles. In some inst-
ances, proprietors actually contrive pillars or other structural barr-
iers to obstruct such passage. They are then more than willing to pay
the substitute fee to secure the release of the basement. In nearly all
such instances what should have been legitimate parking space for tenants
is leased out as warehouses, night clubs, and other commercial uses.

More than any other factor this has compounded the parking
problems and traffic congestion Lebanese cities suffer from. Recent
estimates reveal that there is one motor vehicle for every four and a
half persons in Lebanon (Khalaf, 1981: 68). Given the small size and
the high density of the country, this is a notoriously high ratio and
is bound to have adverse implications for the quality of urban life.
As it is, sidewalks, alleyways, courtyards and other pedestrian and
open spaces are being mindlessly eaten up and transformed into parking
lots. Since municipal authorities are normally lax in detecting and
penalizing such transgressions their magnitude has increased consider-
ably, particularly during the past decade.
During the post war era, a new phenomenon has emerged: the
conversion of parking lots into other uses, namely, the construction of
high-rise buildings where flats are sold at astronomical figures. In
the very near future, the Lebanese will not be able to park their cars
in the city and Beirut might well be turned into a pedestrian city.
As an example of this dramatic situation, one urban quarter in
the Ras Beirut district is presently witnessing such transformation.
The neighboring houses used to enjoy the facilities of a large parking
lot overshadowed by beautiful cypres trees. When empty, the space
served as playground to the neighborhood children. A few months ago,
the inhabitants woke up one morning at the sound of the hatchets. The
sight of trees being cut down was a great consternation. However, the

shock, was even greater when the residents knew that the parking space
will be exploited for more "profitable purposes, i.e. construction of
a multi-story, multi-function building. The residents' petition to the
landowner remained unanswered. Their arguments about the preservation
of the physical quality of their neighborhood by preventing high-rise
buildings from spoiling the environment and dehumanizing the living
space were probably not convincing enough. The landowner keen on
maximizing profit displayed no concern for the esthetic, human or
cultural dimensions. Has was rather led by an insatiable apetite for
Needless to say that soaring land values have rendered the com-
mercial traffic in land one of the most viable sources of private
wealth and living today in the city of luxury.
III. The Town Planning Legislation
The Town Planning Legislation of 1963 stands out as out as "an
important threshold in Lebanon's checkered history with urban plann-
ing" (Khalaf, 1981: 69). It marks the first serious attempt at com-
prehensive planning and legislation and was the product of a commision ***
*** Studies of the Plan were directed by Mr. Ecochard
with the cooperation of a team of local professional
architects. Although the plan continues to bear his
name, Mr. Ecochard had at the time publicly dissocia-
ted himself from the officially approved plan.

appointed by the government in 1961. The commision produced the so-
called "Plan Directeur de Beyrouth et sa banlieue"*** which established
all the densities for the various zones, particularly the outskirts of
Beirut, set the location for industry and governmental centers, and pro-
tected the coast, beaches, woods and natural sites (Map No. 9). The
restrictions of the Plan were not severe as they allowed for an eventual
Greater Beirut population of 2 million, which is far too high a density
(Salaam, 1972: 115). More important, the commision also produced the
first set of planning legislation which was to apply to the whole of
Lebanon and has been in operation since (Salaam, 1972; Khalaf, 1981).
The 1963 legislation concentrated all matters related to town
planning in one single authority, the Directorate Gneral of Town
Planning (DGTP), attached to the Ministry of Public Works and trans-
port (see Appendix A, organization chart). The DGTP has so far suf-
fered from deficient technical staffing. A striking example is the
absence of architects and/or town planners amongst its staff! The
legislation also established a Higher Council for Urban Planning
(HCUP), a totally independent body formed of representatives of
interested ministries.*** Both the Directorate and the Council
*** The composition of the HUCP was modified in September
1983 to include the following: the Director General
(DG) of Town Planning, the DG of the Ministry of In-
terior, the DG of Roads and Buildings in the Ministry
of Public Works and Transport, the DG of Housing in
the ministry of Housing and Cooperatives, Council for
Development and Reconstruction, Chief of Engineers
Syndicate, a university Sociologist, a Town Planner,
and a Civil engineer. The Council holds regular week-
ly meetings.

are expected to follow priorities established by the government,
but they are nonetheless given the full right to decide on the
areas that need planning.
On the whole, by tightening control over building permits,
architectural esthetics, and land parcelization, the legislation
has so far been moderatly successful in controlling some of the
earlier gaps inherent in the obsolete Building Code.
However, the effectiveness of the legislation and the HCUP has
been seriously handicapped by persisting short comings. There is,
first, the ubiquitous conflict of interest with other government
agencies who are reluctant to relinquish prerogatives they had once
enjoyed. More grievous, perhaps, is the failure to establish an
adequate reform of existing land taxation or control over land
speculation. Because of the usual collusion between private
entrepreneurs and the political establishment, it is virtually
impossible to impose any effective restraints on the abusive con-
sequences of excessive speculation in real estate.
The pervasiveness of patronage, as will be shown later, has
affected the process of zoning in some substantive and concrete ways.
Corruption, bribery, graft, nepotism, executive and administrative
incompetence, and private interference in public decisions all suggest
that private and particularistic ends are being promoted at the expense

of public and universalistic expectations. No wonder then how one of
the most viable forms of commercial speculation, namely land or real
estate, can be manipulated to affect the redistribution of rewards and
benifits in society (for a treatment of patron-client relations in
Lebanon, see Khalaf, 1977).
In most these instances, it is naturally the substantial entre-
preneurs and businessmen with political connections who stand to bene-
fit from such circumstances. They are usually privy to some vital tips
or hints as to the areas which are to be subjected to zoning in the
near future. They venture then to purchase vast stretches of land in
anticipation of such opportunities; particularly since zoning will al-
most always generate a sharp increase in land values. For example, the
anticipated passage of a road almost always generates a manifold increase
in the value of land. Landowners are happy to part with such property,
since the financial rewards accuring therefrom more than compensate for
the loss.
The adverse effects of speculation have other equally abusive
consequences. As we have seen, it was impossible under the old
legislation, because of soaring land values, to expropriate land
for any urban redevelopment on a large scale. To overcome this
barrier, the new legislation stipulated the establishment of Mixed
Real Estate Companies (public and private) in which the government
will become shareholder to the amount that it is normally entitled

to under the expropriation laws, i.e. 25% of the property. The pri-
vate sector will receive the remaining 75%. The mixed company will
undertake the planning of the entire zone and then proceed to sell pro-
perty in accordance with the masterplans developed for the zone which
must include open areas, parks, schools and other collective facilities.
Ideally, such a system is supposed to protect individuals from being
penalized by expropriation for the benifit of others. Also the appre-
ciation in land values, resulting from such projects, will be shared
more equitably by every owner pro-rata to his deed. Although the
law has been in existence for 20 years, it has been obstructed, al-
most paralyzed by the interference of large property owners in dist-
ricts where mixed companies were created. Such entrepreneurs are
usually opposed to these schemes because they impose limits on their
free and uncontrolled speculation in real estate.
Finally, and perhaps more important, although the HCUP has been
established as an independent and central authority to consider all
matters pretaining to urban planning and zoning, it is only empowered
to "express its opinion" (Article 2 of the Lebanese Legislative Law),
and hence can only act in an advisory capacity. Many of its decisions
and deliberations are often overruled or ignored by the Council of Min-
isters or President of the Republic. Indeed, the latter has exceptional
powers at his disposal enabling him to enact special decrees by which
he can modify the zoning or land-use pattern of any area without refer-
ence to the HCUP. On several occasions, successive presidents are known

to have made opportune use of such extraordinary prerogatives. Propo
sals by the HCUP to protect the natural zones of Faitroun, Harissa
and Nahr el Kalb were met with strong opposition on the part of the
population and municipalities. In addition, they were rejected by
the Council of Ministers. This shows us the frustration and limits
within which the HCUP members function.
Needless to say that given the erosion of state powers and ram-
pant lawlessness Lebanon is currently beset with, the legislations
are likely to remain futile unless supplemented by executive powers
to implement them. Until then, their practical enforcement seems a

By the admission or recognition of all the major actors involved
in the production and management of urban space in Lebanon, housing
stands out as one of the most critical by-products of rapid urbaniza-
tion. Curiously, while urbanization and related urban problems are
not generallz recognized as public issues, there is, on the other hand,
considerable awareness and concern for housing as a major problem. While
urbanization is remote and intangible at least from the perspective of
those who are suffering the problem of shelter and other amenities, hou-
sing needs are naturally more immediate and imminent. By their very
nature, housing shortages touch virtually everyone and have tangible
and visible consequences which carry wide-ranging implications. In this
sense, the so-called housing problem in Lebanon has all the manifesta-
tions of a genuine crisis in the true meaning of the term. Despite its
pronounced magnitude and dimensions, we have not as yet developed an
effective strategy, let alone a policy, to cope with and control some
of its grievous manifestations.
It is necessary to recognize first, that housing shortages are not
an unavoidable condition of the process of urbanization. Rather, it is

a reflection of the relationship between supply and demand, which in
turn is determined by social conditions of production of the market
commodity in question, i.e. housing. This should not mean however
that the housing crisis is purely conjunctural and is simply a matter
of the balance between supply and demand. It is a case of a necessary
disparity between needs, socially defined, of the habitat and the pro-
duction of housing and residential amenities (Castells, 1977: 146).
In the case of Lebanon, a highly dense pattern of settlement has
resulted in high prices of land coupled with high construction costs;
thus placing housing at a great premium.
Rapid urbanization in the 1960's and early 1970's was, as we have
seen, accompanied by very rapid economic growth, especially in Beirut.
This concetration in the capital area was unchecked by any policies of
decentralization or regional development, so that by 1975, two thirds
of the nation's economic activity was to be found in Beirut and its sub-
urbs. The exodus was sustained and eccelerated by a continuous outflow
from villages, farms and small towns including relatively remote areas
such as Akkar, the Beqa'a and South Lebanon. Since Lebanon's rates of
urban growth are estimated at 3.7% (Ibrahim, 1975: 36) and since such
rates are not likely to by curtailed in the near future, Lebanon must
build in the coming 25 years more units of shelter than it has build
in its history, including those now in existence (Khalaf, 1977: 160).
The magnitude of this challenge is staggering and the future prospects

for Beirut are not bright indeed. In Beirut, and to a lesser extent
Sidon, Tripoli and third-rank towns, the concentration of population
and acti- vities meant a strong competition for urban land, scarce
in any event due to geography and absence of any urban planning.
Spiralling land prices became the norm even in the 1960's. Fueling
these price increases was a purely speculative aspect, where inves-
tors perceived capital gains in the land market higher than other
investment alternatives. Real estate speculation led to severe dis-
tortions of the market with mismatches between supply and demand of
housing types and income levels. The rental market has also been
severely constrained and distorted by the misapplication of rent
controls. The latter were rigid but politically inviolate and fur-
ther exacerbated the situation by driving developers to build units
solely for sale. In the absence of attractive financing, this meant
that for the most part only the well-to-do could buy, and developers
began to turn more and more to the production of luxury housing.
The high cost of land itself contributed to the "luxury phenomenon",
as developers tended toward a high total value of building on expe-
pensive land. And speculation became such that the large developer
was in no hurry to sell his luxury units.
By 1975, the housing situation for all urban Lebanese who were
not wealthy or who did not enjoy the protection of rent control in
older units, had already reached crisis proportions. ECWA (UN) est-
imated conservatively in 1977 an absolute shortage of 110,000 units

plus the need for replacing 60,000 substandard units. Adding to the
needs of newly forming families, a minimum of 19,000 new units per
year through 1978-2000 were estimated to be required (UN, ECWA, 1977;
Direction Generale de l'Urbanisme, 1973).
The prolonged effects of war and insecurity between 1975 and
1989 have further exacerbated the housing crisis. Not only has new
construction slowed dramatically, but the existing housing stock has
been reduced through destruction and damage, and whole urban districts
have been abandoned. In accordance with the latest surveys carried
out by the government, about 92,000 dwellings were destroyed or
damaged by the events. Of these about 59,000 were damaged before
May 1982 and about 33,000 were damaged since June 1982, of which
about 25,300 units were in Beirut and its suburbs and about 7,700
in the South. As of February 1983, 72,000 damaged dwellings remained
to be rebuilt or repaired (World Bank, 1983: 69). The shattering
events of the past months have no doubt increased these numbers and
no estimates of the damages have as yet been formulated. Wave upon
wave of refugees displaced from war areas have overwhelmed government
and private welfare capacities and resulted in further demand for
housing in "safe" areas. Wholesale squatting both on land and in
vacant buildings, as will be seen, has become common in Beirut.

II. Major Factors Affecting Housing
It can be safely inferred from this brief sketch that the current
situation is a serious and alarming one. The major problems encountered
in the housing sector were in fact due to shortcomings at the legis-
lative, the market, the policy and the financial levels. These have had
their repercussions on the social aspect of housing and might be trans-
lated into significant social problems. The following is an exploration
of each level in an attempt to analyze what went wrong. At the legis-
lative level, the housing crisis revolves around the rent law. The rent
law has ignored inflation. This is maybe its most important pitfall as
it results in a freezing of old rents, therefore accentuating the ten-
dency toward a shrinking rent supply. Moreover, instead of fighting the
high cost of living, the rent law has organized the shortage, since one
cannot find apartments for rent in Beirut anymore; at the same time, it
has exacerbated inflation by freezing rents (Banque du Liban, 1983 : 17).
The following table shows the astronomical increase in rents over a
period of ten years for an apartment composed of three bedrooms, one
living-room, one dining-room, one kitchen and other facilities.
1971 LL 6500 100
1972 7670 118
1973 8775 135
1974 10400 160
1975 13000 200
1976 18200 380
1977 26000 400
1978 35700 550
1979 45500 700
1980 60500 900
1981 65000 1000
Source: Chebl, 1982: 61.

The rent law has always been a source of dissatisfaction and delusion
either to property holders or to tenants. And this has developed into
a distrust in governmental bodies. In fact, every project of amend-
ment is subject to various pressures, the most memorable being that of
Minister Farid Raphael, at that time Minister of Finance. The pro-
ject known as the "Raphael law" had provoked wide popular concern and
opposition. Labor movements were the first to protest and threatened
to call for a workers' strike on a national scale. This newspaper
illustrates the workers' position vis-a-vis the projected rent law:
"The National Federation of Employees and Workers Unions said
that "all five rent bills came as a disappointment to the workers and
employees of Lebanon". The bills were categorically rejected because:
1. they contain no provision for the reduction of the country's
soaring rent rates;
2. they introduce the concept of limiting the period covered by
the rent contract;
3. they provide periodic increases in rent;
4. they provide for rent increases to be determined by the rise
in the cost of living;
5. they increase the landlord's powers to replace or evict his
tenants." (Al-Anwar, June 30, 1977).
Another newspaper titled:
"Raphael's rent project... makes the landlord an oppressor and
the tenant an obedient, and sets for great economic and social

dangers. Its logic accepts a prior the "slums' and "misery belts".
(Translated from Arabic; An-Nahar, July 20, 1977).
The unions were successful in blocking the project and the
"Raphael law" never saw light.
At the market level, the absence of statistics and real estate
studies have undermined the process at the onset. Adding to the
explosive war situation, inflation, high construction costs, high
interest rates on loans, high profits resulting from speculation in
real estate, increased land values, population pressures and the
absence of low-cost housing have all contributed to the severe backlog
in housing demand which has remained unmet. (Por more details, see
Alamuddin, 1982 : 56-57; Chebl, 1982: 60-63). It is interesting to
note, at this point, the increase in the surface area permitted for
building. Thus, in 1962, 365m square were entitled for construction
per building permit; in 1965, the figure increased to 464m square; in
1970 it became 679m square, in 1973, 827m square, and finally, in
1980, it leaped to 954m square (Alamuddin, 1982, 1982 : 57). Two
factors are responsible for this increase: 1. the increase in the
coefficient of exploitation in Beirut and its suburbs; and, 2. the
increase in land value which pushed the developer to make the most of
it. Paradoxically enough, despite the disrupting war events,
Lebanon has maintained a substantial building activity as the number
of building permits delivered between 1977 and 1981 demonstrates (see
Table 4).

# OF
** These permits are exclusive of those issued by the "ordre des
Ingenieurs" of Tripoli.
At the policy level, the absence of policy is the most striking.
A laissez-faire policy characterized by non-intervention of the state
and a dynamic private sector has reduced market offers or limited them
to a specific category, thus intensifying the crisis. No comprehen-
sive land-use plan has guided the growth of Beirut and its suburbs,
and thus, the problem has concentrated there mainly, while vast stret-
ches of land remain unexploited. Moreover, the lack of coordination
between municipal councils has added to their inefficiency. One for-
mer President of a municipality has justified this characterizing fea-
ture of nearly all municipalities in Lebanon by saying: "the munici-
palities have no income that allows them to undertake projects, their
role is limited to suggestions and executions. The main authority
related to that matter is the Town Planning authority whose role is
Source: Chebl, 1982: 83.

to plan comprehensively for all regions of Lebanon. Moreover, our
request for a Ministry of Municipalities has remained unanswered.
The latter could help in nationalizing municipal councils all over
Lebanon, as well as in running elections more often than every fif-
teen to twenty years." However, these justifications do not explain
why some municipalities have been active in constantly maintaining
and restoring their roads and public utilities and others have done
nothing to ameliorate their locality. Is it really a question of
funds? Or is it a question of ignorance, neglect and lack of fore-
sight on the part of the responsible persons? We would opt for the
latter possibility knowing the limited competence and integrity of
those at the top. Municipal authorities in Lebanon have been deeply
involved in all matters related to urban development and housing, from
the application of zoning regulations to the issuing of building per-
mits, the reconstuction of damaged housing and the implementation of
citywide infrastructure projects. Furthermore, large tracts of comm-
unal land suitable for housing developments are owned by or placed
under the jurisdiction of municipal authorities. Hence, their role is
crucial and their operations should be streamlined in order to imp-
rove their efficiency.
At the financial level, the limited resources of state-institutions
have weakened the public sector and have retarded the process of collec-
ting and mobilizing resources to be funded on long-term basis, as will
be shown in the next section. Given the manifestation of crisis at all

levels and the absence of a housing policy, what has been the
governments role In the housing sector? More specifically, who
has managed housing finance In Lebanon?
III. The Management Of Housing Finance
Lebanon, as has been suggested earlier, does not have an urban
strategy. The absence of an approved land-use plan classifies the
whole country as suitable for urban development and the government
has no authority to refuse granting a building permit anywhere on
Lebanese territory. Moreover, there is an absence of coordination
between the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT) and the
Ministry of Housing and Cooperatives (MOHC). As a result, residen-
tial developments, even those financed by the MOHC, are implemented
with little consideration to land conservation or urban planning
(World Bank, 1983: 70).
The first legislative decree on housing was issued in 1962 where-
by a Housing Council was formed. The latter's main task was to create
mixed companies (public and private) for the management of housing, but
nothing was ever done. The law was amended in 1965, placing an emphasis
on the Housing Council's involvement in housing projects. Only three
were implemented. Even those, however, were never fully realized. For
example, government housing in Majdalaya, Tripoli and Tyr was never
delivered to its benficiaries. The Housing Council was replaced by a

Ministry of Housing in 1973, whose goal was to set a housing policy
(for more details, see Sheaib, 1983).
The first government efforts to tackle the housing problem were
started in the years 1977-1980. The MOHC is the principal agency res-
ponsible for the housing sector in Lebanon. As a newly-established
ministry being faced with the task of the reconstruction of damaged
dwellings, it has been unable to face up to the problem of setting up
a longterm housing strategy. However, under the tutelage of the Min-
istry, several governmental and semi-autonomous entities have been
created for the implementation of a comprehensive program of housing,
rehabilitation and reconstruction. In all cases the approach has been
the provision of long-term loans to families to help them repair, pur-
chase or construct housing units. Three distinct programs have been
started and all are currently in operation:
1. The Decree Law 2 (January 1977) is operated by the MOHC through
its headquarters in Beirut and seven regional offices, all equipped with
technical staff. Loans are extended to the owner of damaged dwelling
units or buildings at 2% per annum over 15 years with a ceiling of LL
45,000 for each dwelling. Beneficiaries under DL 20 have to be Lebanese
citizens of good standing, prove ownership of the dwelling, and submit
proof of legal construction. The only collateral required is a mortgage
on the dwelling. Where beneficiaries have been unable to produce the
required documents, such as title deeds, the MOHC has encouraged the
formation of cooperativees and has channeled the loans through the

cooperatives. By January 31, 1983, the MOHC had received about 24,500
applications representing about 62,000 dwelling units and about 7,700
common facilities. Of these, only 6,069 applications had been proces-
sed, i.e. 25%, representing about 14,100 dwellings and 1,700 common
facilities at a cost of LL 197 million. The shortfall is due to the
lach of security, the insufficiency of funds, the shortage of staff,
and the cumbersome routine for loan processing (World Bank, 1983: 71;
Banque du Liban, 1983: 5-6).
2. The Housing Bank (HB) was established in 1977 and it is owned
20% by the government, 30% by the Social Security Fund, and 50% by
the private sector. It is independent in its operations, managed by
a board of directors and a chairmen. The HB can operate over the
whole country and extend loans to Lebanese citizens of good standing
having a yearly income in excess of LL 40,000. Loans can be made ei-
ther for the purchase of a ready-built apartment or for the construc-
tion of a new house with a ceiling of LL 200,000 per loan. The only
collateral required is the mortgage on the title. This is sufficien-
tly safe as the loans do not exceed 60-70% of the value of the pro-
perty. In its first three years of activity, the HB processed about
2,000 loans for a total amount of LL 180 million. But in 1982, the
HB suffered from a severe shortage of funds as its main source had
been the budgetary allocations of the central government. Consequen-
tly, the HB had to curtail its lending. In 1982, it granted 324 loans
for LL 51 million giving priority to large families. After five years

of operations, besides having a modest impact on the housing supply,
the HB has already encountered some of the difficulties facing new
financing institutions: inability to diversify its sources of funds,
thus emphasizing its dependency on government financing; lack of ade-
quate staffing and administrative set-up to appraise urban develop-
ment projects of significant size (World Bank, 1983: 72-73; Banque
du Liban, 1983: 6-8).
3. The National Housing Fund ("Caisse Autonome de l'Habitat",
CAH), a semi-autonomous agency related to the MOHC, was created by
law No. 6/80 dated 19/7/1980 for the construction and ownership of
20,000 housing units, also known as the "Murr law". The CAH can only
operate outside the municipal boundaries of Beirut; beneficiaries
have to be residents of the area and have to submit proof of resi-
dence for ten years. The CAH has a board of directors and a chairman,
and it functions independently although it is administratively a bra-
nch of the MOHC. Loans are granted to Lebanese citizens of good sta-
nding with an annual income of less than LL 40,000 per family. By the
end of 1982, in 18 months of activity, the CAH had approved 4,494 lo-
ans, committed 2,141 and disbursed 1,994 representin LL 185.4 mill-
ion (World Bank, 1983: 73-74). The original capital of CAH was paid
up by the government. However, it benefits from a second source of
income generated by the "Murr law". Promulgated in 1978, this decree
law allowed for an increase in the intensity of exploitation of land
in the suburbs, with a corresponding revenue based on a coefficient

of land value to percentage exploitation (Article 3) (MOHC, 1980). This
decree had generated LL 76 million expected from already approved in-
creases. By securing such revenue, the CAH has encouraged the government
to seek its extension for another year, beyond the closing date of Dec-
ember 31, 1982. The CAH has a limited staff of forty because it uses the
commercial banking system as an intermediary for the collection of re-
payments on loans (World Bank, 1983: 73-74; Banque du Liban, 1983: 8-10;
Sheaib, 1983: 9-10).
Althouth considerable effort has been made to establish and expand
these programs, the volumes of loans processed are very small when com-
pared to the total need. Furthermore, only a fraction of the loans are
for new construction. And, except for some of the loans through the CAH,
it is not the lower-income groups which benefit, "but rather large pro-
perty holders and top rank officials who are far from being in need"
(For a recapitulation of the institutional set-up, see Appendix B).
Recently, considerable thought and discussion on government pol-
icy towards housing has been taking place within the MOHC and among
concerned professional groups. It is generally recognzed that the go-
vernment, while maintaining reliance on the private sector for the bu-
ilding of housing, must begin to intervene actively in the market on
both the supply and demand sides, so that Lebanon can begin to exit
from a situation many consider to be its most pressing problem. There
are a wide range of policy options being considered. Facilitating the

supply of serviced land for housing, especially for low-income groups,
is an approach which is receiving considerable attention. The devel-
opment of a revolving national housing fund is another, as is the con-
cept of developing the cooperative housing sector (see particularly,
Bechara, 1981; Mohsen, 1979). These, as well as other options, need
however, an institutional framework and a much improved information
base to be investigated further, given the complex nature of the hou-sing
To this end, the government of Lebanon established in December
1983 under DL 129, the General Institute of Housing (GIH), a semi-au-
tonomous body under the MOHC which incorporates the CAH. On Paper at
least, the GIH will be the prime institutional vehicle for a much wi-
der governmental role in the housing process. Much depends, however,
on how the Institute is set up, who staffs it, how its work programs
are defined and what are to be its financial resources. The former
Minister of Housing, who has drafted the proposal for the GIH creat-
ion, remarked: "I hope that "they" (the government people) will not
touch it for it might intervene with "their" interests!" (Interview
with B. Bsat, June 13, 1988). Again, our fear is that as soon as a
public body is established to deal with an issue, political pressures
and private interests will interfere to manipulate the law to suit
their own individualistic ends.
The government has been largely responsible for the endemic cri-

sis of housing. It has not been able to plan shelter effectively for
the growing urban population nor to cope with the mounting demand for
houses as a result of massive destructions and shifting populations.
Public institutions created for such purposes were only able to under-
take rescue operations" on a small-scale. Private enterprise whose
sole concern is profit, and this is only natural, rather than publics,
civic and national considerations, has proved incapable of solving the
housing crisis on its own. The urban dynamic and the increase of ur-
ban agencies demands a complex institutionalized relationship between
administration and private interests, which is both public and flex-
ible. Local government has been the traditional means by which the
dominant interests have divided the urban cake. But the weakness of
local government is particularly apparent with regard to the mass of
the population, the citizens, the users of goods and services, hous-
ing and facilities. Th-e housing formula was not addressed to those
in need of ot. Thus, what happens in a situation of crisis when the
invasion of available land by the homeless or the organization of a
"wild" habitat that obeys the cultural norms of its inhabitants and
is equipped according to their own means (Castells, 1977: 169).
IV. "Housing Movements"
One cannot talk, strictly speaking, of "housing movements", at
least if we conceive of such movements, as Borja did (1977: 169), as
possessing "effectiveness, continuity, institutional responsiveness,

social identification, cumulative progressive and organizational de-
velopment". Until today, the working classes in the city have been
resigned to the high social costs of urban property accumulation and
concentration. The effects of the war have made things worse. Self-
help was the only solution to subsistence problems, e.g. the constr-
uction of shanties, squatter settlements and the collective occupat-
ion of houses. Even if many of these solutions were illegal, the
laissez-faire tradition in city planning is essential for the pro-
vision of the minimum urban necessities for such a population. On
some occasions, limit-situations produced resistance, e.g. the op-
position of squatters to expulsion, but in such cases the lack of
continuity of the process, unless it actually modifies the balance
of power, prevents the advantages won from being maintained. The
middle classes for their part, depoliticized and lacking means of
collective action, and living in relatively privileged urban areas,
are unlikely to provide either a basis for their own movements or
support for popular action (For details see Borja, 1977). As far as
we know there has been only a few movements of the homeless on Leb-
anon. Two specific instances are the Ouzai squatters movement who
has opposed the destruction of their shanties by the government and
the "Alliance School" squatters who have objected to their expuls-
ion. However, we have never witnessed protests of a more legal na-
ture, generally in response to the default of a developer or the
provision of housing of an inferior quality to that expected.

This absence or weakness, incidentally, of collective protest is
not very unusual in a society like Lebanon which continues to be sus-
tained by parochial and fragmented ties and concerns, the mobilizat-
ion of collective action in favor of housing or any other public ame-
nities or issues requires, above all, that "groups" become "publics"
and are predisposed to transcend their local and segmental interests
or maslaha for the sake of public welfare. Most such movements in Le-
banon, even when sparked by legitimate needs and claims, have either
been abortive or ineffectual in mobilizing the necessary collective
action. The character and nature of voluntary associations attests to
this. The most preponderant welfare and benevolent agencies are orga-
nized and sustained on either confessional, communal or kinship grou-
nds. Relatively, only a few are purely secular or civic in character
(For further details, see Khalaf, 1971; Khalaf, 1983). A most recent
example is the failure of the so-called "peace movement". A march for
peace was supposed to take place on the 6th of May between the two
sectors of the capital, eastern and western, but was boycotted. Thus,
even the claim for peace looks "illegitimate" to some parties.
What we will call "housing movement" is merely a response to a
specific issue with no continuity of action or motivation, in an ide-
ological sense, namly the squatting movement. At this juncture, it is
worth mentioning the role of the labor movements in the housing sector
However, es previously discussed, their direct protests have been in
the rented sector and the consequent rent strikes. Their demands have

usually been for low-cost housing for workers, housing cooperatives,
balance between supply and demand that would eventually lead to a com-
petitive market and ultimately to freehold rents. The movements have
also encouraged the creation of production cooperatives for housing as
a means of controlling price increases (For more details, see Bechara,
1981). The following is an alalysis of squatting movements in Beirut
with a special distinction between building and land squatters.***
Land squatting in Beirut has precedences going back to before the
civil war (e.g. Quarantina, Tall ez/Zaatar, Oisr el-Bacha, Rami el-Ali
and Ouzai). (For more details on th slums surrounding Beirut, see Bou-
rgey et Phares, 1973). Land squatting began in earnest during the ci-
vil war (1975-76) with the flight of poor communities from East Beirut
(tall ez-Zaatar, Quarantina ...) who began squatting in and around the
southern beach ereas (Jnah) and also in Ouzai/Bir Hassan. The phenom-
enon accelerated following the Israeli invasion of the South in 1978,
with predominantly poor Shi'ite families estabishing in Rami el-Ali
and other squatter agglomerations. Further impetus was due to unsett-
led conditions prevailing in the Beqa'a (1977-1982) and finally due to
the Israeli invasion and siege of Beirut in 1982. The scene has cert-
ainly changed since with the destruction of entire quarters in the
southern suburbs, the displacement of population and its shift toward
*** Much of the information about land squatters is based upon a
survey carried by the newspaper As-Safir in the southern sub-
urbs. The results of the survey appeared in 17 of its issues
from July 4-22, 1983.

Beirut. In today's context, the figures or estimates used given this
devastation of entire areas and suburbs, no longer reflect the magni-
tude of the problem. They provide, however, a clear example of the
illegal occupation of public/private property and its far-reaching
impact on any attempt to introduce urban planning or design housing
Land squatting was found mainly in four large distinct agglomo-
rations: Rami el-Ali, Ouzai, Jnah, Bir Hassan. The land in this area
is predominantly privately owned, although significant tracts of pub-
lic land are found (especially in Jnah). Not all inhabitants are land
squatters. Particularly in Ouzai, manz home-owners atually have legal
title to the land although their constructions are "illegal", in that
building permits were not or could not be obtained. In Hay es-Sullum,
for example, 9.000 housing units are not registered (As-Safir, July 8,
1983). This, in addition to the fact that land-use in this area is
supposed to be industrial, i.e. not more than 20% of the expropriated
area can be built.
In all areas, land which was squatted on would, if freed of squ-
atters, attract very high prices on the open market due to the prest-
igious locations. For example, in Haret Hreik, the m square of land
varies between LL 1.500 and LL 4.500, while in 1978, it varied between
LL 500 and LL 1,500 (As-Safir, July 11, 1983).

Most housing construction in these squatted agglomerations is of
one to two stories and is not of high standard. Housing units tend to
be small, overcrowding is predominant, and basic services are insuffi-
cient. Roads and lanes are narrow and there is no open space or social
facilities. While a majority of the inhabitants "own" the building
they inhabit, i.e. they themselves constructed them, there is a well-
developed rental market of rooms and flats. 4,400 buildings surveyed
by the Supreme Shi'ite Council (SSC) in Ouzai, Rami el-Ali, Jnah,
Chatila and Bir Hassan showed that 83% of the buildings are one story,
14% are two-stories, 2.5% are three-stories and 0.5% are multi-stories.
In addition, 75% of the 6,550 housing units are owned, 21% are rented
and 2.5% are neither owned nor rented (i.e. they are occupied). Finally,
88% are built on private/public property. (Issa, 1983: 4-5).
Because of these recent surveys, much more is known of land
squatters than building squatters. Although no hard information is
available, it appears that lately (before the 1984 February events),
there was little further encroachment on empty lands peripheral to
squatter agglomerations. On the other hand, further intensification
of land usage was continuing within the agglomeration, and as a
result, the population was increasing. The rate of increase is not
known, but since this type of development offers practically the only
shelter alternative affordable to low-income families in the Beirut
areas, one would expect the rate to be high. The sense of community
and communal action is reported to be, in general, high in these

In Hay es-Sullum, for example, the Inhabitants have formed a local
community committee to handle the matters of the Hay, such as water,
electricity, garbage collection, roads,... (As-Safir, July 8, 1983).
Since the basic infrastructure is lacking, most utilities have been
supplied by communal action and the status of illegality has given a
sense of unity versus the "outside".
Pirst appearing in 1975-76, the building squatting phenomenon
involved the invasion of unoccupied flats, hotels and institutions by
families fleeing the effects of the civil war. As with land squatting,
the process accelerated in 1978, 1982 and 1984. The opportunity to
squat usually coincided with the breakdown of order, the insecurity and
anarchy in a certain area, and the flight of the original inhabitants
from the buildings. Of course, with the bloated market in luxury flats,
thousands of which were, and still are, empty and unsold, squatters found
many opportunities throughout the period. Presently, squatters are found
predominantly in West Beirut with heaviest concentration in Raouche,
Ramlet el-Beida, Bab Idriss and the grand hotels area and along the now
famous green line. Isolated examples of squatting exist everywhere.
The overwhelming majority of squatters live in buildings that were
invaded in their entirety, with the whole building now squattered in.
It is this concentration of squatters in a particular building which is
visually so striking, especially when the surrounding buildings are
untouched. Squatter invasions seem to have favored hotels and furn-

ished flat blocks and, to a lesser extent, buildings just at the
point of being completed.
There are no known estimates of the number of people presently
squatting in buildings, nor even an idea of the number of buildings
and/or housing units being squatted in. No surveys or studies are
known to have been made of these buildings squatters. Based on vi-
sual evidence, one might assume that their socio-economic profiles
are similar ro those for land squatters, with perhaps a higher inc-
idence of the very poor and other marginal and dispossessed groups.
This is not to say that all squatters are poor and destitute.
It is well known that many opportunists have taken advantage of the
situation to enjoy rent free shelter, and somme of these families
are clearly not as needy as thez seem. Worse, there is a sub-mark-
et in squatted premises, where for a "fee" an opportunist middleman
will direct a family to a flat that can be squatted. In other in-
stances, he can arrange for the squatters in a unit to leave by pa-
yment of a sort of keymoney, putting in their place another squatt-
ing family from which he takes a commission. In some cases, such
movements are sanctioned by local militias.
There have been very few instances of evacuation of squatted
premises by force or legal process. On the other hand, there is an
ongoing, informal return of premies to the owner through the pay-

ment of keymoney by the owner for the squatting family to leave
with, at times, a payment to the local militia to ensure that the
agreement will be honored. This usually occurs on a flat-by-flat
basis; rarely can a whole building be emptied in this way. The
problem with this informal approach is that it ecourages other sq-
uatters to hold out for similar keymoney payments, or other forms
of indemnification. Some owners, to avoid their premises being
squatted, have resorted to the practice of installing persons or
families known to them in empty flats. This is apparently quite
effective if, when the time comes, these known persons will volun-
tarily leave.
Until the last events, the building squatting situation had
stabilized, due to the increased authority of the state. However,
the collapse of the army has changed the whole picture, and new
waves of refugees, resulting from the war in the Chouf and the fi-
erce fighting in the southern suburbs, have invaded the city once
again. The HRC had estimated in March 1984 the number of displaced
families in West Beirut to be 9,662 while in East Beirut (and this
includes Mount Lebanon) the displaced families amounted to 5,126.
In Achrafieh alone, the families totalled 1,210 (HRC, 1984).
Squatting movements are thus a response to a specific situa-
tion; satisfying an immediate economic need (housing) and in its
extreme form to make profit out of it. The squatters in Beirut and

its suburbs connot be considered an urban protest movement in Pic-
kvance's sense of having a political (ideological) aspect or poli-
tical commitments. They are not engaged in a political struggle
but rather in an economic one: search for housing (Pickvance, 1977:
178). More important, perhaps, they are not fully organized with
a recognized pattern of leadership, rank-and-file membership and
the like. They are largely unstructured and spontaneous. Their
action, however, has been more than often based on sectarian affi-
liations. As can be expected in Lebanon, sectarianism cuts across
social lass and constitutes a firm besis for such movements to op-
erate. Notable among these is the Shi'ite political party "Amal"
and the Supreme Shi'ite Council who have expressed wide concern
for the problem of squatters and the relocation of the displaced.
The SSC has even devoted a conference to the housing problem. Thus,
within this context, the squatters' movements have inevitably had
political and ideological overtones which might imply a more stru-
ctured struggle in the future.
Attempts by the government to solve the problems of building
and land squatting in Beirut can only be of limited success with-
out at the same time tackling the housing problem, particularly as
it concerns the urban poor, and the reconstruction of other regi-
ons such as the South, Bequ'a and now the Chouf. Squatting is la-
rgely a manifestation of these more intractable problems.

V. Suggestions For A Government Policy
Our discussion, so far, leads us to one important conclusion,
namely, that the government has failed with regard to housing. It
has recognized the need for an accelerated program for the constru-
ction of low-cost housing a bit too late to cope with the shortage.
Moreover, since the civil war, all its efforts have been diverted
to repair and reconstruct damaged housing and to predominatly rel-
ief and rescue operations. All this time, the housing shortage has
become more acute and therfore, requires urgent attention. Based on
the suggestions and proposals of concerned individuals and organiz-
ations, we will suggest our modest propositions delimiting the go-
vernment's role and policy for the future.
The objectives of the government housing policy should be:
1) to increase the housing stock as rapidly as possible,
2) to generate an active housing market where a broad
array of units affordable to all income groups will
be provided, and
3) to ensure that these activities take place in a pro-
per landuse pattern, respecting both the environment
and the cultural traditions of the country.
In achieving these objectives, it is the policy of the gov-
ernment both to minimize the burden on the public sector and rely
as much as possible an the private sector (developers and indivi-
duals) (Mohsen, 1979: 3-4; World Bank, 1983: 70).

At another level, the state's aim should be the provision of the
badly needed guidance, including the development of a national persp-
ective on urbanization thus affirming the state's role in guiding ur-
ban growth in an orderly, coherent manner. Realizing the importance
of breaking the supply bottleneck, the government should take measur-
es to encourage the private developers and individuals to build new
units for both rental and ownership, and to restore the existing hou-
sing stock and maintain it. In increasing the supply of housing, the
role of the public sector is not perceived as a builder of housing
units but rather as a facilitator, a creator of circumstances in which
individuals can build themselves. Proponents of decontrolling rents
and providing incentives for building are increasing (Ladki, 1981;
Bechara, 1981).
Government intervention would therefore be geared toward allevi-
ating supply constraints by ensuring access to finance and the provi-
sion of land, services, income level, currently estimated at LL 22.000
per family per annum. It is deemed through the existing market mech-
anism (Mohsen, 1979).
The short-term policies required to cope with the results of the
war (damage and squatters) would be dealt with by special, non-repli-
cable programs, where some sharply targeted subsidies would be provi-
ded and where a more active public sector involvement could be expec-
ted. Moreover, the government should explore the creation of a paras-

tatal institution that could undertake land assembly and development
projects which include housing as well as other uses. This istitution
could become a prime instrument for guiding urban growth and anticipa-
ting future needs.

A. Introduction to Change
Lately, there has been some awareness of the flaws and shortcom-
ings inherent in the legislations. Accordingly efforts have been made
to introduce some changes to the existing laws.
The proposed changes were found too radical and each amended art-
icle created a wave of protest. This painful admission reflects among
other things the entrenched resistance to any form of change which wo-
uld restrict the freedom or impose any stringent controls on the exce-
ssive apetite of speculators and property holders. A good illustrati-
on of this is the proposed reduction of the total coefficient of expl-
oitation as part of the amendments to be effected in the Buildings
Code. The Minister of Public Works at that time, Pierre Khoury, was
an enlightened and sensible architect who believed in a healthy and
measured growth of the city. His attempts at introducing rational
planning and controlling the anarchic growth of Beirut were strongly
apposed. Government officials, private entrepreneurs, developers and
property holders have all been against such a reduction. Former Mini-
ster of Public Works and eminent architect, Amin Bizri has qualified
the proposed reduction as "impossible and unacceptable" and "running
counter to basic principles and ecquired rights" (Alamuddin and Abou
Dargham, 1983: 50). One contractor has considered it came at the wro-

ng time as "most of the damage is done and the real estate market is
paralyzed (Ibid., 1983: 54). The developers saw in these changes a
threat to their profit-making a limit on their freedom. As a result,
speculators have rushed on building permits before the amendments are
approved by the Council of Ministers. Thus, from 25 building permits
granted per day in March 1983, the number increased to 75 building
permits a day the next month (Alamuddin and Abou Dargham, 1983: 46).
Tragically enough, it is a few pressure groups who manipulate
the planning of the city and who direct its course of growth follow-
ing their own private interests. The best intentions are thus abor-
ted before being born.
On September 1983, the Building Code was amended as per DL148.
Emphasis was laid an violations in an effort to render them more
stringent. Hence, it will become thoretically impossible for the
violator ro consider or retain his transgression unless he is will-
ing to essume the full burden of the heavy fine.
In the case of parking space and garages, the approved law cal-
culates the fine as equal to 102 of the construction cost of the
built-up area. Both the proprietor and the tenant are considered
violators. Perhaps, its most important contribution is the regula-
tion of parking problems. By imposing heavy penalties on propriet-
ors, the new legislation forces them to provide parking space to

their tenants in the basement of the building, rather than convert-
ing it to another use.
The revised Code also enters into details of building appeara-
nce and architectural features. The purpose, here, is to control
more the anarchic growth of the city which has assumed all kinds of
shapes and colors, mainly imported and not fit to the environmental
milieu and culture of the habitat. The intention is not, as some
architects felt, to limit their imagination and free expression in
their design.
Except for rendering violations more rigid and rigorous and re-
gulating parking problems, DL148 has not provided any miraculous re-
medies. And, one wonders what mechanisms the Lebanese will resort
to this time to bypass the laws!
Concerning the Town Planning Legislation, a decree law (DL69)
was issued in September 1983 bringing some changes which are still
not radical. The new legislation promulgates the creation of public
commercial enterprises (Article 22) which can expropriate, consolid-
ate and parcel the land to be used for public purposes. This arran-
gement is supposed to share public uses as equitably as possible be-
tween owners and exploiters. Moreover, in an attempt to solve the
problem of funds, Article 23 provides municipal and other civic aut-
horities with the necessary funds to expropriate vital areas for

public use. The proprietor receives a plot of land in compensation
for his loss. The land cannot exceed or be less than 10% of the value
of the expropriated land.
Until now, what has been happening is that municipal councils
have been unable to pay the exorbitant expropriation compensation.
Consequently, these parcels have been converted into commercial use.
The municipal councils have usually welcomed such conversions. Curiously
enough, legislation in Lebanon permits such conversion. The urban
planning legislations stipulate that after a lapse of ten years from
the time a particular district has been zoned, all such green areas
can be released and converted to private use.
Other innovative concerns are stone quarries and parcelization
schemes, as well as an environmental concern for forestland preser-
vation, public parks and land-use in general (Articles 23, 24).
As long as private interest groups backed up by politicians have
the upper hand on urban issues, these minor modifications in the laws
can do nothing to improve the state of chaos in which we find our-
selves today.

B. The Impact of the Social Structure on Urban Planning
An attempt was made to show how urbanization as a physical
phenomenon had a disruptive impact on the government's ability to
control or regulate the unguided and haphazard growth of urban
districts. Urbanization with its concomitant internal and external
pressures, generated by massive population shifts, capital inflow and
speculation in real estate, occurred all too swiftly to permit the
development of effective plans and zoning schemes. The urban growth
of Beirut has been regulated more through the free play of market
forces than through deliberate planning and zoning. In general, the
laws have been basically adequate, but they have failed to establish a
reasonable reform of land taxation or control over land speculation.
They have failed to control developments in areas which are not
encompassed by zoning or planning schemes. Lebanon is perhaps the
only country where building in areas that have not been subjected to
urbanization is not controlled and maximum exploitation is authorized.
This has resulted in a haphazard and unstructured growth reflecting on
the city itself: it has no point of reference, no plazas or monuments.
The core of the city was destroyed and with it an expression of its
identity and personality.

Planning involves, by its very nature, restrictions on certain
freedoms. The rejection of any system of planning has, for a long
time been associated with Lebanese private enterprise. In town
planning terms, this has meant completely uncontrolled exploitation of
each parcel of land, with no consideration of overall public interest.
Moreover, the collusion between the private sector and the political
machine has prevented tighter control or even the limitation of
The physical plan of Greater Beirut was established without any
economic or social conceptual framework. It was the plan of a region
not a regional plan. It did not solve the problem of housing and slum
clearance, neither did it create green belts, establish parks or
protect the destruction of old buildings. More important the location
of industries was dictated by physical site conditions rather than by
economic or social options. The process of urban planning itself was
also handicapped by administrative pitfalls and bottlenecks in
implementation and some deep-rooted antipathies towards planning as
rational strategies for controlling and allocating land as a resource.
The succesive schemes and masterplans, many of which were nothing more
than a network of roads, remained unimplemented blue-prints. The same
is true of the Building Code of 1932 and the Town Planning Legislation
of 1963. Despite their stringent provisions and restrictions, they
too, as we have seen, failed to impose any effective control on the
abuse of the urban environment.

Significantly enough the reasons for this proneness to planless
ness and disorder must be sought in the Lebanon, in its rich economic
social, ethnic, religious, political and historic structures. The
"antipathy towards planning" may be, in part, a reflection of the per
sistence of traditional features which shape, modify and even distort
existing laws and their application (Khalaf, 1981). It is the social
structure that effects planning and zoning ordinances. Within this
context, let us explore the main elements dominating the Lebanese
urban scene having obvious implications for rational planning schemes
Unusual writers like Richard Sennett (1970) have found that
in extricating the city from preplanned control, men found that in
extricating the city from preplanned control, men will become more
in control of themselves and more aware of each other. This is how
Sennett justifies disorder. If too much planning has rendered the
cities dull, no planning at all has turned them into jungles. This
has implied the refusal to conform to a pattern to grow according to
any preconceived principle and the visual consequences that follow.
One wishes Sennett could find uses to the disorder of Beirut!

The laissez-faire and liberalism typical of Lebanese economic
policy, have encouraged a spirit of speculation. Excessive commerci-
alization has characterized a bourgeois and mercantile society which
is led by profit and expoitation of the ephemeral and blatantly com-
mercial. Privat enterprise has both enabled and disabled Lebanese
planning. In the former case, it has constituted a strong impetus
in the growth anddevelopment of urban districts, while in the latter
it has accounted for real estate speculation in such a way that har-
dly anything is spared in our habitat.
The Lebanese landscape has been ruined by unsightly ribbon dev-
elopment, spotty and speculative development. Much of the country's
land-scape is still beyond any control. It is not subject to any
zoning and what is planned is readily violated. Hence, it could be
argued that the bulk of lebanon's land resources are not divided into
utilization categories such as farm land, forest land, industrial
land, building land, recreation land and national and historic pres-
erves. Instead of protecting the countryside from being arbitrarily
used by non-suitable usages and prevent the production of unwiedly
agglomerations, we have allowed a ruthless plunder of Lebanon's sce-
nic natural habitat.
Two examples stand out. First Faitroun's rocks in the Kesrouan

are well-known to almost everyone. They form a beautyful natural site,
which, if classified and protected, could be turned into a national re-
creational park. In spite of several attempts on the part of the HCUP
to preserve our landscape, the rocks are being mindlessly grinded up to
be used in construction, roads will be pass through, and buildings will
be erected. (Fawaz, 1981: 8).
Second, the beaches and the exploitation of our coast. To the south
of Beirut lies a beautiful beach area that has been allowed to be consu-
med by building of the meanest and most sordid possible aspect. Hence,
what could have been a national recreation area has been allowed to be-
come almost a glorified beach slum. Up north, the situation is not bet-
ter. There, the whole coast has been literally ruined by private compl-
exes in concrete, which in addition restrict the use of the beaches to
members thus depriving the publich from something which is theirs.
In addition to our shorelines, hardly anything is spared: greenbelt,
public parks, private bachyards, suburban villas, historic sites and mo-
numents ... they have all been giving way to a more intense form of exp-
loitation and land-use.
As long as such materialistic values remain dominant in Lebanese
society, zoning is more likely to be a reflective than an independent
social force for controlling urban land-use. Furthermore, when one rea-
lizes that, on the one hand, the majority of the property owning class