Wednesday, March 10, 2010
When walking in downtown Beirut the other day, i stumbled upon a road sign mounted on a green square background. I walked along and noticed that all the road signs have that same green background.
It was something i may have noticed quickly in the past, but never actually stopped and thought about. Most importantly, i've never realized the statement that these road signs make, and what they symbolize.
To outsiders, downtown Beirut is also known as Solidere area. Solidere, according to their website is "The Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District, that was incorporated as a Lebanese joint-stock company on May 5, 1994. Its business is the reconstruction and development of the Beirut city center. Providing a broad range of quality land and real estate development activities and services, it combines the business independence and acumen of a private company with global vision and a sense of public service." * (as quoted directly from their website )
So, in other words, Beirut central district has a name, the name of a private company that bought it.
It no longer belongs to the Lebanese people, but to a company that reconstructed it, and privatized it.
In sixteen years, Solidere has reconstructed downtown and made it one of the most beautiful, one of the cleanest and one of the most touristic attractions in the country. With the Lebanese Government lacking the resources and funds to restore the "centre-ville" Solidere is solely responsible for the renovation of Downtown Beirut and had it not been for the private funds the company provided, the area would have remained in ruins up until today; 19 years after the Civil War has ended.
However, a very important factor would have been kept in tact: The people. Much more was wiped out with reconstruction than the ruins. If the area was in need of an intervention, it should have been oriented towards the public good rather than earning sky-high profits.
The downtown area became more of a showy touristic area, lacking traditional saje bakeries, old fool and hommous restaurants and other vital cultural aspects that characterized the city. Instead you often find yourself window shopping in front of expensive shops and sighing at virtually empty luxurious residential buildings.
Although this is a political topic, I'm going to refrain from making any political judgement, as this is in no way my argument. I cannot accept, nor can I absorb the fact that my own city's city-center, its sidewalks and its walls, have been privatized to such an extent that the road signs need to differ from the rest of the country's signage.
This is a small detail, with a big meaning.