These notes were written by experts who were consulted by the Elard consulting company, which is conducting the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study of the Fouad Boutros highway project. These notes are comments on the Scoping Report of the EIA, and are supposed to be integrated in the revised and final scoping report, which will be the basis of the study’s scientific methodology.
The group of experts were handed printed copies of the following draft sections of the Scoping Report, which served as the basis of the discussion:
4 Impact Identification and Significance Assessment (full section)
5.4 Methods for Assessment of Environmental and Social Impacts/ Archeology and Cultural Heritage
While we agree with most of the content and methodology proposed, we find it not sufficient for the drastic nature of the project. The urban fabric is the container of cultural heritage, in both its tangible and intangible manifestations. Large-scale projects, especially infrastructural, tend to ravage this fabric and are severely detrimental to its contained heritage: people, buildings, gardens, public spaces and archeology.
The proposed methodology misses out on “intangible heritage” as part of the overall value of the neighborhood. Cultural heritage has social, eco-environmental and economical dimensions, in addition to the spatial, physical, geotechnical and visual aspects covered in the impact identification document and methods of assessment. All of those are interrelated, so it does not do justice to the assessment to compartmentalize the analysis into the five sectors. Few examples of this were discussed during the special session among the experts of cultural heritage.
We therefore recommend a more integrated approach to the analysis, whereby the complexity and sensitivity of the context can be addressed.
The following examples are crucial highlights and do not comprise an exhaustive list:
- Analysis must factor in the interrelated nature of individual buildings within a cluster. We can learn more from neighboring buildings once we understand how they are related by types/periods of construction, social networks, etc…
- Social connectivity is part and parcel of the intangible cultural heritage of a neighborhood. This is recognized tangibly in existing streets and pedestrian paths, but also intangibly through family ties and a diversity of socio-spatial practices.
- The area is known to be rich in archeology, possibly burial grounds and water networks.
- Construction of the boulevard, tunnel and parking structures will create a subterranean barrage effect that jeopardizes archeological assets and building foundations both uphill and downhill.
Our closing recommendation is for Elard to gauge the impact of real estate speculation on cultural heritage. We know that the highway/boulevard project, with its wide right-of-way, will affect the future built fabric as follows:
- Increase of 20% of allowable development area for properties fronting on existing streets that will, in the future also front on the highway/boulevard (as a corner or front/back).
- Increase height of allowable building envelope (known in the local building code as Gabarit) which is a function of the fronting street width.
- Those will in turn increase the potential building height, as it is more lucrative to build narrow and tall buildings that capitalize on distant views. The real estate market has quantifiable bonus returns for each increment in floor numbers.
- Increased appeal to new real estate development of project area for its improved accessibility.
- All of the above will result in a significant increase land value and spur construction-related market speculation.
We therefore urge the authors of the study to systematically model the above against a do-nothing scenario, or at least against a milder project of a regular neighborhood street (average width of 12m). In such a comparison, allowable buildings envelopes (Gabarit) for each scenario would be visualized in a 3D model, with resultant building heights and development potential comparatively areas tabulated. Increments in land prices associated with those may easily be calculated with the help of local realtors.
Omar Abdul-Aziz Hallaj
Architect- Urban Design Consultant, former professor at AUB