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.
- At a more general/global scale, it is imperative to measure the socio-economic impacts of the road at the scale of the city, rather than only at the scale of the neighborhood as proposed in the presented methodology. Indeed, the road’s goals and justification extend beyond the boundaries of the municipal city so a socio-economic investigation of its impacts should be at the same scale.
In measuring the socio-economic effects, key questions to ask are:
– In what direction does the road push/take the city, what model of urbanity does it endorse and forward? (e.g. more/less walkability, more/less connectivity at what scale? Etc.)
– How does this direction work with other initiatives in Beirut (e.g. Liaison douce, Plan vert, etc.) that seem to be taking Beirut into a new form of urbanization and planning?
– How does this direction affect socio-economic factors at direct and indirect levels? At direct levels, when would think of the attractiveness of the city at large as a residential/commercial area. At an indirect level, one thinks of the health of residents (able/unable to walk, etc.) as an important effect because of the costs of healthcare and others that are increased when dwellers are unable to move, etc.
– What are the opportunity-costs of the project for the city as a whole if the money was invested elsewhere, in public transportation particularly?
– What are the opportunity-costs for the neighborhood if the money was invested to improve local connections, walkability, etc.
- When conducting an EIA, we cannot only measure the impact of roads on individuals (e.g. local grocer, local dwellers, etc.), we should look at the impact on the group, the neighborhood in general: what effect will the road have in transforming the neighborhood? Will it lead to gentrification? Upgrading? Deterioration? One good measure of this trend is to look at the potential impact of the road on the overall levels of activities, movements, and of course the price of real estate in relation to possible activities. Another is to look at the building permits that we were told have already been filed in the area, comparing the buildings to what is currently in the area.In doing this analysis, it is imperative to bring in the case studies of other roads in Lebanon. One thinks of similar roads implemented in the 1960s (e.g. bridges in Basta, Ring Road) and in the post-war era, such as Nabaa or Mazraa). Although these projects seem dystopic, these are the existing implemented projects and they represent the palette of interventions that we need to refer to.
- There is a need to disaggregate responses at two levels:- At the spatial level, the various parts of the road (tunnel, bridge, ground level) will have variable effects on the neighborhoods’ subsections.
– Among people, the proposed methodology distinguishes gender (women/men) and youth but category of elderly is missing although the neighborhood’s population is likely to be old.
- The IEA should look at the health effects of the road as an important socio-economic factor, in terms both of the negative externalities of noise and air pollution but also walkability/mobility.
- The IEA should certainly include the impact of the road on real-estate prices. It should be forecasted on the basis of similar trends in other areas in the country. The price of real estate should also be forecasted on the basis of the planned building developments. Since several building permits have already been given to developers, the quality of the units, their prices, etc. can inform about the real estate impacts of the project.
- The proposed methodology relied heavily on participatory tools (asking dwellers) as a means of measuring the impact. The strong assumption behind this participatory approach is nonetheless that people (i) know how to read maps, etc. and (ii) predict and assess the impacts of the projected road on their neighborhood. These two assumptions are however problematic since experience in Lebanon and elsewhere has shown that people have neither the experience nor the tool to assess these projects. Instead, it would be important to empower/inform dwellers through actual/honest 3D representations of the impacts of the projected road, forecasts conducted on the basis of other areas and the impacts of roads/bridges in other areas.
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I like to add here below some concerns that were also put forward during the meeting, which further support the arguments made by Mona and popularize the ‘opportunity cost’ concept she emphasized.
- Starting an EIA at the time the project was fully designed and in the stage of tendering is a serious perturbation of the normal Project Cycle. Feasibility in general, and particularly economic feasibility is still a missing step.
- The question of: Are we doing the right thing? Should precede the question: Are we doing it right?
- A related issue, which I do not know how far it is being covered by the Traffic Impact Study, is the impact of increasing the supply of parking in the neighborhood by several hundred spaces. The impact of this substantial increase of parking supply is not only on traffic operation but more importantly on the encouragement of the use of the car, especially if parking is to be offered at lower than its full social cost. Taking pride in projects of providing additional municipal parking, while there is a complete absence of a Beirut Parking Policy adopted by its municipal council is at best counterproductive, and provides decision makers with a smoke screen that hides their absolute failure in addressing the real issue: The lack of organized public transport and other alternatives for the automobile.
- Our position against the project is on a strategic level. Looking at the roads density in the City, one can ascertain that our roads network is not insufficient nor is it incomplete; it is simply overloaded with cars.
- Time has come for a paradigm shift where dedicated car spaces start hosting as much commuting means as possible in favor of multimodal public spaces.
- The project is not about an Avenue, but a Motorway brutally cutting through an old and coherent urban/social fabric, located in a Central Area of Beirut City.
- In case executed, the project shall inevitably generate a “motorway box” isolated from its surroundings by four major roads: Fouad Boutros, Charles Helou, Georges Haddad and Charles Malek. Altogether, the above-mentioned roads would thus create an abnormal “ring road effect” within the City.
- Highways being mainly intended for thru traffic are never beneficial neither for local economies nor for social ties within the traversed perimeters. This is twice damaging when it happens inside dense Central Areas.
- One of the best means of boosting local economies in Central Areas happens through stimulating local flows and diversifying means of flexible commuting.
- One of the best means of enhancing social ties in Central Areas happens by upgrading the public realm, making it shareable by all… and most importantly, easily appropriable by pedestrians.
- The intended project is based on an outdated planning concept and therefore the project proponents are simply looking for mitigation measures that in the best [impossible] case scenario would not help improving the current conditions on both levels: social and economical; not to mention the high doubts concerning the contribution to relieve the daily and almost continuous traffic congestion in/out the City.
- During the meeting between Elard/TMs and the invited Experts, the latters have been blamed for wondering about Beirut’s future and the guiding vision!!
- While Experts were repeatedly confirming that in the postmodern age Cities are getting rid of planning errors made in the name of [maybe wrongly interpreted] modernism [i.e. decommissioning highways, introducing/developing public transportation, highlighting soft commuting modes, reclaiming natural areas, revaluation of city rivers…], the only reason why Fouad Boutros Motorway is to be executed, is that it had been enacted in the 1960s!!
- CDR representatives admitted during the meeting that even a Traffic Impact Assessment have not been made to check whether the same reasons this road was planned in the 1960s are still valid nowadays.
- In line with the above revelation, the project proponents are pushing to interpret the term “Alternatives” [mentioned in the scoping report] the way it serves best their own interest. They talk strictly about “Design Alternatives” that would allow for some minor aesthetical improvements to the “piece”.
- For their part, Experts, and the Representative of the Ministry of Environment, have insisted that the term “Alternatives” must encompass “Planning Alternatives” to make sure that the project as planned and designed has its own and true“raison d’êre”.
Architect – Planner