The Municipality has expropriated much lands and buildings in the 1970’s to build the “Hekmeh-Turk” axis/Fouad Boutros highway, before the project was finally halted in 1975. The Municipality, that is particularly “poor” in land properties, is here in front of a unique and golden opportunity to do something undoubtedly good with the thousands of square meters it expropriated more than 40 years ago. It has the opportunity to build a new park. The Fouad Boutros Park, which would be the first new park in Beirut since Independance!
This park is an immense oppotunity for beirut. The World Health Organiztion states that, to ensure public health, a city should have a minimum of 9 sqm of green spaces per person. However, Beirut only has… 0,8 sqm of green spaces per inhabitant. 11 times less than the international health norm. In this context, it can be considred a near-criminal act to destroy the 10 000sqm of green spaces present in the Hekmeh neighborhood… to replace them with a polluting highway!
Here below are the first plans of the Fouad Boutros Park. This is more a plan of principle rather than a precise plan, which will be adapted once the required specific studies are conducted.
The Fouad Boutros Park project illustrates a new vision of the city, in coherence with the strategy that Beirut is theoretically implementing with the support of the Ile-de-France region, onseveral ongoing projects and studies. A vision that aims at offering citizens desirable spaces of recreation, an improvement of public space appropriation, of pedestrian and soft mobilities, as well as a real enhancement of quality of life.
The Fouad Boutros highway will be replaced by a long sloping parc, descending like a stairway from the heights of Achrafieh down to the neighborhoods of Mar Mikhayel, Gemmayzeh and Sursock, integrating in its path more than 20 historic buildings and thousands of square meters of gardens, that are already expropriated. It is an immense opportunity for Beyrouth, to finally gain a recreational green space, which will benefit from an very rich existing vegetation. Similarly to the AUB campus, it will include sloped and terraced gardens, ancient trees and historic buildings housing many cultural, commercial and leisure functions.
Why is it a historical opportunity? What is its important concerning the cultural heritage of Beirut?
– Because they happened such a long time ago, the expropriations have allowed to preserve a coherent cluster of historical building and an exceptional natural heritage in the heart of the Achrafieh and Mar Mikhayel neighborhoods. What is exceptional is the fact that these marvelous urban elements are already public property of the municipality.
– Whereas the urban and architectural heritage of the city is rapidly disappearing everywhere in Beirut, because of growing real-estate pressure, this is a rare opportunity to preserve an entire fragment of the city’s history, illustrated by a coherent natural and urban fabric, without necessitating much public spending.
– In terms of the “city’s memory”, the neighborhood is indeed a preserved fragment of the Achrafieh hill, frozen in its historic form since the 1950’s, with its houses and small buildings, its terraces, gardens, fences, stairs and alleyways.
– In terms of natural/landscape heritage, it constitutes, with its old and ancient trees, and its terrasses, an exceptional ensemble that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the city, except in the campuses of AUB and ESA.
– In terms of urban morphology, the groups of buildings today preserved constitute
What advantages does the Park project bring to the inhabitants of concerned neighborhoods?
– It will allow inhabitants to enjoy the charm of a park rather than to suffer the nuisance of a highway, even partially in a tunnel.
– It proposes recreational, leisure equipements, of a very high landscape and natural value
– Because of its size, it constitutes an important grees space, not only for the neighborhood but also at the scale of the city, which has very few or no public spaces of this sort.
What impact will the project have on real-estate?
– It will valorize neighboring buildings, existing and future, much more than the vicinity of a noisy, polluting, congested highway.
What will be the impact on parking and services given to the population?
– It will integrate an important number of parking for residents, users and businesses of the neighborhoods, distributed as landscaped parking spots and as a series of underground parking units.
– It will offer spaces to house public, social and cultural services, something much needed and claimed by the citizens of Beirut.
What type of program will be housed in the Fouad Boutros Park?
– It will create the opportunity for prestigious exhibition spaces in Beirut, like the Montjuic park in Barcelona, which gathers commercial and cultural exhibition spaces, public and leisure equipements, and is today one of the city’s favorite promenades. The Fouad Boutros Park will have this particularity that the buildings housed within this park will be historically authentic and will be a part of the area’s ancient history.
What will be the effect of the Park on commercial and cultural activity?
– It will give a second breath to the cultural and touristic development of Mar Mikhayel and Gemmayzeh, but also to the Sursock neighborhood and its museums, to the Sofil Cinema and the Hekmeh Campus, by linking all of these strong elements together.
– It will develop the economic fabric of concerned neighborhoods by increasing their attractively and visibility.
What will be the impact of the Park on the urban structure of the different neighborhoods?
– Through a network of green spaces, small squares, stairways, alleyways and soft streets with little traffic, it will link together the neighborhoods of Mar Mikhayel, Gemmayzeh, Sursock and Achraifieh, which are today very badly connected other than with vehicular roads.
What will be the financial impact and feasibility of the Park?
– Choosing to build the Fouad Boutros Park will cost only a fraction of the 70 million dollars (officially) dedicated to the highway. It will allow relocating this money on alternative traffic projects, which would be more efficient and will alleviate traffic in a more holistic manner (See the “Traffic Alternatives” page).
– A fraction of the budget allocated by the CDR will be used to establish trails, to protect and expand the existing vegetation, to insert equipments and urban furniture, to design public spaces and junctions and to build underground parking units.
– The renovation and adaptive re-use
Is it legaly feasible to build a Park instead of a highway?
The Municipality is turning this unique opportunity into a legal or juridical problem.
– The municipality pretends that if the highway project does not happen, then the expropriations become useless and the expropriation decrees become void. The Municipality will then have to pay back the owners of lands expropriated in the 1970’s, which would be a huge cost for the city.
Legal answer : replacing the highway with a Park, would ensure that the expropriations will not become useless and void, avoiding the need to pay back the owners. In this sense, building a park would become a solution to this legal problem.
– The municipality then answers back and pretends that since the lands were expropriated for the purpose of building a highway, there is no other choice than to build a highway. They pretend that building anything else would be an illegal breach of the original decree.
Legal answer: The law of 8/12/2006, article 11, in amendment of law no. 58 of 29/05/1991 states that a project of public interest can be replaced by another project of public interest, while keeping the original expropriations legal. Thus, there should be no major difficulty in replacing the Fouad Boutros highway with the Fouad Boutros Park, which is, undoubtedly, a project of public interest.
But anyhow, the fiscal, legal and administrative concerns that are raised by the municipality to move forward with the project are focused on procedure and not on substance. The city’s future should follow the needs and aspirations of its current citizens not the legal procedures of defunct public projects. The fact that the plan has been approved, the funds allocated, and the property expropriated does not make it a legitimate project. The historic houses and garden may have indeed been saved by an accident of circumstance and by delays. The Municipality can turn this into an opportunity to preserve them and to find an alternative solution. Such accidental delays have saved many historic districts around the world that are now thriving because of their historical character which may have been undervalued at one point but is now a goldmine.
Here below is the Final Year Project of architect Dina Mneimneh graduated from AUB.
This project envisions what could be offered to the Hekmeh Neighborhood instead of an obsolete highway project. A neighborhood enriched by its topographic, urban, architectural and ecological fabrics. This alternative proposes to keep the garden, work around it and model its interface with the surrounding and new proposed public activities. The design strategy is one that ties the different public activities around the garden through preserving the traditional houses and adapting them while adding new structures in harmony with the existing. The whole project is knit together through a network of public, semi-public and private pedestrian links echoing the existing fabric and allowing an active and engaged flow of pedestrians from all sides of the city block.