Global Gentrifications
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Global Gentrifications

Uneven Development and Displacement

Lees, Loretta, Shin, Hyun Bang

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eBook - ePub

Global Gentrifications

Uneven Development and Displacement

Lees, Loretta, Shin, Hyun Bang

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About This Book

Under contemporary capitalism the extraction of value from the built environment has escalated, working in tandem with other urban processes to lay the foundations for the exploitative processes of gentrification world-wide. Global gentrifications: Uneven development and displacement critically assesses and tests the meaning and significance of gentrification in places outside the 'usual suspects' of the Global North. Informed by a rich array of case studies from cities in Asia, Latin America, Africa, Southern Europe, and beyond, the book (re)discovers the important generalities and geographical specificities associated with the uneven process of gentrification globally. It highlights intensifying global struggles over urban space and underlines gentrification as a growing and important battleground in the contemporary world. The book will be of value to students and academics, policy makers, planners and community organisations.

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Capital, state and conflict: the various drivers of diverse gentrification processes in Beirut, Lebanon

Marieke Krijnen and Christiaan De Beukelaer


This chapter responds to several recent calls to extend the geographical scope of gentrification studies and to consider the potential contribution of theory-making from the Global South (Robinson, 2006; Roy, 2009a; McFarlane, 2010; Lees, 2012). We present two cases of gentrification in Beirut, Lebanon, and demonstrate the ways in which they differ from the existing literature on gentrification. Employing a post-colonial perspective, we argue that an account of these differences is essential if gentrification studies are to make a meaningful contribution to our understanding of uneven geographical development and social exclusion in a Southern context. Evidence from Beirut shows how and why historical and politico-economic specificities matter: the point of theory formation should not be to articulate a one-size-fits-all model that can be applied to apparent cases of gentrification anywhere in the world at any time. Indeed, the case of Beirut shows just how much gentrification processes can diverge within a single city, with different networks of capital formation and visions of the urban future reflecting Lebanon’s history of confessional conflict and the various ways in which neighbourhoods and social groups are linked to regional and global circuits of capital. However – notwithstanding these differences – our case studies demonstrate that the driving forces and results of urban transformation in Beirut are much the same as elsewhere: gentrification has been instigated by a privileging of the logic of the market in housing provision and it has resulted in the displacement and exclusion of lower- and middle-income groups from central city locations. Gentrification in Beirut has been driven by transnational capital and facilitated by state interventions, including – inter alia – tax breaks for investors and the liberalisation of rental contracts.
It is hardly surprising that Beirut is sensitive to gentrification. Real estate is one of the most important sectors of the Lebanese economy. Post-civil war real estate booms have been numerous, and the sector has grown continuously during the past decade despite political turmoil and the financial crisis (which Beirut largely escaped due to considerable bank liquidity and the resources of its diaspora population; see Habib, 2011). For the past two years, the real estate sector has slowed down and stagnated, but land and apartment prices are still high (Daily Star, 2013; Makarem, 2013; Sakr, 2013). On average, apartments in downtown Beirut sell from USD3,500/m2 to USD5,000/m2, while outside the centre, prices start at around USD3,000/m2.1 Investors and buyers come from the Middle East or the Lebanese diaspora (Lloyd-Jones, 2005; Halawi, 2010; Karam, 2010). Inevitably, this frenetic real estate activity has led to the rapid gentrification of many sectors of the city and consequent population displacement. Neighbourhoods that were previously characterised by low-rise 1950s’ apartment buildings with shops on the ground floors are now dominated by glitzy high-rises that remain uninhabited during most of the year. A growing body of scholarship has documented the social, economic and political impact of these urban redevelopments. There is ample literature on the transformation of downtown Beirut into a luxury quarter by a private company (Makdisi, 1997; Leenders, 2003, 2004; Becherer, 2005; Summer, 2005) and other work on the effects of private urban planning agencies or the role of political parties in planning (Harb, 2001; Khayat, 2007; Fawaz, 2009a; Roy, 2009b), gated communities in Lebanon and other forms of spatial segregation (Glasze, 2003; Alaily-Mattar, 2008). Until now, however, only Ross and Jamil (2011) and Achkar (2011) have specifically researched gentrification processes in Beirut.
Besides contributing to extending the geographical scope of gentrification studies towards the Global South, our chapter points towards the influence of processes that are not typically mentioned in the literature on gentrification, such as the role of civil conflict and sectarianism (a system that ties civil status and political representation to a person’s religious affiliation), the overlap between public and private spheres in Lebanon’s political system (where many politicians are involved in real estate activities), and the role of diaspora capital, which is the main driver of gentrification processes in Beirut. These factors influence gentrifiers’ and developers’ preferences, as some prefer to invest in areas with a distinct sectarian identity while, to the contrary, others look for a more diverse space. They also influence the way in which residents resist gentrification, as political parties are usually the only viable means of negotiating compensation and strengthening sectarian allegiances. Also, religious organisations are the only actors providing affordable housing.
The complex dimensions shaping gentrification processes in Beirut lead to very different outcomes locally. While gentrification is mostly new-build, there are cases of renovation with a role for creative entrepreneurs, commercial gentrification, classic loft-living construction or large-scale urban renewal projects involving the displacement of slum dwellers and highway construction (Harb, 2001; Deboulet and Fawaz, 2011). This chapter will employ two case studies highlighting new-build and creative/commercial gentrification. We ask: what forms of gentrification can be seen in Beirut? What is the role of the state? Who is being displaced and what forms of resistance to displacement or impediments to gentrification exist? Who are the gentrifiers? What are the key points to keep in mind when developing a post-colonial perspective on gentrification processes in Beirut? What questions can be formulated and directed ‘back’ to other contexts? In order to achieve these goals, we will proceed as follows: after providing a background of the Lebanese context, we discuss gentrification processes in Beirut by looking at new-build gentrification, including the role of rent controls and the displacement of residents, building laws, and the role of the state. We then look at creative and commercial gentrification, using the case study of the Mar Mikhael area. Then, we describe the gentrifiers and explain their presence, and move on to various forms of resistance and impediments to gentrification. We conclude by listing the various findings that can help us formulate a post-colonial perspective on gentrification processes in Beirut. We argue that a post-colonial perspective has to partially ‘unlearn’ (Spivak, 1993, cited in Lees, 2012) Western intuitions about the role of the state in gentrification, and pay attention to the dimensions mentioned earlier.
Figure 15.1: Beirut in Lebanon

Lebanon: a background

Beirut, Lebanon’s capital and largest city (see Figure 15.1), with some 2 million inhabitants,2 hosts most of the country’s administrative bodies, companies and universities. The Lebanese civil war (1975–90) divided the city into two parts: a predominantly Christian eastern section and a largely Muslim western section. Each area was exclusively controlled by militias representing the dominant groups. This demographic rearrangement prevails to date, though at a lesser extent in certain areas (Genberg, 2002).
After Lebanon gained its independence from France in 1943, a political system based on confessional power sharing and a minimalist state was tacitly accepted as the country’s political model. This facilitated and promoted foreign direct investment, focusing on services and finance (Gates, 1998; Dibeh, 2005; Traboulsi, 2007; Shwayri, 2008). Hence, contrary to most Western contexts that have a history of Keynesian state interventionism and welfare provision, the state role in Lebanon has never been that of a social provider;3 this was left to private initiatives, mostly religious authorities and political sectarian groups (Gates, 1998; Chaaban and Gebara, 2007; Hoeckel, 2007; Hilal, 2008; Fawaz, 2009b). The laissez-faire policies of post-independence Lebanon protected the interests of the dominant mercantile-bourgeoisie, who had traditionally used politics to achieve this protection (Chaaban and Gebara, 2007; Gates, 1998; Boudisseau, 2001; Traboulsi, 2007; Hourani, 2010; Krijnen and Fawaz, 2010). After the outbreak of the civil war in 1975, these fundamental characteristics of the Lebanese economy remained unaltered (Leenders, 2004; Shwayri, 2008; Hourani, 2010). Hence, historically, the interests of market actors have always taken precedence in the Lebanese political economy. This is evident in laws passed during the post-independence period that increased maximum building heights (El-Achkar, 1998) and exploitation factors, with never fulfilled promises of public housing provision (Bekdache, forthcoming). As of the 1950s, a zoning plan allocated the highest exploitation ratios to areas closest to the urban centre (Achkar, 2011; MAJAL, 2012). Developers can exceed height limits by applying for a building permit at the Higher Council for Urban Planning, a politically connected body that makes decisions on a seemingly ad hoc basis. In one case, the developer obtained a building permit by agreeing to fund roadworks (Ghodbane, 2012). Urban planning is thus characterised by a public–private overlap that is also seen in the country’s political economy (Makdisi, 1997; Glasze, 2003; Leenders, 2003, 2004; Summer, 2005; Krijnen and Fawaz, 2010; Ross and Jamil, 2011).4 As we will argue in our conclusion, this overlap provides us with some interesting questions to ask ‘back’ to other (Western) contexts.
Post-civil war government policies continued to protect the dominant elite’s interests by facilitating trade, finance and services sectors, but this time, the reconstruction5 was influenced by the neoliberal turn (Leenders, 2004; Makdisi, 1997). Prime Minister Hariri was keen on facilitating national and foreign investors and regaining Beirut’s position as a financial centre and primary tourist destination in the Arab world, signing several free-trade agreements and launching an ambitious privatisation plan. Downtown Beirut, a devastated no-man’s-land during the civil war, became a symbol of Hariri’s ambitions when it was reconstructed into a centre of business for the global neoliberal elite.

Gentrification in Beirut

The classical definition of gentrification, as coined by Ruth Glass (1964), describes an influx of middle-class residents into working-class neighbourhoods. The new inhabitants renovate low-income and downgraded properties into expensive residences, displacing the original residents and changing the entire social character of the district. This definition has been expanded in recent decades to include, among others, new-build developments (Davidson and Lees, 2005, 2010), gated communities, super-gentrification and commercial and rural gentrification (see Lees et al, 2008). However, Lees et al (2008) argue that these different types of gentrification have in common a socio-economic and cultural transformation due to middle-class colonisation or recolonisation of working-class spaces: people with less power and means are displaced involuntarily from their homes by people with more power and means (see also Davidson and Lees, 2005, 2010; Slater, 2006, 2011). Following this argument, we use the definition of Lees et al (2008, p xv): gentrification is ‘the transformation of a working-class or vacant area of the central city into middle-class residential and/or commercial use’. Whether this happens through new construction or renovation, and whether this process is state-led or not, is related to the geography of gentrification (Lees, 2000), that is, how simi...

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