The crisis of cultural identity in rehabilitating historic Beirut-downtown

The crisis of cultural identity in rehabilitating historic Beirut-downtown,10.1016/j.cities.2010.04.001,Cities,Tarek Saad Ragab

The crisis of cultural identity in rehabilitating historic Beirut-downtown  
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The dilemma of devising a theme that can convincingly and collectively express the cultural identity of a nation usually surfaces at the time of planning for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of devastated sites of significance. Particularly following civil wars, both the planning phase and procedures for rehabilitation often exhibit an extension of the civil conflict over the issues of identity and cultural ideology. The 15-year Lebanese civil war (1975–1991) left Beirut severely damaged. After almost two decades after the end of the war, the city center rehabilitation is in its final stages and presents an explicit paradigm of urban governance and management in a severely damaged urban setting claimed by a community of multilayered culture stratums. The construction and reconstruction effort has aspired to resurrect the pre-war cosmopolitan Beirut, and has represented not only the rehabilitation of the infrastructure and devastated structures, but equally, an attempt to reinterpret Lebanon’s tumultuous past and to create a new collective memory for the nation. For many, most of this effort was in vain for multiple reasons, but more notably, it fueled an endless cultural conflict in the historical city overlooking the sea. The objective of this article is to develop a better understanding of the specific socio-political dynamics and attributes influencing the rehabilitation process of the historic Beirut city center. The article examines the capacity of the chosen rehabilitation approach which was meant to crystallize the intangible meanings of Lebanese cultural identity. In addition to the site visits and observation which took place upon settling in Beirut for the last 6years, the conclusion is underpinned by a review of culturally-diverse literature and interviews with multiple stakeholders, in particular urban officials, local professionals, visitors, and affected residents of the city center, and represents the groundwork for similar rehabilitation initiatives.
Journal: Cities , vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 107-114, 2011
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