One by one, the old traditional houses of Beirut are vanishing as luxury towers sprout up on every corner, altering the city’s skyline almost beyond recognition.
The city, seemingly immune to tensions from the civil war raging next door and bouts of deadly spillover, is buzzing with the sounds of jackhammers and active cranes dot the skyline . Demand for expensive housing has increased dramatically; this is one of the factors contributing to high inflation rates in Lebanon. According to Byblos Bank, while real estate transactions dropped by over five percent over the past year, the value of each transaction increased by nearly 8 percent. The enchanting Ottoman and colonial French-style buildings once represented Beirut’s rich history, withstanding years of civil war and invasions only to be demolished in peace time by rich expatriates and wealthy Gulf Arab investors. There are virtually no laws that specifically protect old buildings. An initial census in the early 1990s counted 1600 traditional homes and buildings in the greater Beirut area, while today, an estimated 250 standing structures remain. The lack of effective regulation has greatly facilitated the unprecedented housing boom taking land management, urban planning and environmental management to a chaotic and uncontrollable stage. According to Geographer and regional planning practitioner Waltraud- Frommherz-Hassib , a third of Lebanon’s land is not registered. The lack of land registration may lead to a chaotic situation in the future.

Land, particularly in a small country, risks becoming a serious subject of discussion where the property rights of poorer members of society are easily overlooked in a legal system that may well run into legislative and technical overdrive.

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11th November 2014

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