Saturday, December 24, 2005

Gentrification in another country

I just got back from a short trip to Lebanon. There's a neighborhood in Beirut that I loved the last time I was there and wanted to check it out again. I was instantly curious at the similarities to Bloomingdale, and the issues we face in DC.

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The neighborhood is Gemayze, just east of the newly rebuilt Downtown , one of the most amazing downtowns of any city I have ever seen in my life.
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Though rather Disney-esque in its trying to look old yet newly built freshness. Still, much better than what it was and what the areas that haven't been fixed up look like
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It is also just west of the famous Green Line , a major division line during the war, which apparently some cabs will still not cross.


Before the war Gemazye was a very, if not entirely Christian neighborhood. Mainly filled with beautiful old homes from the 1800's. Mostly stone. Nothing is built with wood there!


My last visit was in 2003,in the summer, and the obvious beginnings of a rebuilding after the war was occurring. Now, that growth is even more so, and it has become clear that Gemayze is "In". Bars and restaurants are lining a street that was formerly very residential. Real estate prices are sky rocketing in a city that is already one of the most expensive in the world. Parking is extremely difficult, and the narrow sidewalks are packed in the evenings. Cute boutique shops are opening and there is fear that many of the old shop will close and be replaced by a more contemporary sense of commercialism.
Image hosted by Photobucket.comWhile walking through the neighborhood with a friend and resident of Gemayze, we saw an Italian restaurant called "Corleone's". My friend said, " What business does a place like that have opening here, ruining the integrity of my neighborhood". Its next to a Sushi Bar, and many other bars where you can see Christians, Muslims, and even Druze, sharing a drink.
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Gemayze "has arrived", as realtors like to say. It is certain that much of the old charm of this hood will disappear.
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Many shops that catered to the old residents will indeed close. Neon will light up the streets and larger and larger cars will try to find parking.
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While gentrification in Beirut, and in Gemayze, doesn't come with the overtones of a stereotypical priviledge white person displacing the stereotypical poor black family, like it is portrayed in DC, there is a mixing of cultures and incomes that must find a commonality. I come back to DC to find liquor bottles and trash in my front yard, guys pissing in my alley, a few newly renovated buildings and a few more troubled properties that for sale or have sold. Keep it up Bloomingdale, we have a long way to go. If Beirut can do it, I know we can.





more pictures here

news concerning Lebanon here

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