NOT SO SECONDARY

Lebanon 2015 | CONSTRUCTION & REAL ESTATE | FOCUS: RESTORING TRIPOLI’S REPUTATION

In a drive to create the conditions for increased local economic development and enhanced quality of life, the Cultural Heritage and Urban Development Project has been launched by the World Bank to improve the conservation and management of Lebanon's built cultural heritage and boost the development in country's secondary cities.

Formerly the prestigious and important capital of Crusader, Mamluke, and Ottoman provinces, and a trade hub with a vibrant cultural scene, Tripoli has been in decline for decades. Much of the problem stems from a governmental neglect dating back to the post-civil war years, when those involved in rebuilding the country chose to focus disproportionately on Beirut. With no clear plans for its regeneration, Tripoli stagnated, while, in the absence of proper governance, corruption flourished. The situation has worsened in recent years due to the Syria crisis, which has brought a multitude of refugees into northern Lebanon, fueling sectarian tensions. More than half of the Tripoli's households are now considered deprived or highly deprived, according to the report issued by the UN and the Arab Urban Development Institute.

What Tripoli desperately needs is job creation and industrial growth, but the tense situation in the region does not help. As a result, ambitious ideas to rejuvenate the city, such as the Tripoli Special Economic Zone (TSEZ) project, promoted in 2011 have floundered. Nevertheless, smaller initiatives have arisen, as Tripoli residents work to inject new life into the city of over half a million residents. A key part of this drive is the Business Incubation Association in Tripoli (BIAT), which for the past decade has been offering help to SMEs in everything related to business, starting from accessing needed capital to marketing their products. “We understand the local economy is comprised of micro enterprises, necessity entrepreneurs who work just to get by,” said Fawaz Hamidi, BIAT's director. “In a region like northern Lebanon, the main types of work are in furniture, crafts, light industrial, plumbing, carpentry, farming, agro food, education, construction, key cutters, and so on. If we want to help our community, we have to realize these are our entrepreneurs,” he continued

In the meantime, other Tripoli residents are trying to bolster the city's shrunken entertainment scene. During Lebanon's “Golden Era” in the 1960s, many Beirut residents would take the train up north to have dinner and watch a movie at one of the city's theaters, crammed every night. Now, due to a lack of funding and rising conservatism, Tripoli has just one dedicated movie theater left. Elias Khlat, the director of the Tripoli International Film Festival, acknowledges the limitations to what can be done at the moment. Nevertheless, he hopes to reawaken the city's love for the cinema—in April and May, the second edition of his festival has displayed more than 50 films from 22 different countries. “This project is about regaining confidence that this city can be part of the country's cultural scene again,” he said. “In this way, we are winning in terms of bringing the city back to life.”

In a drive to restore Tripoli's reputation and to create the conditions for increased local economic development and enhanced quality of life, the Cultural Heritage and Urban Development (CHUD) Project has been launched by the World Bank. The project seeks to improve the conservation and management of Lebanon's built cultural heritage and boost the development in country's secondary cities. With the partial enhancement of public spaces, street upgrading, historical facades restoration, and buildings renovation, the CHUD physical outputs have already brought visible enhancement to Tripoli's most valuable areas.

As acknowledged by the project evaluation and monitoring system, the “conditions for increased economic development” indicators demonstrate that the project is having a positive impact on the local economic activities and the quality of life of the urban population. The available data confirms the creation of additional business opportunities, mainly in the tourism sector and restoration initiatives driven by the private owners. Because of the evident benefits coming from the rehabilitation of the urban surroundings where some of the country most valuable cultural assets are displayed, the CHUD enjoys unanimous support from the central and local governments, as well as the private sector.