Lost in suburbia

Development in Beirut’s eastern suburbs suffers from a lack of planning

by Thomas Schellen

Beirut’s eastern suburbs entail a broad social and economic mix, ranging from high-density residential areas dominated by aging apartment buildings, to the country’s most affluent areas in terms of average household incomes. In the coastal zone of suburbia stretching north of the capital, new commercial and residential hubs have formed in the past few years and are still a focus of development activity in the Dbayeh area and on hillside sprawls. In earlier real estate coverage, Executive reported on the retail ventures and mall developments aside the coastal highway, and on the master-planned developments such as Majid Al Futtaim Waterfront City and Beit Misk above Antelias.

These development hotspots are part of the Metn district, as are the string of eastern suburbs closest to Beirut that comprise the municipalities of Sin El Fil, Bourj Hammoud, Dekwaneh and the combined municipality of Bauchrieh, Sed El Bauchrieh and Jdeideh. 

These heavily urbanized districts have seen developments of major road infrastructure, with construction at the Mkalles knot currently nearing completion. Other key road developments of the past ten years were the Hayek–Salome and Nahr El Mott interchanges.

The area contains one high-profile hotel complex in the two Habtoor properties adjacent to the Qalaa intersection in Sin El Fil, which were completed by 2005. These high-rises have defined the skyline of the eastern suburbs since that time, and it was only recently that other new towers were announced for the area. The FourtFour tower is a mixed used project managed by developer Sayfco that is going to be constructed near the Salome intersection, and the Miknas Plaza is a two tower project not far from the Qalaa intersection in Sin El Fil.

These mixed-use projects were first announced last year and both can be expected to have major impacts on the eastern urban belt directly next to Beirut proper. However, according to Plus Properties, the promoter of Miknas Plaza, the project is still waiting in the wings a year on, and its actual launch is yet to take place. By all indications on the ground, the FourtyFour site is also in its earliest excavation phase and the project is a good number of years away from completion.

Structural challenges

Industry sources say that a handful of modern residential projects in the nearer eastern suburbs encountered strong demand and sold out even while the property market started to slow after 2011. The recent indications for property transactions are interpreted as indicators that the slump in the market is tapering out, and developers might again begin to accelerate their activities if other positive signals arise in support of increasing market confidence.

At the same time, the structural challenges of the eastern suburbs will not be diminishing. Collaboration of municipalities in a Greater Beirut urban planning exercise appears to be a phantom of wishful thinking, according to the absence of a strategic or at least comprehensive response when one contacts the largest municipality in the suburbs, that of Bauchrieh–Sed el Bauchrieh–Jdeideh, which has about 150,000 inhabitants. 

Two visits with a member of the municipal council to talk urban planning left much to be desired. A council member who declined to go on record gave Executive a CD with a presentation meant to answer questions on forward thinking and the municipality’s planning for future developments. While it highlighted completed road works and efforts to train municipal police officers in traffic control strategies, lacking was any discussion of plans to work with developers who say they are keen to exploit any land they can buy in the area.

An exploration of the suburbs by car and on foot at this time only reveals how the construction of traffic arteries has made it — at times — easier to travel the suburbs, but urban development of green spaces appears to be at best cosmetic throughout the entire area between the southern border of Sin El Fil and the eastern edge of Jdeideh. Commercial and industrial zones in this region also convey no visible indication of comprehensive development planning by the municipalities that would be in line with the requirements for urban prosperity. According to the signs on the ground, the eastern suburbs are a long way from becoming a solution, or a part of a solution, for the problems of Greater Beirut.

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Thomas Schellen

Thomas Schellen is Executive's editor-at-large. He has been reporting on Middle Eastern business and economy for over 20 years. Send mail

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