Over the past few decades, cities are facing social and economic pressures which have had a disproportionate impact on the urban environment. Many significant historic centers and districts are demolished, others just die of neglect and dilapidation. Such pressures have brought the attention of how regeneration can influence the change in historic centers.
What are the Characteristics of Historic Centers?
Historic city centers can be the nuclei of cities. They are characterized with a multitude of historic buildings and heritage sites. Sometimes, these centers act as cultural nodes, and not just a collection collection of structures. This is because their history and their people give them meaning (Serageldin, Shluger and Martin-Brown, 2001).
Historic centers are sometimes the locus of residential, economic and cultural activities, especially in dense built-up areas. They reflect the identity of the city, as well as, they act as areas which contain major monuments and buildings of architectural and historic significance. The marked physical deterioration of these centers has greatly impacted the tourism industry and the character and style of the city. Therefore, these areas need
particular attention to survive under the waves of deterioration (Boussa, 2010).
Problems Facing Historic Centers
However, it is only recently that we have come to recognize the need to preserve historic centers for their cultural and economic dimensions. It is prevalent that pollution eats away historic buildings. Besides, the requirements of modern services such as water, electricity and sewerage conflict with the desire of preservation of the historic integrity of streets and structures. Also, migration of rural residents to urban and historic centers has led to an increasingly large and poor population in the historic core. Yet, the regeneration of historic centers is not a luxury. However, it is a part of a collective obligation to understand and preserve history, tradition and cultural diversity to combat a sense of transience and to attract tourists (Serageldin, Shluger and Martin-Brown, 2001).
For these reasons, one can ask how to maintain these historic centers with relevance in present time? Also, how do we balance the legitimate needs of a contemporary urban population with the preservation of a city’s historic fabric? How do we reconcile conservation with sustainable urban development?
Regeneration of Historic Centers
According to literature review, urban regeneration includes various definitions. Generally, it is defined as “a comprehensive and integrated vision and action which leads to the resolution of urban problems and which seeks to bring about a lasting improvement in the economic, physical, social and environmental condition of an area that has been subjected to change” (Priority Actions Programme Activity Center Split, 2004).
Urban regeneration involves the revitalization of troubled urban areas, rehabilitation of historic areas, improvement of living conditions in residential districts, redevelopment of public places (squares, parks, urban furniture), modernization of urban infrastructure (water networks, gas, electricity, transport infrastructure). A project of such complexity can be achieved only through the cooperation between institutions, universities, urbanists, environmental associations and builders (Alpopi and Manole, 2013).
The main reasons for regeneration of historic centers can be classified into two categories. Firstly, urban heritage helps to forge national identities which enable people to define who they are and where they are. Secondly, urban heritage may have assumed economic importance, as people increasingly want to reuse their historic areas and buildings as resources for trade and tourism to increase their income (Boussa, 2010).
The Regeneration of Beirut Historic Center (Lebanon)
In recent years, Beirut’s city center has enjoyed a prime location at the heart of Lebanon’s capital and a privileged position on the waterfront. The historic center bears the marks of eleven civilizations, ranging from the Canaanite to the Ottoman. Its urban character and architectural style were formed during the Ottoman period and the French mandate (The Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District, 2009).
During the 1975-1990 civil war, Beirut’s historic center bore the brunt of destruction within the entire infrastructure and two-thirds of the buildings were left beyond salvage. Therefore, Beirut Central District (BCD) together with the government formed a private development corporation called (SOLIDERE) (MedCities, 2005).
This led to the regeneration of Beirut’s historic center, a model of neo-liberal economic recovery. Hence, the success in the city center is believed to heal the rest of the city and even the country. In this case, urban regeneration is defined principally by its capacity to provide an image of stability in order to attract foreign investments and tourism.
The restoration of Beirut’s historic core represents a major urban regeneration achievement on the global scale. This is because most of the archaeological excavations are concentrated in the historic core conservation area. About one-third of the undestroyed urban fabric was salvaged, creating a significant impact on the overall project. Moreover, the Beirut’s Heritage Trail links archaeological sites, historic public places and heritage buildings with over a 2.5 km walking circuit in the historic core of Beirut. It reveals the story of 5,000 years of history and takes the visitor through a historic journey of key sites and monuments. The Beirut Heritage Trail restored 300 buildings within the city center using historic maps, photographs and drawings to tell the story of Beirut’s past and present.
Tools of Regeneration in Historic Centers
Finally, it has been seen that, urban regeneration of historic centers deals with the complex cultural, social and economic tasks that call for equally wide ranging measures. These plans need to be applied logically to the delicate grain of the physical and social fabric of historic sites. Thus, integrated and comprehensive urban regeneration strategies are needed for the revitalization of historic centers. Additionally, policies must be integrated into broader local development plans including local resources, aspirations and needs. All these are considered as regeneration tools which can attract capital investments, enhance city’s urban image, develop tourism industry and provide quality of life and competitiveness among other cities.
Written by: Riham Nady
Edited by: Aiysha Alsane
– Alpopi, Cristina and Manole, Cristina. (2013). “Integrated Urban Regeneration-Solution for Cities Revitalize”. Procedia Economics and Finance. Vol. 6. pp. 178-185.
– Boussa, Djamel. (January 2010). “Urban Conservation and Sustainability: Cases from Historic Cities in the Gulf and North Africa”. International Conference on Technology & Sustainability in the Built Environment, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
– MedCities. (2005). “The Mediterranean City: dialogue among cultures”. Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria. Egypt.
– Priority Actions Programme Regional Activity Center Split. (January 2004). “Guidelines for Urban Regeneration in the Mediterranean Region”.
– Serageldin, Ismail, Shluger, Ephim and Martin-Brown, Joan. (2001). “Historic Cities and Scared Sites: Cultural Roots for Urban Futures”. The World Bank, Washington D.C. United States of America.
– The Lebanese Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District. (2009). “SOLIDERE annual Report 08”. Beirut. Lebanon.