IN AND OUT OF CONTROL

While the everyday space of the city becomes increasingly paralyzed with security, military and surveillance apparatuses, Beirut's real-estate market is being increasingly fluidified. Through different measures, state institutions and policies are catering to neoliberalism's changing needs, but also to its immediate and unchanging need for malleability (that which allows it to reabsorb its failures). Planning strategies are devised with an interpretable flexibility, providing the leeway needed to regulate and organize the development of the city according to the shifting interests of an elite few. By deliberately and strategically creating ambiguity where it is most profitable, these measures allow for the space of neoliberalism to come forth. 

 

COMPLICITY OF THE STATE

Despite common belief and the image it sometimes creates of itself, the state is not impotent nor absent. It is intentionally designing its own failure by being directly complicit and facilitating the work of private agencies, providing subsidies, legal exemptions and facilities, deliberately fostering a particular form of development. 

 

  • Building and zoning regulations for entire cities and neighborhoods is delegated to private actors.

  • Real-estate developers are entitled to adjust the price of land to its market rate in 1992 rather than the price at which they had purchased the lot, hence reducing considerably the taxes they have to pay on the profit they make.

 

  • IDAL, the Investment and Development Authority in Lebanon, was established by the Hariri government in 1994 with the aim of promoting investments in the country. Today, IDAL’s mandate is to offer incentives and tax-cuts (up to 100 %) to investors whose projects fulfill its requirements, authorized to autonomously issue required licenses and permits, as long as projects abide by the Lebanese building law.

 

  • 1995 - Regulation (Law 402/1995) allows hotel developers to double exploitation ratios dictated by urban regulations. This is accompanied by tax alleviations on these developments, further encouraging investments in this sector.

 

  • Profits made by joint-stock and limited liability companies from residential real estate developments are taxed at a rate 50% less than regular revenues. 

 

  • Holding companies are exempted from paying income taxes.

 

  • Easing the acquisition of property for non-nationals (Law 296/2001).

 

  • Facilitating the ways in which non-nationals can establish companies either in the form of holdings (e.g. Law 772/2006) or joint-stock companies (through IDAL, Law 771/2006).

General Increase of building allowances:

  • Amendment to the implementation decree of the national building law (Decree 2791/1992)  

  • New building law (Law 646/2004) is drafted by a group of developers. This law and its implementation decrees are filled with contradictions and vague statements that allow multiple interpretations of the same requirement.

POLITICS OF SHAPE-SHIFTING

The Directorate General of Urbanism's Higher Council is composed of double-agents: internal security services, politicians, owners of lands, architects, developers. Throughout the years, the municipality's role in issuing permits and exemptions has been taken over by this council. The criteria for the HC's decision-making is reduced to the ambiguous requirement to make an "architectural contribution". 

THE SPACE OF NEOLIBERALISM

What is the space produced and perpetuating this system? A commodified space where an apartment is no longer a residence but an asset to materialize capital surplus. A space equated to exchange value where unproductive unprofitable space has no value. A space shaped largely by market speculation, where eviction, intimidation and social cleansing are means to an end. A space restricted to desirable predictable profiles and behaviors, designed with varying degrees of complexity. A space of uniformity trading in abstract spatial units with no regards to function or time. A space of fluid morphology, hybridization and perpetual rebranding. A contradictory space, subject to violent measures of control in its materiality, but also to selective fluidity in its planning and management.

 

Not unlike this site of ambiguity, article 534 of the lebanese penal code condemns “sexual intercourse against nature” while failing to define what "against nature" means with regards to the law. This ambiguity allows for the instrumentalization of the law in order to police and target particular communities, resulting in repetitive abuses and violences against some but not all non-conforming identities. Being on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, being a migrant worker, being a refugee, being male; individuals who correspond to one or more these factors are at higher risk of being targeted by this law.

 

Where else is ambiguity being used as a tool to bend the law and fulfill a private interest? What ambiguities can be used against the order in place?

I owe the information in the above text to the paper published by Mona Fawaz and Marieke Krijnen "Exception as the rule: High-end developments in neoliberal Beirut in Built Environment Vol. 36 no.2