World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Urban and Real Estate development (105) - Panel

· Date: TUE, 20 / 11:30 am - 1:30 pm

· Language: English

· Description:

Chair: Ghazal Abbasy-Asbagh (Catholic University of America, Harvard Graduate School of Design)

Paper presenter: Marieke Krijnen (MA Student, American University of Beirut, Arab and Middle Eastern Studies program, Lebanon), “Facilitating real estate development in Beirut: a case of neoliberal urban development?”
The paper starts with a study of literature on the role of the state in the era of neoliberal globalization. Most authors maintain that public authorities retreat as a social provider while at the same time facilitating the market and private investors and providing incentives to attract capital investment. In the context of urban development, this is done by easing building regulations, out contracting public works, making land available to investors, exempting them from taxes, etcetera. The paper then continues to document the case of Lebanon, based on my master's thesis in progress. Lebanon has always been known for its liberal economy and laissez-faire policies. I investigate if and how state policies in Lebanon facilitate real estate developers in Beirut and if and how this corresponds to the theory on neoliberal urban development. In this way, I hope to contribute to emerging scholarship on urban transformation in the Middle East in the neoliberal era. An overview of laws and regulations relevant to real estate development in Beirut, as well as decrees granting exemptions from or amendments to this regulatory framework, is presented, and interviews with key actors involved or specialized in real estate development and legislation provide data from the field. This is work in progress that will be finished in February 2010. So far several examples of facilities to real estate investors via the Lebanese state can be named: a new building law allows developers to build higher with a larger exploitation co-efficient; a special authority helps investors deal with bureaucratic procedures and provides actors who invest a minimum amount of capital in an industry with tax exemptions; a law was amended to accommodate foreigners interested in buying property in Lebanon; and a number of high-rise buildings were exempted from certain regulations. I then move on to describe the data analysis tool I chose to use, taken from Antipode magazine volume 34, issue 3 (2002), namely the concept of 'actually existing', 'path-dependent' or localized neoliberalism, that keeps particular contexts of neoliberal urban development in mind. The paper’s tentative conclusion (that will become definitive after fieldwork is completed in February) is that a variety of facilities to real estate developers exists, but that this cannot easily be characterized as 'neoliberal', even when accounting for local specificities. Lebanon has a very distinctive political economy with a sectarian power division, leading to clientelist dependent relationships and networks of economic and political actors that help each other in obtaining a share of public resources. This provides a far better explanation of the facilities found in Lebanon than the neoliberal trend in urban development.

Paper presenter: Golrokh Sepasdar (PhD candidate, University of Liverpool, UK), “Gentrification in Urban Regeneration, a Cause or a Consequence: with Focus on Historic Islamic Cities”
The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the current discourse regarding gentrification and its controversial social and urban impacts. The paper will have a more detailed focus on how this trend has emerged the Middle East and North Africa, and what positive or negative consequences are contributed to the involved urban areas, by gentrification. It is worth mentioning that the existing researches on the impacts of gentrification on urban areas have been more concerned about the negative influences particularly with regard to the social aspects of gentrification. This paper aims to consider the possible positive impacts of gentrification, as well. In the first introductory section the definitions of the term “gentrification” will be provided along with the literature on gentrification which will be covered briefly. The second part describes how gentrification has appeared in developing countries of Middle East, its different aspects in this region, and how it has contributed in the reshaping of the historic areas of cities in the region. The characteristics of gentrification in the MENA region and the possible differences with its application within the western context will be also discussed in this part. The third section of the research provides an overview of some current trend to gentrification in few Middle Eastern and North African cities to see how these experiences have influenced/ been influenced by the urban rehabilitation projects. For a more specific study, gentrification will be compared in two cities: in Fez, Morocco, where gentrification has appeared as a result of economic and social factors like tourism, property value, land use and rural migration, and then Istanbul as a city in which gentrification has been introduced as a means of rehabilitation and development in particular neighbourhoods. The last part aims to answer these questions: Is gentrification a consequence of urban rehabilitation in the MENA cities, or is it mostly an instrument in the urban rehabilitation or development projects? And then the main question would be “is the process” being a consequence or an instrument- a constructive or unconstructive practice in urban development in this region? The economic effects of gentrification, the physical changes which are accompanied by it, the social and cultural impacts of gentrification, are all factors that lead to substantial change. Evaluation of these factors should help recognize how constructive or destructive can gentrification be in an urban neighbourhood, in a developing country.

Paper presenter: Ghazal Abbasy-Asbagh (Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Catholic University of America,Student of Architecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design, USA), “(Un)veiled: A Historical survey of Urbanism and Societal Response in Tehran”
In this study, I will demonstrate that an "evolutionary account of Tehran's built environment" will highlight the "societal dynamics that correspond to the evolution of the country as a whole". This study will take advantage of the huge collection of historical photographs and concentrate on a historiography of the development of Tehran, from its origins as a village outside the ancient city of Ray, to its current position as a mega-city and the administrative centre of a country, as well as a newly found ideological centre for Islamic fundamentalism and activism. During the Khatami years, the relaxation of political authority and introduction of new zoning by-laws in Tehran have reshaped the city. The Tehran of Iran-Iraq war era, where people stood in lines for rations and abandoned the city as bombs carved new vacant lots in crowded neighbourhoods, now has a new identity. The populace, which was for years deprived of all means of self-expression, has found its mouthpiece in architectural form, or rather decoration. New buildings use expressive decorations, expensive building materials, and anti-contextual designs. Similarly, women oppressed for years, anthropologically mirroring this newly assumed freedom, have channelled years of frustration and generations of discomposure into application of cosmetics and plastic surgery, turning the streets of Tehran into a theatrical pseudo brothel: life is imitation urban metamorphosis. This study will deal with ways in which architectural and urban form responded to these changes, and the reciprocal effects of these changes on reshaping of the society. It will also examine the circumstances, which led to the entry of Iran into the global economy and the changes that the Iranian society as a whole faced as a result, and the burden of these changes on Tehran. This hypothesis is strengthened by a brief spatial study of concurrent revolutions that have corresponded to these urbanistic changes in Tehran as preludes to the latest backlash against the regime in Iran. These rapid transitions have not offered the populace the opportunity to properly develop the necessary mechanisms to reshape itself. Iranian culture, inherently resistant to change, has developed a sense of irony in dealing with these changes. It was clear that the urban texture of Tehran had become a mirror image of its experiments with Islam, modernity and revolution.

Paper presenter: Bogaert Koenraad(Ph.D. student, Ghent University, Belgium), "The production of neoliberal urban space in Morocco and Jordan: a comparison"
Authors: Bogaert Koenraad & Pascal Debruyne.
Recent developments in world affairs have led to increased pressures on Arab countries to pursue externally mandated political and economic reforms. The impact of these neoliberal modalities of development and government has been to challenge the integrity of seemingly given spatial scales of political organization in the Arab world. New governmental agencies are established that comply with neoliberal requirements such as financial autonomy, market oriented strategies and cooperation with the private sector. As a result political and economic life is resituated in contexts designed to reflect ‘market’ incentives and demands, and the ability to govern is ‘transferred’ from the state to new regulatory arrangements within the space of the (global) market. This evolution had a profound impact on the constitution of the urban fabric. Notwithstanding the all embracing tendency of this neoliberal transformation, the socio-spatial reconfigurations remain understudied in the MENA-region. In Morocco big urban development programs such as the Bouregreg program and the Villes sans Bidonvilles program (city without slums) symbolize public-private strategies of urban planning in favour of an urban middle class and the attraction of foreign tourists. Similar entrepreneurial strategies are being pursued in Jordan. Jordan has been reformed to a central hub for transnational capital. Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ’s), Special Economic Zones (SEZ’s) and other ‘spaces of exception’, inscribe this neoliberal developmentalism into the city spatial fabric. In Amman, ‘the Amman Master Plan’ (2007-2008) functions as a roadmap towards neoliberal futures. Big urban regeneration project as ‘Abdali’, the construction of ‘the Jordan Gate towers’, the enormous rise of gated communities and shopping malls, and other ‘global investment’ projects, are just a few examples of this urban entrepreneurialism. This paper is supported by extensive fieldwork through in depth interviews with key-actors and treats the socio-spatial effects of neoliberal reform in Morocco and Jordan. It focuses on the strategic relations between governmental and economic actors and new governmental arrangements (the public-private power nexuses) that frame this neoliberal development agenda.