On July 17th, GAIA Heritage organized a SWOT conference entitled “Creativity and Regeneration in Mar Mikhael” at the abandoned Brasserie du Levant, an old beer factory in the area. Mar Mikhael is currently one of the trendiest areas of Beirut where the hippest bars and restaurants are situated, as well as designer/ architect/ artist communities mixed with metal workers and greasy garage shops. Like all upcoming neighborhoods in metropolitan cities, this area has also been under the real estate microscope causing construction of high rises at every corner and destruction of heritage architecture, which inevitably result in tripling rents, inviting large crowds to the overflowing bars, and eventually forcing the small designer boutiques and ateliers out. Seeing that this has been quite a recurrence in Beirut with the previously trendy neighborhoods, this conference aimed to bring together major stakeholders in the region along with government officials to discuss the issue at hand and collectively suggest solutions through dialogue.
The day was divided into an introduction and research panel, introducing the MEDNETA and the cooperation of this project with other historical cities, as well as a summary of the socio economic research results that were accumulated by GAIA as well as other sources. Then came two discussion panels; the first which dealt with the subject of ‘The Creative Economy: Issues of Sustainability in the Context of a Rapidly Changing Neighborhood”, and the second entitled: “The Mar Mikhael Neighborhood: Arts, Crafts, and Design’s Engagement with the Public Space”.
The speakers of the first panel were:
- • Dr. Khater Abou Habib (Chairman of KAFALAT)
- • Mr. Emile Nasr (CEO l’Agenda Culturel)
- • Prof. Stephen Hill (Economist, Sohar University)
- • Ms. Sarah Hermez (Principal Creative Space Beirut)
- • Mrs. Rosy Abourousse (Principal Rosa Maria Jewellery)
- • Ms. Doreen Toutikian (Director, MENA Design Research Center)
Moderated by Ibrahim Nehme, editor of The Outpost magazine, the panel was a discussion between designers in the area, cultural entrepreneurs, and investors. We presented Beirut Design Week, its causes and goals, within the framework of Mar Mikhael, as it is one of BDW’s main focus areas. Two of BDW’s participating designers spoke about their work their challenges. And eventually a discussion with the audience was developed about the needs of designers to grow in such a milieu given the current context of Beirut.
The second panel speakers were:
- • Dr. Mona Harb (Associate Professor Urban Planning, AUB)
- • M. Serge Yazigi (Urban Planner, head of MAJAL)
- • M. Nabil Itani (Head, CDR CHUD WB project)
- • M. Mario Khoury (Central Bank, Investment Department)
- • Mrs. Maria Halios (Owner, Maria Halios Design)
- • Mrs. Christine Codsi (Partner, Tawlet/Souk el Tayeb)
- • M. Karim Bekdache (Owner, Karim Bekdache Architecture Studio)
Moderated by Dr. Elie Haddad, Dean of the Art and Design Faculty at the Lebanese American University, this panel was fervently defending rights of citizens in the city and insisting that the government must enforce the laws to protect the rights of citizens -especially when it comes to protecting small industries like that of crafts and design against the pressures of rising rent costs, real estate ventures, and the increasing number of bars without enforced regulations.
The Conclusion panel members, headed by the discussion leader Dr. Georges Zouain, head of GAIA Heritage, included:
- • H.E. M. Raymond Arayji (Lebanese Minister of Culture)
- • M. Alexis Loeber (EU, Head of Cooperation Division)
- • M. Ibrahim Nehme (Editor The Outpost)
- • Dr. Elie Haddad (Dean LAU School for Design & Architecture)
- • Professor Sofia Avgerinou‐Kolonia (Director of Urban and Regional Planning Department, NTUA)
All speakers expressed support for future initiatives related to Mar Mikhael’s Arts, Crafts and Design. Moreover, the final panel concluded in hopes of strengthening the rule of law in the neighborhood and innovation in the realm of the creative economy. This project has been funded by the European Union.