The city other
: a people-centred analysis on the detachment of the Beirut Central District

  • Kristine El Samra

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis investigates the Beirut Central District (BCD), the post-war (1975-1990) reconstructed city centre of Beirut. Described in the literature as the enclave for the rich, the manicured city and the ghost town, the BCD presents itself as the urban central area that is detached from the rest of Beirut. Initiated in 1994, the reconstruction of the BCD was handed over exclusively to the Lebanese joint stock company Société Libanaise pour le Développement et la Reconstruction de Beyrouth (Solidère) that became the sole owner, developer and real estate manager of Beirut’s old city core. Two decades later, the BCD is an almost deserted area that is excluded from the dynamic liveliness of the rest of Beirut city. The detached city phenomenon is at the core of this research, here termed as ‘the city other’, a new term associated to the philosophical discourse of the ‘other’, as seen, perceived and lived by the people of Beirut city.
The theoretical backdrop that drives this research is phenomenology, a form of research that is best suited to understand a phenomenon through common or shared experiences of people. Within the phenomenological approach, this thesis follows the Mixed Method Phenomenological Research (MMPR), a method of inquiry that investigates diverse aspects of the same phenomenon and provides more flexibility for more in-depth insights as to the phenomenon under study. ‘the city other’ phenomenon is investigated through its borders and its urban space, the two physical constituents of the BCD’s urban entity. Accordingly, the study of ‘the city other’ phenomenon consists of two distinct parts that cover the investigation of the two different urban entities. Each part responds to distinct research questions, implements a particular methodological process and a separate empirical study. Nonetheless, the two parts converge into one common conclusion that contributes to the comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon under study.
The first part entitled ‘borders or boundaries’ covers the study of BCD’s borders from two aspects; the characteristics of the physical limits of the BCD that cause the first disconnection of the BCD to the rest of Beirut city, and a qualitative study that maps the perception of those limits following a psychogeographical walk called drifting – La dérive – around the BCD’s borders. Physical restrictions, low connectivity levels and difficulty of pedestrian crossings at the BCD’s borders were also coupled with feelings of alienation, lack of interest and discontent from security measures as perceived and experienced by the Beirut drifters.
The second part of this research entitled ‘dismisser or dismissed’ investigates the reconstruction process of the BCD; its conception, its legal framework and its operational mechanisms from one side, and measures the Sense of Place (SOP) of the people living in, working in or visiting the BCD from the other. The methods implemented by Solidère in the BCD’s reconstruction were directly related to the practices of urbicide, gentrification and the privatization of the public. Alternatively, a quantitative field survey that measured the SOP of people through three different place constructs – attachment, identity and dependence – was conducted and analysed. Although the survey showed a higher negative value indicating participants‘ general lack of SOP, the results sorted by each place construct displayed a positive value for place attachment. The SOP in the BCD was expressed positively through place attachment depending on four different variables that were age, religion, gender and income. The survey revealed that there was a close link, a positive correlation between the levels of SOP as noted by the survey’s participants and the memory and nostalgia of pre-war Beirut, the new services offered by BCD, their affordability and the association of space to religion.
Finally, this thesis frames the BCD as an urban enclave that is delimited by a sharp set of borders as well as by a ghost wall that is built up in people’s minds and perceptions. More, Solidère’s methods of reconstruction directly contributed to the detachment of the city centre from its people that showed a lack of SOP although a positive bond with the BCD through place attachment was observed. As such, ‘the city other’ is manifested though both its entities, its borders and its urban space in several aspects and with different nuances.
Date of AwardMar 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPhilip Griffiths (Supervisor) & Tanja Poppelreuter (Supervisor)


  • Beirut Central District
  • Psychogeography
  • Sense of place
  • Post-war reconstruction
  • Neoliberal urbanism
  • Urban borders

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