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The towns of Chekka and Koura today, particularly what is known as the Collar Towns, have become a striking example of the lethal outcome of public policies and poor planning in Lebanon.
The residents of the area remember it as “Green Koura”, as it’s surrounded to the North by the Qadisha Valley and to the South by Nahr al-Jaouz river, which separates its natural coast from the Caza of Batroun, and the al-Asfour and al-Jarada rivers, which are adjacent to green highlands and groves of olives, grapes, figs and the like. The towns of Koura lie atop groundwater originating in Tannourine and which is considered one of the richest water reservoirs in Lebanon. These towns extend all the way to the seashore, where fishing, salt extraction and other maritime activities thrived. These environmental features led to the development of site-specific economic activities, long before Koura’s coast and hinterlands were transformed into an industrial zone haphazardly and erratically littered with factories, companies and quarries.
In 1931, the first cement factory in Lebanon – the Lebanese Cement Company – was built on the coast of the towns of Chekka and el-Heri. Roughly two decades after it began its operations, another cement factory, owned by the Cimenterie Nationale, was built on the coast of Chekka. At the time, there was no such thing as the Ministry of Planning, the Urban Planning Law, or any regulations for land use in Chekka or its surrounding towns, let alone on the national level.
The operations of the cement companies expanded without any form of control, ignoring health and environmental standards, through a number of practices that were authorized by the Lebanese government. All this happened under national policies that greatly contributed to their success and development: in 1993, the Lebanese government banned foreign cement imports, which led to the repeated increase of the price of the ton, under continuous political cover and support. The opening of the cement factories in Chekka coincided with the beginning of operations to extract raw materials from neighboring towns. Unlicensed quarries spread in Koura towns, which led to a rapid deterioration of the environment, and people’s health and livelihoods. Land purchases were a primary factor in the spread of companies and their control over the fate and resources of the area, as they benefited from the economic deprivation and marginalization of the small towns.
The least that can be said about the transformation of the area is that it was overarching and destructive socially, economically and environmentally. Industries failed to become a sustainable alternative to agriculture and maritime activities as primary sources of income. Consequently, and with time, the options available to the area and its residents became very limited, especially in towns surrounding the factories. This pushed residents to call them “Collar Towns” – a term used in arabic (baldat al tawq) when a place is besieged by a hostile entity, and separated from its surroundings from every side.
To counter these transformations and the damage they caused, civil groups and environmental organizations have been leading a prominent movement since the 1990s in Chekka and Koura. During those years, many organizations raised the issue of the pollution caused by factories. Some even published studies underlining the direct environmental harm caused by the emissions of the cement companies and their quarries, including air, ground water, sea water and soil pollution, which also affects people’s health and the flora. Recently, actions intensified and grew to include petitions, sit-ins, filing complaints and lawsuits, seminars and protests. The movement included different social groups, in addition to some municipal councils and the Union of Koura Municipalities, which took up the fight to shut down the illegal quarries owned by the companies.
In this context, and in support of the efforts of the residents and the ongoing movement, Public Works Studio, in collaboration with the Order of Engineers & Architects in Beirut, and Tripoli, and under the auspices of the Union of Koura Municipalities, is pleased to launch an open competition for inclusive alternative solutions that simultaneously address the environment, the local economy and urbanization in Chekka and the Collar Towns. This competition is open to professionals and academic institutions specializing in urban, environmental and agricultural planning, in addition to those with experience in design, social sciences, economics, and public policies. This call invites these professionals to collaborate and put their diverse experiences and backgrounds together to develop proposals and visions that take into account the principles of local development, environmental issues, and residents’ concerns in Chekka, el-Heri, Kefraya, Badbhoun, Kfarhazir, Amioun, Bechmezzine, Fih, and Btorram. We hope that these proposals become a starting point for discussions that can form broad coalitions to advocate for an inclusive and livable environment, and a development vision governed by the principles of social justice, instead of limited economic interests.
CHEKKA AND THE COLLAR TOWNS: UNDERSTANDING THE CHALLENGES
In Lebanon, our national vision for economic development has long been closely linked to the construction sector. The focus on land as a source of profit and wealth accumulation has destroyed livelihoods and the relationship between people and their surrounding environment. This trend is manifested in the land-use plans, which are devised without involving residents and affected populations. On the one hand, this type of planning remains a tool for the powerful, ignoring urgent matters and excluding large social groups. In Chekka and the Collar Towns, this has led to a number of major issues that need to be addressed. So what are the challenges facing this region?
The Dominance of One Economic Sector
Partial Urban Planning
Non-enforcement of the Law
Cement Companies’ Control over Socio-Political Entities
Deterioration of the Environmental and Health Conditions
THE COMPETITION SITES
All the aforementioned challenges underline the urgency of reconsidering dominant approaches to development, land use, and the institutional framework that governs them, in addition to the political context, which requires a novel and creative counter-approach. As such, this competition is an open call for planners, designers, environmental scientists, agriculturers, economists and other professionals to draft an intervention framework, which simultaneously answers the concept of sustainable development and the immediate needs of the people, including job opportunities and a local economy, without compromising their health, the environment and local economic resources. This competition proposes to address three strategic sites, which we found were open to complementary interventions within a wider developmental vision. These cases call upon us all, professionals and concerned citizens interested in the intersections between sustainable environment and social justice, to address the following questions:
Site A: Chekka-Heri Seafront
Site B: Badbhoun’s Quarry
Site C: Koura’s Agricultural Middle Plain
1. Taking as a starting point the principles of Sustainable development as defined in the United Nations Global Goals SDGs
2. Adopting comprehensiveness and sustainability in the visions, taking into account the National Physical Master Plan of the Lebanese Territory.
3. Preserving local environmental components and landscapes.
4. Finding economic solutions that afford development opportunities to multiple segments of residents, where the interests of all parties and social groups are accounted for.
5. Addressing the damage caused, reinvigorating the surroundings, and enshrining the right to decent living in the area, taking into account the moral, health, and social impacts sustained by various segments of the people due to industrial operations.
6. Fostering the local and cultural heritage of the region.
7. Promoting existing landforms and natural landmarks.
8. Developing context-sensitive approaches and enhancing the connection between the site and its surrounding context, taking into account the human aspect.
GOALS OF THE COMPETITION
Making the proposals a starting point for a public discussion around development and our understanding of it, taking Chekka and Koura as an example to be avoided in terms of the dominance of one economic sector over others. The selected proposals will represent alternatives to current practices in the cement industry in other regions of Lebanon.
Devising future visions for the three sites to ensure they remain in the lives of all residents of the area, and rehabilitate their economic, social and environmental role.
Finding sustainable and multi-disciplinary solutions to mitigate the environmental, health and economic damages resulting from the cement sector.
Supporting the efforts of the local community and the existing movement.
Involving professionals in a national issue that has implications beyond the local level, by inviting them to take part in the competition with the aim of reinforcing a sense of involvement in public issues.
Sensitizing officials and governmental authorities to the potentials of alternative development and promoting comprehensive solutions which put the environment, social justice and equitable development at the forefront of public policies.
16 September (2019): Official launch in Beirut + Start of registration
17 September (2019): Official launch in the north
15 October (2019): End of registration
15 November (2019): End of Q & A
14 January 2020: Submission *
January 17, 2020: Jury deliberations *
21 January 2020: Press conference to announce the results *
February / March 2020: Publication, Exhibition + Conference *
Note: Dates may be subject to changes *