Historic urban quarters regeneration remains a topic of debates while no universal solution has been found that balances between heritage conservation, its insertion in the general economy and strategy of a city while at the same time avoiding over gentrification or the excesses of a tourism mono-economy.
How to transform sometimes forgotten and derelict historic urban places into thriving mixed places where the inhabitant and the visitor benefit together from the public spaces, housing the social services available to all remains a subject of experiments.
On the other hand, arts, crafts and design (ACDs) are being increasingly recognized as important contributors to the creation of wealth and of employment opportunities. The “creative economy” is now thought to be a remedy to many economic diseases. Like tourism a few years ago, creativity is now considered to be the secure tool of historic fabric regeneration. But and as it had been proven for tourism, creativity alone fails as much as tourism alone has failed.
The choice of Mar Mikhael as the Lebanon playground for the European Union Project MEDNETA was based on several considerations. The high concentration of ACDs present in the neighborhood, the location of Mar Mikhael and the affordability of business properties as well as the charm of its “preserved” original urban tissue and society or the heterogeneity of its economic activities, attract young creators. In the past decade, the neighborhood has witnessed a rise in the establishment and opening of creatively inclined businesses such as architecture, furniture and fashion design firms, galleries, and jewelry production. These firms have successively opened in an increasingly concentrated area in Mar Mikhael, forming what it commonly referred to as an “Art, Crafts and Design (ACD) cluster”.
Gaia-Heritage has been surveying the evolution of Mar Mikhael since 2010 and today, within MEDNETA, it has conducted an extensive survey of the neighborhood’s creative economy and of its socio-economic environment. Results of the survey have revealed a series of issues facing the sustainability of the district mixity and the resilience ACDs: the rapid rise in real estate development projects and a growing recreational sector, both inn search of rapid gains and a lack of communal entente required for the exchange of ideas and innovation.
As a segue from the initial analysis of the district, and following the event at the ‘Grande Brasserie du Levant that took place on the 17th of July 2014’, Gaia-heritage has called Mar Mikhael’s artists, craftsmen and designers for a second event. From 16 to 24 January, GAIA-Heritage is hosting a weeklong event of activities within the scope of the MEDNETA project, bringing together the ACDs, the residents and general users of the neighborhood.