The Impact of Real Estate Construction and Holding Companies: A Case Study of Beirut's Solidere and Amman's Abdali
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Real Estate Construction and Holding Companies (RECHCOs) have been used by governments in the Arab world as a vehicle for stimulus to promote development. This thesis will examine two particular examples of RECHCOs within city centres: Solidere in Beirut and Abdali in Amman. The RECHCOs in these instances were completely private companies presented as the inevitable choice for the rehabilitation of the centre to create a modern downtown, accompanied by a slew of benefits including job creation, investment, increased tourism potential, and upgraded infrastructure. In return the RECHCOs received political support, public subsidies, tax incentives and exemptions, and the right to expropriate privately owned land, generally reserved for governments. The thesis aims to explore this narrative through the lens of RECHCOs' impact on Arab cities' citizens. It will make the argument that though RECHCOs seem to be appealing and easy tools for contemporary cities they do not live up to their promises of political, economic and social benefits, especially as seen from the perspective of city citizens. The thesis contributes a comprehensive empirical case study to the literature on the modern Arab world, which to date has not explored the impacts of projects such as RECHCOs. The research included stakeholder interviews, a representative sample survey of over 1,500 Amman residents, a comprehensive literature review, a thorough media review, a legislative review, examination of company records, and data gathering from government databases and published statistics. Within three chapters dealing with the social, political and economic impacts of RECHCOs, the case studies presented are discussed across several themes central to urban planning literature both in the context of the Arab city and beyond. The Thesis includes a discussion of the role of the city centre within the city, and the RECHCOs' diminishing effect which undermines the centre as a place of society, gathering, economy and politics. The Thesis looks at heritage and memory in the city in the context of RECHCOs whereby as a consequence of ignoring established traditions in cities RECHCOs have a detrimental impact. RECHCOs undercut political processes, bypass social and traditional heritage, and destroy physical historical structures. RECHCOs are framed within an examination of privatised and contested public space within cities. The new RECHCO downtowns are physically isolated and privately guarded. They are housed with exclusive functions, high-end luxury commercial establishments, and highly priced residential and office space. Previous residents are priced out of the area through gentrification, and the economic windfalls of RECHCOs are diverted towards transnational investors and local elite with limited distributional and trickle-down benefits. The subsequent exclusive – and segregated - space created by the RECHCO gives rise to a sense of antagonism amongst city citizens. RECHCOs thus interrupt the interaction between public space and participation damaging active citizenship within the city. The thesis frames RECHCOs as a tool of urban governance and policies, in the context of weakened local governments and the alienation of citizens. The thesis concludes with a series of lessons learnt.
PhD in Politics