Are We Seriously Getting Another Mall in Dbayyeh?

Future waterfront city beirut

Waterfront City is breaking ground. Parks are being built. New complexes have their plans set in motion. Previous projects are being continued.

That mass of “new” land bordering the Dbayyeh highway will turn into a whole new town in the coming few years, apartment buildings and all. Great news for Lebanon’s real estate market, definitely. Sad news for those who take the marine road to escape the insurmountable traffic during their commute.

Waterfront City is also getting its bonafide mall with City Centre, whose first branch opened up next to Beirut recently, beginning its constructions plans as per Gino’s Blog.

Of course, such a project wouldn’t be happening hadn’t malls been possibly the only thing, apart from restaurants, taking off in the country lately. They get business. People like to go to them. They open up and cater to the demand. Al Futtaim’s earlier Beirut City Centre, despite it being almost a carbon copy of an Emirati mall, is taking off well. Or at least that’s what the constant crowds in it suggest.

The question to ask, though, is when’s the time to say enough is enough, that malls taking off isn’t the only argument behind them springing up whenever, wherever, sporadically and without any form of organization and regulation?

Dbayyeh has reached a point that can be called: extreme mall saturation. Just look at that place. Next to future Dbayyeh City Centre, you can find LeMall, ABC Dbayyeh and Blueberry Square, which is basically a big food court. There’s also a huge Spinneys next to them. And they all exist in an area which is quite tiny. Stretching the scope just one bit reveals yet another huge mall, at one point Lebanon’s biggest.

All of these malls share access through the same highway. They serve a city and its suburbs which already have enough malls, clearly another example of the economic centralization the country has and which I’ve previously written about here.

With the advent of Waterfront City and all the new tenants that will inhabit it, as well as the “attractions” that will be available there, the bottleneck effect of the Lebanese infrastructure, especially when it comes to the Dbayyeh area, will become even tighter.  Waterfront City may be advertised as a futuristic approach to what Lebanon can offer, and perhaps it is, but – like much of those “futuristic” areas – the non-futirstic parts often have a reality to face. That reality is that of unbelievable traffic in and out of Beirut and I’m sure no studies will be done about how to work with the traffic that another addition to that area will bring. It’s a reality of poor infrastructure to support such projects – looking at a turned off ABC due to the electricity cut is proof enough. It’s a reality of shops that are closing down because they are being spread way too thin in a country whose economical situation isn’t that efficient. And this reality is the one at the top of my head.

The fact that malls take off in Lebanon is no longer a good enough argument to have them pop up so often in an area that is so restricted. Of course malls are going to take off it they’re the only thing being built to provide people with what they might need. Of course they will take off if all the country’s decent and new cinemas are in them. Of course they will take off if all new restaurants are opening in them. Of course they will take off when their advent kills all the other options that you can do.

People will take in what is given to them – why don’t investments in the country turn into elements that are more sustainable such as technology, industry, education, healthcare? Oh never mind – those are not as cool as a brand new flashy mall with an American food chain moving in next door.

We are slowly but surely morphing the Lebanese lifestyle into something that is pure khaleeji. Perhaps it’s high time we stop making fun of their habits because we won’t be much different soon enough. I’m not an anti-mall person. But we’re at a point where some contractor who gets the chance to do so will actually turn the area in Dbayyeh between ABC and LeMall into another mall while the entire country North of that is as dead as a brick.

I played a little game with my colleagues and friends today. I told them a new City Centre was being built and asked them to guess the area. They named Tripoli, Saida, Beirut, Batroun, Jbeil. When I told them it’s Dbayyeh, the unanimous response was: are they freaking kidding me?

I guess that’s that.

 

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Beirut Goes To Storybrooke

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While watching the newest episode of American TV Show “Once Upon a Time,” which flashbacks to the earlier days of Storybrooke, one of the characters was reading a newspaper in which former US-president Reagan is declaring something regarding the Marines in Beirut.

For those who don’t know, Once Upon a Time is a very creative and interesting show by the creators of LOST, which is one of my favorite TV shows of all time (despite the lackluster finale). It’s about every single fairytale character you could think of and how their stories intertwine as they are taken out of their world and into ours where they live in the town of Storybrooke, without any recollection of their previous lives.

Of course, the plot has definitely thickened and gone much darker since the show’s early days but it’s always interesting how they manage to weave together stories you never thought would have any relation to each other: Snow White and Hook, Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White, Jack (the one with of the beans) with Hook, Rumplestilskin and everyone else, etc….

It also offers a whole new “perspective” to the stories we grew up reading – can you imagine for a second that Snow White may have been the reason her stepmother went bad?

If you’re not watching Once Upon a Time, I highly recommend you start doing so – not because of their irrelevant mention of Beirut which lasts less than 1 second but because the show’s premise is very different from everything else out there.

Lebanon’s Mall Centralization

With the news that ABC is opening another mall in Beirut, set for a 2017 opening, it dawned on me: bureaucracy isn’t the only thing that’s centralized in Lebanon. Malls have their own centralization as well: I will call it Mall Centralization: Al Markaziye Al Malliyé.

Prior to ABC’s grand Verdun-related unveiling, CinemaCity had announced that they will be bringing their cinema experience to Beirut Souks, a souk-mall hybrid that we are all familiar with.
With that, let’s look at the total tally of malls and cinemas in Beirut and immediately around it:
– LeMall in Dbayyeh
– ABC Dbayyeh, less than 200 meters from LeMall
– CityMall, a few kilometers from ABC Dbayyeh
– ABC Achrafieh, a few kilometers from CityMall
– LeMall, Sin el Fil, a few kilometers from ABC Achrafieh
– Beirut Souks, a few kilometers from ABC Achrafieh
– ABC Verdun, a few kilometers from both Beirut Souks and ABC Achrafieh.

All of the above malls have (or will have) multiplex cinemas in them as well.

Which other Lebanese cities have malls other than Beirut? I can think of Saida and that’s mainly because it’s Mr. Hariri’s hometown. If you go North from Beirut, you will find no malls and no cinemas until Las Salinas in the North and City Complex in Tripoli, both cinemas only with the latter having a few stores here and there and both of which are nowhere near decent enough to show movies.

Tripoli is Lebanon’s second biggest city and hasn’t had any major construction projects that found their way to completion even during the periods when the city didn’t experience the clashes that take place today.

And let’s assume Tripoli is a big no-no for political reasons, despite that being downright despicable, what’s wrong in having similar development in Batroun or Jbeil? You know, something to serve those who don’t want to drive an hour in order to watch a movie to buy a shirt.

So while places like Beirut Souks ruin the idea of an old fashioned Souk and while places like ABC Achrafieh overcrowd neighborhoods that are already beyond crowded with cars and traffic, someone saw it fit to add another mall in an empty space in Beirut. Because the city absolutely needed one.

I won’t go into how malls affect negatively smaller retailers that create bustling streets and bring life to some aspects of urban life in Beirut. A metropolitan place like Beirut should have malls and such projects, there’s no denying that.

But the question is the following: What’s Lebanon’s Mall Centralization limit?

I say it’s until every single empty space in Beirut runs out.

Other places in the country don’t (and won’t have) have similar developmental projects hat would bring jobs and some economic life to arguably an entire region.

Flipping the coin of Lebanon’s mall centralization, and in broader terms the centralization of capital, economy and development, is rise in poverty and consequently extremism. But there’s no point in caring – Beirut is getting a new mall soon. The other twenty right next to it were not enough.

33 Days – A Lebanese Movie About The July 2006 War Banned At ABC Mall

Picture from the Facebook page: Stop Cultural Terrorism in Lebanon

Just as we talk about the bans and transgressions that happen with what some people refer to as “pro-Israel” entities, we cannot talk about being fair until we point out similar bans that happen on the other side.

ABC Mall’s management banned Grand Cinemas from showing 33 Days, a new Lebanese movie, starring Carmen Lebbos and Bassem Maghnieh as well as Youssef el Khal. 33 Days, which is a Lebanese-Iranian production about a Hezbollah mission to release Lebanese prisoners in Israeli prisoners during the July 2006 war.

Legally, the owners of ABC Mall have the right to allow or disallow movies from being screened at Grand Cinemas. However one cannot but wonder why they decided to ban this movie from being screened?

The movie’s producer said he does not know if it’s for a political reason. I cannot but think of political reasons for the ban, in which case shame on ABC Mall’s management for not respecting the basic freedom rights. You’re against Hezbollah? Fine. So banning a movie that talks about something Hezbollah makes you feel better? Does it make you feel like you did something worthwhile?

The only thing ABC’s management did with banning 33 Days is to make a fool out of themselves for being xenophobic inside their own country.

If there’s anything ABC’s management should have considered, apart from every logical reason that might come to person’s mind, is that you have more than 1000 Lebanese who died in the July 2006 war (You can read a story of one of the war’s victims here). Most of those 1000 people were innocent people whose only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time. We may not agree with their politics, but the least we can do is not ridicule their memory by banning a movie about the cause that led to their death.

What’s sad is that news about Lara Fabian being banned from coming to Lebanon spread like wildfire across the cyberspace. News about the movie’s ban did nothing.

The movie is being screened at other Grand Cinemas theaters in Lebanon.

Titanic 3D Released in Lebanon For ALL Audiences: Fail!

Yes, I went to watch Titanic 3D (my review) – Sue me!

The fact that the movie has become engrained in pop culture until it became nausea-inducing doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie in itself. But I don’t need to explain myself.

When I went to a screening of the movie with a friend, I never thought I’d be sitting next to two ten year old boys, in front of three twelve year old girls and behind a new mom with her two year old toddler.

Perhaps the crowd waiting at the door should have been enough to warn me of what awaited. The average age of those entering the theatre was nowhere near an acceptable range for a movie like Titanic. Since when is it acceptable to admit eight year olds to a movie with nudity, a sex scene and people dying in the dozens?

So here’s the story – the two boys next to us behaved exactly as you’d expect two prepubertal boys to behave: wolf-whistling at Kate Winslet’s breasts (we did that when we watched the movie fifteen years ago, the main difference being we were not allowed to watch it at the cinema) and as it is, they were also all over their BlackBerry and iPhone, answering phone calls, BBMing, Whatsapping – you name it. Telling them more than once to shut it wasn’t enough for them to get the hint until they decided, with about fifteen minutes to go, that they’ve wasted their day watching the movie since they obviously know the ending. Duh!

The toddler, on the other hand, decided that a three hour movie, half of which consists of flashing lights and people drowning, was more than she could handle. So she broke into a crying frenzy. Terrible twos redefined. Were the cinema personnel anywhere to be found? Absolutely not.

The girls behind us behaved as you’d expect preteen girls to act – except they were more than a decade late in fan-girling over Leo Dicaprio. But of course, the level of annoyance didn’t stop there – it had to go further when they decided that talking about their private lives was highly appropriate. One of them decided that cinema chairs are appropriate to catch up on sleep, down to the kicks we got in the back as a result.

So naturally, being so careless about social etiquette, I told them to shut up or leave. They gladly obliged.

Upon leaving Grand Cinemas, I demanded to speak with the manager  and apparently Lebanon’s General Security saw nothing in the movie that warrants limiting it to certain ages. He understood the nuisance I had to go through but he couldn’t do anything. He would be sued if he implemented an age limit. The movie was ruined, big deal. Apparently, I should have spent the entire screening going back and forth to the worker at the theatre door to ask him to come talk to the kids, despite him knowing that the screening was having such problems to begin with: some people had been asked to leave at one point for being a nuisance. So after promising my friend, who had never seen the movie, to take her to watch it, we had to spend three hours trying to act as supervisors to a bunch of kids in a movie they shouldn’t have been present in.

I really don’t get how American Reunion is 18+ and Titanic is for general audiences. I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have found this many kids in Beauty and the Beast. I actually thought we had mixed movies for a second there. Get a hint, right?

And what’s worse – what parents in their right minds would send their children alone to a movie like Titanic fully knowing what the movie contained? Oh wait, silly me – generations have changed. They must have thought their kids were mentally ready for such a movie, after all owning a smartphone the day you turn 5 is growth-inducing these days. Sorry to break it to them though, their children have the emotional range that ten year olds should have – that of a mustard seed. And their parenting skills are atrocious if they think it’s absolutely fine to send their children to such a movie unattended.

All in all, big fail on Grand Cinemas’ part, big fail on General Security’s part and an even bigger fail on some parents’ reckless neo-parenting. Welcome to Lebanon!