THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE

Lebanon 2015 | ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT | FOCUS: GREEN SPACES

The Beirut Municipality has launched the “Beirut is Amazing" campaign, created to invite all independent organizations, private companies, and educational institutions interested in developing green spaces to collaborate with the municipality.

THE DAMASCUS ROAD PROJECT

The route along Damascus Road to downtown Beirut—now crowded with cars rather than trees, littered with narrow, broken sidewalks and surrounded by constriction sites—is to be transformed into a green and pedestrian-friendly walkway. The project, undertaken by Lebanese architect Habib Debs and Beirut's Municipality, has been backed up by studies conducted in Ile-de-France surrounding Paris. Its design report supplies dream-like digital renderings of a path from Horsh Beirut all the way to downtown, with verdant promenades, bike lanes, and only a one-way road dedicated to the city traffic. The reconstruction of Damascus Road, alongside other municipality-backed projects, constitute small but important steps towards reconnecting Beirut to the environment.

THE BEIRUT IS AMAZING CAMPAIGN

In 2012, in efforts to revive Beirut's greenery, The Beirut Municipality launched the Beirut is Amazing campaign. The initiative was created with the idea of inviting all independent organizations, private companies. and educational institutions interested in developing green spaces to work together with the municipality in adopting public gardens and parks. The Beirut is Amazing campaign consists of three parts, the first and the biggest being the complete rehabilitation of the major public gardens in Beirut. In a city overgrown with concrete, more parks are a necessity.

The boost in efforts to turn Beirut into a green city is partly due to Mayor Bilal Hamad's presence among both the municipal administration and lobbyists. As the president of the Municipal Council of Beirut, and an AUB's professor, Mayor Hamad has led the adoption of numerous environment-oriented projects. As he says, “the environment is a very important issue for Beirut, where the ratio of green space per capita is the lowest in the region." Beirut has merely 0.8sqm of green space per capita, when the minimum number should not be smaller than 9sqm per person, according to standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO). As Lebanon's capital is far below average as far as environmentally friendly urban planning is concerned, the Municipality's solution began with the rehabilitation of existing green spaces, such as Sanayeh, Sioufi, and Karantina gardens. The second part of the campaign aims at the repair and upkeep of the city's smaller parks and includes fixing broken toilets, mending benches, and adding water systems to fountains. But in terms of creating a truly environmental friendly city, these smaller initiatives barely make a dent—more big steps such as the Damascus Road project are needed to step closer to meeting the international standards.

While developing a map of green spaces in Beirut, architect Habib Debs pointed out their uneven distribution in the city's peripheries. The gardens in academic institutions such as AUB and ESA dominate the city's “green map," Ashrafieh, Geitawi, and Hamra enjoy splotches of green, while Tariq al-Jadideh, Moseitbeh, and Mazraa areas are shaded gray. As the municipality owns several small parcels of land in these areas, there is an opportunity to develop more eco-friendly neighborhoods in the future.

New public parks are also being proposed within the old train stations of Mar Mikhael and Sin el Fil. The old railway line could serve as a potential pedestrian walkway through the city. The aim of these plans is to encourage links between public places and eventually create a “green network" in Beirut. Nonetheless, Lebanon remains a country where private initiatives give more effective results, and in that sense the role of PPPs is tremendous. Another reason for opening up to the private sector is budgetary: the Municipality has, like most of Lebanon state institutions, limited resources to spare, therefore eco-friendly opportunities lay in private and public sector cooperation.

The trust in PPPs is the reason why the final part the Beirut is Amazing campaign is the adoption of roadside islands and roundabouts by private companies under the supervision of the municipality. In return of the commitment to maintaining them for a certain period of time, the company then receives a plaque applauding its efforts. This part is already in implementation, as it is evident by the few green roundabouts with companies' logos spotted around the city.