BEIRUT: The mayor of Beirut Wednesday launched the green “Beirut is Amazing” campaign, which will see the renovation of some of the few existing green spaces in the capital and the construction of some new areas.
Currently there are 0.8 square meters of green space per resident of Beirut, roughly 2 million people. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 40 square meters per head.
Speaking Wednesday at the Beirut Municipality building, Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad introduced the project, which he said would see the capital regain some of its former beauty, when it was once a “gem in the Middle East.”
In a series of partnerships with the private sector, some on a voluntary basis, a series of studies have been conducted at various gardens across the capital, with the aim of recommending how they can best be renovated.
Works on some of the capital’s gardens, including Sanayeh Garden, Beirut’s largest public space, are set to begin soon.
After a history of conflict and mismanaged urban construction, Hamad said, much of Beirut has turned into a cement city, with little regard for aesthetics or planned architecture.
The Amazing Beirut campaign will see green spaces and islands renovated and maintained – work on this has already begun in Corniche al-Mazraa – and certain gardens re-landscaped, so that they can become “havens for interaction” and increase the total number of green spaces in the capital.
Acknowledging it was an “ambitious project,” Hamad called for further cooperation and partnerships with the private sector, inviting companies to “adopt” gardens.
“This great, ambitious project cannot be achieved without everyone contributing to bring back this image of beautiful and green Beirut,” the mayor said.
At Sanayeh, which was originally built in 1907, studies have been undertaken by engineer Zeina Majdalani and the Azadea company. With little infrastructure or lighting, dilapidated toilets, and the haphazard planting of trees, works, set to begin next month, will see the creation of a children’s play area, reading spots, and an exhibition space.
More trees will also be added, as will a running track, Hamad said, and the fountain will be repaired.
Public gardens, he said, should not just be for elderly residents to enjoy.
“In Europe all ages go there: women, children and young people. By re-landscaping them we want to make them attractive to all groups, a place for interaction,” he said, adding that Beirutis used to gather in such squares, which no longer exist.
Sioufi garden in Ashrafieh will also benefit from a makeover, once studies are completed. It will be fitted with a small stage, to “encourage local Lebanese talents,” and a small duck pond will be constructed.
The St. Nicolas garden, also in Ashrafieh, will be renovated, and its fences removed to allow it to “become part of the street. And the people will be part of it.”
Hamad also discussed plans for the Hippodrome, which currently houses the horse racing track. The undeveloped section of the park, he said, will become the “Beirut Central Park,” and the stables and seating will be renovated.
Currently, only a small section of society, namely horse-race enthusiasts, is acquainted with the park, and consequently, “Some people have never discovered this haven.”
The Ile de France municipality has helped construct a master plan for the redevelopment of the Hippodrome, which will also see the creation of an amphitheater, and an area for equestrian sports. In one year, Hamad added, studies should be fully completed and work should be set to begin.
He discussed less concrete plans to turn the Cite Sportive stadium in Tariq al-Jadideh into a sports center for the public, which would include running tracks and areas for various sports, and a public library and wedding arena.
Critics, he said, have accused the municipality of being a “Solidere part II,” in reference to the company responsible for the rapid development of Downtown Beirut, but, he insisted, “there will be no stores, nothing commercial, we will make it a public space.”
“Our aim is that all the land that is owned by the municipality will be opened to the people of Beirut,” he said.
But in answer to a question on Horsh Beirut, which accounts for 77 percent of all open space in the city but is only open to those over 35 and in possession of a permit, Hamad said more studies were required to ready the park for public entrance.
There are fears, he said, that should this “heaven in the middle of Beirut,” be opened to all, immediately, it would not be properly preserved.
The decision to set the minimum age at 35, which was taken by a previous municipality, was an “ugly” one, Hamad said, and he disagreed with the exclusivity of the park. But, he added, “We are still thinking about how best to manage the Horsh.”
“Eventually it will be reopened to the people, but let us finish our studies,” he added. “We’re in no hurry.”
A coalition of 12 nongovernmental organizations have organized a “picnic festival” this coming Saturday at 13 different locations around the city to campaign for the reopening of the park, which has been closed now for over 20 years.