After an era of uninhibited urbanization, Lebanon’s Green Party is politicizing Beirut’s absence of “green space.” Tel Aviv has Hayarkon, Cairo has Al-Azhar, and Dubai has the Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary - all slivers of nature amidst the smog and noise that typify life in many cities. These natural enclaves are designed to offer respite from an otherwise “unnatural” environment of hot tar and glass and the endless clang of construction.
The degree to which cities incorporate parks and other public spaces into their urban plans determines residents’ well-being, while failure to prioritize nature can lead to violence. At least, this is the view of Lebanon’s Green Party head, Phillip Skaff, who hopes to add thousands of green square meters to the capital.
The Angry Green Inch
The Green Party and Lebanon’s residents are lucky to have in their midst Mr. Vladimir Djurovic, the architect who is doing Beirut’s dirty work by reclaiming every green inch possible. Even the slightest transformation, such as the Samir Kassir Memorial Garden, receives widespread acclaim, pointing perhaps to what is wrong with what used to be a city chock full of cultural wonder.
“If such a small project can get such worldwide recognition, just imagine what we could do on a larger scale,” Mr. Djurovic told The Daily Star.
“The city needs this – its people need this. When you look at every other great city in the world they have all factored in how to make the lives of its citizens more manageable, but we have, and continue to, totally ignore this.”
The Lebanese architect has been recognized by the Cityscape Architecture Review and the American Society of Landscape Architects, according to the paper, and received the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) in 2007. Committed to working around and using materials that complement a site’s existing components, Mr. Djurovic is also said to turn down projects that are too exacting.
The Green Quota
His sustainability ethos comes at a time when the Lebanese population are crying out against its dearth of what The Daily Star’s Simona Sikimic calls “greenery per capita.” She notes that the World Health Organization (WHO) calls for 40 square meters per capita but Beirut only offers its residents 0.8 square meters. Politicians such as Mr. Skaff are picking up the cue.
“This is a terrible situation and requires a radical solution. The municipality must restructure its urban planning and step in to preserve land for its inhabitants,” he told the paper.
“Even if contractors are creating more features in their own designs, if you plant a few trees only the tenants will have access. This is not the point.”
By adding 800,000 square meters to the existing two million, the Green Party’s proposal could amount to an enormous improvement if they can also produce an appropriate management plan. Both The Pine Forest and The Corniche are in terrible disrepair, according to Mr. Djurovic.
“You have to entice and attract people to a space, but Beirut’s few public spaces are dangerous and dirty. But all one needs to do is clean them up,” said Djurovic, unconvinced that this will happen easily.
“Unfortunately, there is no will to do this and all people seem to care about is making money or impressing other people when the most impressive thing one can do is have a beautiful outdoor space left as nature intended.”
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image via craigfinlay