Activists warn that a planned highway in Beirut will ruin what little is left of the city’s remaining green and historic spaces at the same time that tens of thousands of people are swarming streets throughout Turkey following a violent government crackdown on Gezi Park protestors.
Ashrafieh Minister of Parliament Nadim Gemayel told local press that the Fouad Boutros Highway originally designed in the 1960s is necessary to relieve congestion.
Designed half a century ago, the FB Highway would increase the number of parking spaces to 700 on either side of it and supposedly allow traffic to move more fluidly.
But activists with the Save Beirut Heritage (SBH) claim that more roads and parking is not the solution to the city’s woes. They also warn that the highway would obliterate what is left of the city’s green space.
SHB has conducted a detailed study of how the highway would impact both Ashrafieh and Hikmeh, and it doesn’t look pretty.
A relatively slow-paced environment will be transformed into a loud and fast urban environment, according to the report, and experts worry that important buildings will be destroyed as well.
Mona Fawaz, an Associate Professor of Urban Planning at American University of Beirut (AUB) told Iloubnan that the FB Highway plan is completely outdated.
“These projects maintain the mentality of the 1960’s where the car was considered the only valid mode of urban transportation in the city,” she told the paper.
“If you implement the highway now, you will be destroying one of the only remaining historic urban fabrics of the city, a heritage that can potentially bring lots of economic investments to Beirut and particularly to the handful of neighborhoods where one can still speak of some kind of heritage.”
Activists have also been pressuring the city of Beirut to allow public access to Horsh Beirut Park. Several non-violent sit-ins have taken place in order to draw greater awareness to the issue, but so far the government seems to be unconcerned about any kind of escalation.
In Turkey, similar disputes about public green space has led to a massive social protest movement as tens of thousands of people march against the government’s unnecessarily violent response to protestors who erected tents in Gezi Park to resist construction of a new mega shopping mall.
One woman has died and scores more have been injured as the government uses water cannons and tear canisters to break up a growing crowd.
Turkey has been relatively untouched by the Arab Spring protests, but society’s pent up rage has finally erupted.
Will this momentum spill over into Lebanon, where tensions are already high as a result of the ongoing Syrian conflict?