Closed Park Prompts Green Occupation Of Beirut

© Beirut Green Project. A temporary green space created in Beirut last year.

Horsh Beirut, the largest green space in the densely urbanized Lebanese capital, was supposed to reopen in 2002 after a 10-year reforestation effort. A decade on, it remains closed, with no real explanation.

The dearth of accessible parks in the city has brought together heritage-preservation advocates, environmental groups, a skateboarding association, and political organizations -- each of which will "occupy" one of 12 different Beirut locations this afternoon with grass, picnickers, cyclists, kite-flyers, and kids to demand the reopening of Horsh Beirut.

Dialogue About Public Space
One of these groups, the Beirut Green Project, has been leading the charge to green the city. Launched two years ago this month with a small and spontaneous street intervention, its activists have created both pop-up parks and pop-up living rooms to get people talking about the need for public space.

© Beirut Green Project. A street intervention in 2010.

While the World Health Organization recommends 12 square meters of green space per capita, Beirut has at best 0.8 square meters, and even that is at risk of getting crowded out by new development.

Debate On Reopening Horst Beirut Park
Earlier this year, the youth-led NGO Nahnoo organized a debate about the reopening of the 300,000-square-meter Horsh Beirut that included representatives of civil society as well as the local municipality. Participants challenged the government's vagueness about the park's future as well as its plan to have a private company manage the space, while members of the public floated the idea of enlisting trained students to serve as park rangers.

Activists saw the debate as heated but positive. "Being able to be in a public space with people and representatives in power, and being able to state your mind is what makes you a citizen," the Beirut Green Project wrote in a blog post about the dialogue. "It’s a way to give back to society, and we believe everyone should have a share in giving something back to his city."

Tags: Activism | Cities | Lebanon | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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