Fed Up With Living In A Concrete Jungle, Beirut Residents Make Their Own Green Space

beirut corniche lebanon night photo

Beirut's Corniche gives urban dwellers a chance to enjoy the sea air, but not much in the way of green. Photo: Jennifer Hattam.

Even coming from an overbuilt, traffic-clogged city of 15 million-plus people like Istanbul, Beirut was a bit of a shock. Multilane roads filled with speeding cars criss-crossed the city center, cutting one historical neighborhood off from another. The hot sun beat down on concrete as far as the eye could see. Only the Corniche, or waterfront, offered a reprieve. Sick and tired of the lack of green, some city residents gathered recently to make a little verdant patch of their own."In order to demonstrate the big change that a little greenery can make, the nongovernmental organization Green Line ... covered a part of Sassine Square with sod, potted flowers, and temporary grass. People then gathered around the greenery on blankets and enjoyed food and music," the Mideast environmental website Green Prophet wrote about the event.

Green Spaces Are 'A Basic Right'
"[Green spaces are] a basic right anyone should have in a city ... and green public spaces are nonexistent in Beirut," Dima Boulad, one of the founders of the Beirut Green Project, which organized the event, told the local newspaper The Daily Star. "People are not aware how important [green spaces] are, but they reduce pollution in the city and they reduce stress."

According to the paper, Beirut has at best 0.8 square meters of green space per capita -- way less than the World Health Organization's recommended 12 square meters. And the situation is getting worse, Newsweek reported last fall:

A recent United Nations Development Program report said that Beirut will add 300,000 new buildings in the next decade, leaving the already-crowded city with virtually no public spaces.

Even the city's largest park, the Horsh al-Sanawbar, "has been largely closed to the public since the mid-1990s," the Daily Star wrote.

Beirut's 'Secret Garden' Off-Limits
The pine forest-covered Horsh Beirut is a place "few local people have ever been able to visit... Local authorities seem afraid it will become a hideout of sorts," blogger Ginger Beirut wrote in a post late last year about trying to gain entry to "Beirut's secret garden." Rebuffed by one gardener, she eventually found one who would let her in, but lamented that the "beautifully kept grounds," a "rare refuge" from construction noise, traffic, and pollution are "to all intents and purposes, closed to the general public."

The Lebanese Green Party has also taken steps to push for green space that is neither private nor fenced off, proposing that an additional 800,000 to 2 million square meters be added to the city, Green Prophet reported last fall:

"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," said Philip Skaff, head of the Lebanese Green Party. "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."

The point seemed pretty clear at the "Green the Grey" event in Sassine Square, according to local blogger Joelle Hatem: "There was such a lovely, feel-good and relaxing ambiance in this tiny greened place. Imagine what it would be like if we actually had an inhabitable park in Beirut."

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