Hundreds of people gathered today at the Jesuits Garden in Rmeil. Young and old, they came to express their concerns towards the projected underground parking below the garden. Children playing, people protesting against the demolition of their only public space in the neighborhood, others jamming on their musical instruments… I believe there was a positive energy today at the park, the energy of engaged citizens who refuse to remain passive towards the evolution of their city.
Why is it so hard for local governments to involve the people in the development of their own urban space? It is our public right. But instead, they lack of transparency, urban plans are never publicly published nor subject to any serious constructive debate, and they have the boldness to pretend that “there is no need to inform the public because the people are not aware of their interests, and “we” know what is best for them”. But the people know exactly what they need and for once, they took a stand. If they want a parking, give them a parking, but if they want a garden, get off of their space! But first, listen to the people. In fact, even few residents who were not against the parking project showed up today and expressed their will to have less traffic problems in the area, but though they had a different opinion, it was good, because debating about the city makes it move in a healthier way. And those voices were not against the garden, they only want solutions so give them appropriate ones. Give them decent public transport, car parkings in suitable locations on empty lots or in the abandoned Charles El Helou train station with little electrical cars and shuttles to do the connection. Give them bicycle lanes and large paved sidewalks and no one would mind walking in the city. No one would care about where to park their car because a green city is a living one. And remember, building parkings and widening roads doesn’t solve the problem on the long term. More roads always means that you are bringing in more cars.
With today’s protest, a position paper was adressed to Beirut’s Governor, Nassif Kalouch, asking to stop the parking project and protect the garden. But this is not enough. Knowing that nothing can cancel a municipal decision except another one coming from the council of ministers, I believe protestors should raise their voice to a higher level. Discourse is good but we have to take practical actions.
First, organize themselves in a comittee of local residents, workers in the area and experts. Have a copy of the project and discuss it with the municipality even if it is still a draft or in its preliminary phases to have the accurate information and thus the appropriate arguments for standing against their plan. One cannot fight a project without knowing it from A to Z.
On the other hand, in the absence of an environmental impact assessment and a traffic impact study, this issue should be raised to the ministry of environment who is eligible to put the project on hold in the absence of such important documents. Same goes to the ministry of culture who is responsible of the 4th century byzantine ruins and mosaics that are present in the garden. Merging efforts with the General Directorate of Antiquities (DGA) is necessary at this stage.
And in the meanwhile, how about living the garden. Not only walking it’s alleyways or sitting on a bench. Let’s organize public events: photo exhibitions, art installations, concerts and jam sessions, painting workshops and symposium, fairs, outdoor film screenings, cultural events in collaboration with the public library of the garden… Ideas are many, we just need to be committed and put them in action.
Let the Jesuits Garden be a start of more effective citizens’ involvement in debating the evolution of the city. Our city.
To know more about the Jesuits garden, read previous post: PARC(king) des Jésuites