Venice Biennale 2012

pictogram of my visit to the Biennale last september. the theme this year was common ground, a rather vague subject in a time where architecture is called for broadcasting more engaged agendas vis-a-vis contemporary challenges.
interesting exhibits revolved around cool objects and fabrication ( Zaha, H&M, Alvar Alto\Finnish Pavilion, Pavilion of Nordic Countries, 1-1 details exhibit);  Media ( Norman Foster, David Chipperfield), Environment ( Icelandic Pavilion), Geography ( opening exhibit), Reinterpretation of the Campo Di Marzio, and some social agendas ( housing, urban agriculture).


The Right to Nature

Nature has always been a luxury in Beirut. Landscaped spaces of the BCD require high-maintenance, the Beirut Pine Park is closed off the commoners for fear of vandalism, small gardens here and there lack the generous green lawns to picnic or nap on.
Yet in Beirut, every empty plot, public or private, is open to building rather than greening speculations. 
Land owned by the municipality/state give rise to governmental building developments rather than urban parks.

It is no secret that the key to a healthy urban life is to have easy, walkable access to recreational public green space, among other amenities. 
In order to make an impact, such green space needs to be at the scale of the city, and not only at the size of small neighborhoods.  Take the central park in New York, the Emerald Necklace in Boston, and the Gold Gate Park in San Francisco, and the urban parks of Berlin, Rio, Paris as an example. Take the numerous riverside promenades and even the smaller creeks green walks in different cities across the globe. They are essential to the healthy functioning of their cities and people.

On the other hand, the difference with cities like Mumbai, Cairo, and Beirut is the deliberate indifference of decisions makers to such need, resulting in cities with no "lungs" to breathe, an omnipresent crowdedness, and no alternation between noise/silence,  concrete/ green, stress/ relaxation.

below: Aerial photo of a Cairo district. © Michael Poliza Photography
above: The Tiengarten Park in Berlin.

Beirut's small gardens cannot fulfill the existing blatant need. To recognize this priority and work for it is strategic in order to transform Beirut from a hard concrete jungle into a more humane environment. 
This urban transformation will directly impact the well-being, mental health, and character of its citizens, and will  lead to a physical and social evolution/revolution of how we perceive and experience the city.

Such issue is- as eloquently put by the french architect Claude Parent in this Paris' suburb poster ( above image), a source for bottom up urban activism to counter governmental lack of action.


amazing beirut

Beirut Cityscape. Source: Green prophet.

amazing beirut is a new project by the beirut municipality aiming to pump up the green in the grey goo that is Beirut. According to the project's director, Nadim Abu Risk, the main strategy to achieve this target is to rehabilitate existing spaces like public gardens, roundabouts and sideroads.
In this Orient le Jour article, he says:
«L’un des principaux axes sur lequel nous travaillons est la réhabilitation et l’aménagement d’espaces verts, explique M. Abourizk. Si l’on fait un bilan de la situation à Beyrouth, nous constatons qu’il y a des routes, du trafic, de la pollution, des zones délabrées et des espaces verts en déclin. Ces espaces verts sont les jardins publics, les terre-pleins routiers (comme ceux de Ramlet el-Baïda), et les îlots de verdure (type rond-point).»
«Le projet Amazing Beirut vise à réaliser différents objectifs, ajoute-t-il. Promouvoir la conscience environnementale de la population pour rendre les modes de vie plus responsables, augmenter la superficie d’espaces verts et améliorer la qualité de ceux déjà existants, et améliorer les capacités de la municipalité en matière de Partenariats privé-public (PPP).»

In order to achieve a green Beirut i would argue that the strategy should be to aggressively acquire and convert the last open spaces in Beirut to green urban parks- using PPP( public private partnerships), rather than just rehabilitate the few micro-parcels the city already has .
To establish a green consciousness among citizens is to give them significant green space for their recreation, and to install among them this culture to go to an urban park to relax.

Are roundabouts and sideroads and existing gardens spaces of relaxation/recreation? I doubt that.
Such gardens are so tiny one can still hear the horns and inhale the CO2 emissions of the nearby road. One cannot even start a 5mn walk due to the small size of these garden. and these gardens' catchment area will definitely not expand after rehabilitation.

Looking at the 0.8% percentage of green m2 per person in Beirut ( we really have this much?), The municipality should get Beirut  new urban parks of consistent size, to be rightly called its green lungs.
Why not use the railyards of Abed and Mar Mikhael Station as temporary urban parks? Why not rehabilitate the sewer that is Nahr Beirut to a green corridor? What about Horsh Beirut that remains closed to locals but open to tourists? 

Mar Mikhael Railyard.courtesy of author
Mar Mikhael as Urban Park- FYP Proposal.courtesy of author

Nahr Beirut Waterfront. courtesy of author
Wetland Park at the Waterfront. [Trans]forming Nahr Beirut. courtesy of author
Nahr Beirut at Bourj Hammoud.[Trans]forming Nahr Beirut. courtesy of author

It is not enough to talk about rehabilitating Beirut's tiny little gardens in order to improve the current situation. We need drastic measures, at the scale of the city. We need campaigns to pump up environmental consciousness and behavior.We need pedestrian mobility and less car-centered streets.
The way the municipality is approaching the issue, the "amazing beirut" project is way too shy to be relevant. its outcome will certainly remain far from fulfilling Beirutis' deprivation of public green space. its honorable intentions  are not coming with the right scale of action that is much needed.


olympic cities

As it has been historical proven, the olympics is a global branding urban project with long-term economic, social, and environmental consequences. it is noteworthy to read this archdaily article on the subject, how NOT to host the olympics
olympic cities report. via XML
In this other article, it is interesting to look at olympic bidding as a major form of projective city planning, and at some snippets of the Olympic Cities Report, prepared by XML. I am looking forward to read more.

XML has completed a comparative study on Olympic candidatures commissioned by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and Atelier Making Projects. The study placed Dutch aspirations to host the 2028 Olympic Games in an international perspective by comparing the various bids by Madrid, Istanbul, Doha and Tokyo for the 2020 Games and the South African bid for the 2024 Games. Furthermore, XML developed three models for a possible Dutch bid for the 2028 Games. On the eve of the London Olympics, the two parts of this study are combined in the publication 'Olympic Cities: the Netherlands as Game Changer.'