After a lunchtime interview with the ebullient Phillipe Skaff, head of Lebanon’s Green Party (his lunch consisted of two Montecristos) I was handed images of the exciting ‘Green River Project’.
The idea that Beirut has lacked green spaces as much as it still lacks centralized planning and development strategies is nothing new, but Mr Skaff has decided enough is enough.
The 10-year plan to turn the 8.5km of Beirut’s ‘river’ into a conservation area containing parks, nature reserves, bike-paths, sports facilities, cafes and verdant boulevards is ambitious, but Mr Skaff believes all parties and peoples will benefit from better use of what is for most of the year a dumping ground.
Real estate space will be sold either side of the river’s length, allowing developers to build in an environmentally responsible way, as well as generating the initial capital to make this an entirely privately funded project.
Around 600,000 people live in the areas surrounding the river from Hazmieh to Qarantina, and Skaff hopes to build a high-speed electric train to take commuters along the project’s span.
I am not so naive as to suggest this project is close to becoming a reality. If nothing else, it spans seven municipalities, so getting each to agree to give up land which they themselves own might by tricky, to say the least.
Skaff has been lobbying lawmakers and plans to get people on the ground enthusiastic and passionate about the project, forcing real decision makers into a pincer movement of acceptance. Even if money talks in construction, they will find the privately funded project profitable. I can’t see any insurmountable objections to what could become a green haven in grey Beirut.