Another public park is at risk. That statement alone is not entirely accurate seeing that we don’t have that many parks at risk because we don’t actually have that many parks. The Jesuit Garden, which is located in the Rmeil district of Ashrafieh, Beirut is now on the Endangered Species list when it comes to our city’s urban development. The garden, along with various other parts of Ashrafieh (Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhael, Sursock), is being leveled and converted into a parking lot.
The problem with the Geitawi area is the existing parking lots were dug up and carved out to serve as foundations for the new buildings that have popped up. As a result, the severe lack of parking spots in the already-tight-squeeze-streets has a lot of the neighborhood’s residents and visitors left with nowhere to safely park – or nowhere they can park without losing a side mirror every 2 weeks. I’ve lost 3 in the last 10 months and I don’t even live there. Those responsible for this decision claim that a new park will replace the old one, while parking will be underground. First of all, no one believes that because we’ve never seen any construction project do anything remotely GREEN or beneficial for public space. Second of all, how does that even work? The construction of the parking lot alone would be a major hassle in a place that barely has room for the passage of a Picanto i10 – by the time it’s finished, they’ll ditch the green plans and assume everyone who complained has moved on anyway.
The Jesuit Garden is a place where most senior citizens have their morning sobhiyyehs (friendly rendezvous usually involving gossip) and take their grandkids to play; it is a small quaint park in the middle of Geitawi, the area that is home to Oceanus, St. Georges Hospital, and those old guys that sit on wicker chairs on the sidewalk and argue about…anything. Not too long ago, the Beirut Green Project, the movement responsible for a Green Your Lunch Break initiative where people would go have lunch on an installed piece of grass, joined forces with Paint Up, the colorful crew that’s painting Beirut. They painted the benches of the Jesuit Garden giving it a facelift and revitalizing the spirit of a forgotten little Eden. Check out the photos here taken by Nadim Kamel. Unknown to most, the garden also has a small yet rich French & English public library affiliated with Assabil – The Friends of Public Libraries.
Beirut Green Project is organizing a protest this Saturday. Although the issue of parking in Geitawi is important and cannot be ignored, a solution that creates another problem is not a solution. This is like placing a band-aid on a deep cut that requires stitches; it will only leave a nasty scar on the character of our city. I don’t think that the protest is about the Jesuit Garden alone or in particular, it is about the principle of this demolition. We cannot keep letting these projects destroy what little spaces are left to the public even if they are claimed to be done in the service of the public. We need better solutions for our urban planning disasters but until these sprout from the ground, we need to save what’s still left on this one.
So the question is: to park or not to park?