BEIRUT: The complaint, as common as a winter cold, is familiar: There are no green spaces in Beirut. The assertion, made in the shadow of concrete high-rises and within earshot of the ever-present aural strains of yet more rebar being lifted to the heavens, seems irrefutable. Yet some of Beirut’s must active public space campaigners have chosen to do something other than just gripe about the deficiency of public parks.
Instead the Beirut Green Project has teamed up with the Wonder 8 design agency to bring the capital’s inhabitants the Beirut Green Guide, a Web-based interactive map of the public spaces that do exist in the city. So far, they’ve tracked down and listed 22.
The hope is that by highlighting the presence of these spaces, people will start using them, Rana Boukarim, a member of the Beirut Green Project collective, told The Daily Star at the group’s launch Thursday at Tawlet restaurant in Mar Mikhael.
Boukarim said that in addition to the online guide, there is an exhibition at Tawlet featuring pictures and information about the parks that will remain in-situ for a month, alerting visitors and diners to the guide’s presence.
The BGG initiative, found at www.beirutgreenguide.com, is certainly laudable and much of the information provided is helpful, although the site, still in its Beta version, is not yet especially easy to use.
To reach the map from the site’s homepage, one needs to click on the “Let’s go” button. It’s a large button, but only a very small part of it (just above the words at its center) actually activates access to the map.
On the simple graphic of Beirut that appears, the parks are clearly signified with orange markers. Be careful though, overzealous zooming out to see all the locations may frustratingly take you out of Beirut and land you continents away. It should be noted that only public spaces in Lebanon’s capital are demarcated.
Clicking on any of the markers brings up a description of the public space in question, including an image.
For most, the park’s square area, number of entrances and number of benches is provided. A simple graphic also makes clear what facilities are available – wifi, a children’s play area, public restrooms – and whether or not dogs are permitted.
There are also fun “Did you know?” facts offered for each space.
Did you know that the Children’s Garden near Horsh Beirut used to be called The Garden of Children and Pines, but that the pines met a rather unfortunate demise during the war? And did you know that at the Rene Moawad Garden in Sanayeh there is a Turkish-style lavatory?
A narrative description is also provided, although some are more detailed than others and as yet not all have been translated into Arabic. In these narratives, you’ll find helpful information – for instance, the BGG points out that Walid Eido Garden features a lot of stairs and so is not best suited as a children’s play area.
In other cases though, what might be considered the most pertinent piece of information – such as the fact that the garden is currently under renovation, as is the case with Rene Moawad – is buried deep in the description.
One of the best features of the website is that anyone can add to the guide by submitting either details of new public spaces or adding to the information on those already listed.
The Beirut Green Project intends to produce a print edition of the guide next year to be distributed in public schools, hotels and to non-governmental organizations. Fundraising for this phase of the initiative is ongoing.