Plenty according to Walid Jumblat, who responded to the uproar this week over the municipality’s multiple plans to tear up green spaces across town.
Jumblatt, one of Lebanon’s most prominent politicians, said Beirut was steadily becoming a “grotesque unorganized complex of skyscrapers that cuts off the air and light from neighborhoods which symbolize the city’s heritage and history.”
“The Beirut Municipality, which has enormous financial resources, can appropriate several endangered historical properties and save it from the greed of real estate owners.”
Jumblat’s remarks come as the municipal council has been taking heat in the press for launching plans to bulldoze through one of the city’s greenest neighborhoods to build series of overpasses. Another project sees one of Ashrafieh’s only parks torn down a park to build a parking lot.
In both cases, the council claims such projects are imperative to ease traffic flow and that final plans envision green spaces on top. But it has refused to release any documents or hard numbers related to the projects and their purported green spaces, leading activists to cast doubt, alleging that the costly projects could make traffic even worse.
And they are not alone. I spoke to several urban planners, architects and traffic experts for my piece on the Boutros road last week in The Daily Star and they say Beirut needs to reduce the number of cars and focus on public transport solutions. More roads will bring more traffic, they explained.
When asked about this, the lead government engineer on the Boutros road replied by telling me public transport for Beirut could cost up to $800 million–and that would be like “comparing apples and oranges” with the $75 million Boutros road project.
But considering the vast wealth Jumblatt speaks of, does the Beirut municipality not have that kind of money?
How much does the municipality have anyway? And why can’t it use those funds to invest in more sustainable solutions to traffic management that don’t require tearing up the city’s few remaining green and heritage spaces?
Does anyone know if the municipality’s budget is public?