INTERVIEW WITH UN-HABITAT ON PUBLIC SPACES
GAME’s campaign “Looking for a Place to Dream” is running these months. In this context, GAME visited UN-Habitat Lebanon to attain more knowledge about the controversial topic “public space in Lebanon”. In Lebanon, there is a great lack of public spaces, especially in Beirut where public spaces only make up 0.5 % of the city. In order to create awareness about the issue, GAME has started the campaign ‘Looking for a Place to Dream’.
UN-Habitat Lebanon is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable cities in Lebanon with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Since 2006, UN-Habitat has been present in Lebanon and has been advocating for more public spaces for the people of Lebanon.
Not just a green area
Even though it may seem pretty straightforward, it is necessary to clarify what the concept of ‘public spaces’ actually means. According to Mr. Samer Chinder, Area Coordinator in UN-Habitat, people tend only to think of public spaces as fenced parks. But actually, public spaces are a lot more than that;
“So, often people think it is just a park or a garden that is usually fenced. But a public space can range from parks, to streets, the pavements etc. Any empty lot owned by the municipality or the government itself. All of the waterfront. Some part of the nature of course. It is every open space that belongs to everyone. It is something the citizens pay taxes for”.
You may think, what are then the consequences of this low percent of public space? Well, according to Mr. Chinder public spaces are essential for the cohesion of a society”. If you consider an open space, for instance the Corniche in Beirut, it is the only place where people from all economic groups can go free of charge”. We therefore need such spaces to meet across differences and to promote a better understanding for our fellow citizens. Mr. Chinder continues;
“If you go to the Lebanese villages you have what is called “sa7at al-day3a” which means the main plaza in the village. It is the main place of gathering, of events, and of cultural and family events in the village itself. Here you will have all the funerals, marriages, concerts, festivals etc. In Beirut all of that is privatised. If you want to gather in some way, you will have to pay to have access to such a space. It is the same for Tripoli, for Saida, for Tyre etc. It will be behind closed doors, inside private property and just for some people, not for everyone”.
Changing people’s mindset
If the need of more public spaces is so present, why don’t people claim their rights of more public spaces to be opened? Ms. Mariam Nazzal, Social Development Coordinator in UN-Habitat Lebanon explains it in this way; “There is a lack of awareness about how to use public spaces. There was a war. You know, many Lebanese people are living in a situation where they are always searching to cover the main needs. Their right of having public spaces is therefore not present in their mind.”
In order to change people’s mind-set about public spaces, it is according to Ms. Nazzal necessary to raise awareness about the use of public spaces and the purpose of public spaces. To this, Mr. Chinder contributes; “We have to raise awareness about the use of public spaces and the purpose of public spaces. We must generate a culture about using public spaces. Right now, we rarely see a Lebanese family staying in a public garden, but we do see refugees that have the culture of gathering in the public space. In Syria there are a lot of public spaces that people use regularly. Hopefully we will gain a lot from that behaviour so the mindset among the Lebanese people will change. That would be a big gain, actually”.
The goal for 2030
To accommodate the need for public spaces in Lebanon, UN-Habitat Lebanon has the goal of creating enough public space for all citizens in urban Lebanese areas by 2030. According to Mr. Chinder the goal is achievable, but must be taken step by step;
“In the big cities, we are lacking a lot. I think in Beirut we have about 5-6 % and that is when counting the Corniche, Horsh Beirut (which are still being closed in the night time) and even the AUB campus and the University of Beirut is counted in. All of them are big green areas but they are not well divided within the city. And not everyone has access. Especially in terms of the walking distance. It is recommended that the perfect walking distance is five minutes, but for Beirut and the bigger cities 15 minutes is also okay, as we must go step by step”, Mr. Chinder says.
GAME Lebanon shares UN-Habitat’s goal and advocates for free access to public spaces to play sport. In a collaboration, UN-Habitat and GAME Lebanon have together opened a new GAME Zone in Tripoli. Sport is an important part of every girl’s and boy’s, woman’s and man’s everyday-life, and free access to sport facilities should not be questioned at all. The campaign “Looking for a Place to Dream” will help to raise the awareness in the public about the importance of finding more public places for sport.
If you are interested in learning more about the campaign, please visit the “Looking for a Place to Dream” campaign site on Facebook and download the app “GAME Dream”.