The destruction of gardens and orchards
Here follows a text by landscape architect Jala Makhzoumi, about the typology of gardens that can be found on the Hekmeh-Mar Mikhayel neighborhoods :
The Beiruti garden is a replica of the village domestic garden, the hakura, which is a combination orchard, herb and pleasure garden. A rapid survey of the the domestic gardens in the Hekmeh area demonstrates that they are typically Beiruti, combining productivity and pleasure. Garden productivity is ensured by the dominance of fruit trees (citrus حمضيات, loquat أكي دنيا, sycamorefig جميز) and invariably a vine pergola (عريش). Ornamental woody plants were equally valued (plumeriaفتنه, jacaranda, oleander دفله, hibiscusجمال ) as were scented climbers (jasmine ياسمين)and shrubs (Queen of the night كولونيا,Jasminumsambacفل). A common inclusion are evergreen trees (cypress شربين) and later the introduced evergreen fig trees which now dominates the city streets. At the center is the ever present water features (بركه) that served to store irrigation water from the well. Unlike the present conception of garden that is dominated with an open, empty space, the traditional Beiruti garden like the village hakura was ‘full’ packed with trees. Another characteristic is the diversity of species was valued rather than uniformity that is now favored. The call to protect the houses in the Hekmeh neighborhood is a rare opportunity to preserve samples of the Beiruit garden that has all by disappeared from the city.
Jala Makhzoumi, Landscape architect
The highway project “Hekmeh-Turk” axis (Fouad Boutros road) will cause the demolition of about 10 000sqm of these greens areas, gardens and orchards. Contrary to what Elie Helou, chief engineer at the CDR, who, to justify the abscence of an environmental impact study, said that “the flora and fauna are virtually nonexistent. There are few trees in the area, no water tables”. Let him visit the neighborhood and check for himself…
The following photographic survey lists most (but not all) of the gardens that will be destroyed.
Landscaping the highway?
Faced with the visual disaster that this project will be, the municipality and CDR are trying to convince people that the project will be “green” and to make them forget the many trees and green spaces losts. By showing the following “landscape plan” :
The trees shown in the central part of the project will be “planted” on top of the tunnel. Which means they will be planted on top of a concrete slab. Trees planted on a layer of soil, on top of a concrete slab, are bound to be small and meager, as they have no space to spread their roots. They will also require constant watering and maintenance, especially in the hot weather of Beirut. They will die quickly and will need to be replaced before reaching an advanced age. These meager trees will never replace the century-old trees that will be uprooted in the gardens and orchards. It is a joke and mockery to pretend they can be replaced in this way. As for the few trees placed in the middle of roundabouts and crossroads, they are residual spaces that have no value, that cannot be reached or practiced in any way. And what is the worth of a few poor trees surrounded by asphalt?
Pollution and impact on public health
Cars cause air and sound pollution. Highways cause massive car flows. Hence, highways cause massive air and noise pollution and the Fouad Boutros highway will be no exception to this rule. A massive pollution which will, furthermore, happen in the middle of a residential neighborhood, dramatically affecting its inhabitants.
The impact of pollution will be particularly important because, contrary to the international norms of highway building, there will be no real set back between the highway and residential buildings. The highway will run sometimes inches away from buildings, under their balconies and windows. A noise and air pollution that will not only happen along the axis of the highway but also to a certain extent along the streets that will lead to the highway and will thus be congested.
The points where this pollution will be the worst are at the entrances and exists of the tunnel. Because the car fumes and gazes gather in the tunnel, become concentrated and are evacuated at both ends. According to international norms, it is forbidden to build residential buildings at the entrances and exits of tunnels.
Whereas here, the tunnel is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, which furthermore contains many educational, religious, health and academic institutions.
On one end, it throws out its fumes directly against dwellings, in front of the St-Joseph Church and the Maronite Archbishopric and closeby to the Collège de La Sagesse School.
On the other end, it opens right where the Orchard used to be, in the middle of a residential city block. Here the pollution will be the worst, because the city block will act as a closed ring and will retain the fumes within it.
This pollution will be a real danger to public health that will be even more prominent because of the close proximity of the highway to residential buildings. It will cause a drastic degradation of air quality and increase the risks of lung cancer. A group of doctors and health experts say that :
There’s a solid body of scientific evidence and an uncontested compendium of independent, multi-prone, multi-year studies […] all pointing out to the same evident conclusion. Building a highway even within 100 meters of residential areas will dramatically and unequivocally cause a significant increase in respiratory cancers due to the overwhelming amount of toxic particle emotions inhaled by the local inhabitance in all age groups. It is beyond belief and some may say even borderline criminal that any governmental agency or contractor will even consider building a highway within only a few meters away from existing residential structures. Nogenics
Not only will the project cause the destruction of gardens, orchards, century-old trees and groves, that are a garantee of air quality and wellbeing. But it will replace those by a congested, noisy and polluted highway which will degrade the environement and be a cause of lung cancer….