Saturday, July 01, 2006

Beirut - An effort to make it a little more pedestrian-friendly

At least someone around here is making some good decisions! All over Beirut's streets, a particular type of tree is being planted on sidewalks. Not only is the tree aesthetically pleasing, but it is also brilliantly functional. Here, take a look:

Notice how the trunk is really slender, whereas the foliage spreads out like an umbrella? Of course, this is a young tree, so the folliage will expand even more. On the other hand, the trunk thickens only by a bit (I've seen a few of the adult trees). The result is a tree that does not take too much space from Beirut's already narrow sidewalks, yet provides cover to pedestrians from the sun. In other words, here you have a tree that makes Beirut at least a little more pedestrian-friendly.

Here's how a few recently-planted trees look on a streatch of sidewalk.

Now I wish to present you with a contrast. In fact, a perfect example of how good intensions can go horribly wrong!

The trees on this sidewalk were probably planted by the owners of the restuarant (that is to the left of the picture). Aesthetically, the trees could be appealing. However, in a practical sense the trees are aweful!

During the day, the only living things they protect from Beirut's scorching sun are children, pets and vermin. As for adults, the trees are so short, that they turn the sidewalk into an obstable course. Consequently, rather than making the sidewalk more pedestrian-friendly they, in this case, push adults (and tall children) onto a street that cars barely squeeze through.

Considering that the trees in the first two pictures are newer, and appear to be part of a systematic government effort, I am a bit pleased! As I said in the beginning of this entry, at least someone around here is making some good decisions!


Doha said...

Wow, Raja. Okay, so you've put an effort into analyzing the landscaping efforts in the Ras Beirut neighborhood.

By the way, I know the restaurant which has planted those tiny trees; a favorite: Ristretto.

"During the day, the only living things they protect from Beirut's scorching sun are children, pets and vermin." That made me chuckle :)

Anonymous said...

Beirut needs more trees and green spaces. The city is becoming so gray, it's depressing.

Jamal said...

Doha- I don't know about Ras Beirut, that's too wide an area. 2 of the pics here and the 2 pics in a previous post are from the Same Block.
Yalla Raja , shidd el himmeh,bay3ed shwai 3an el Wardiyeh.

Raja said...

jamal, take it easy on me man! ;-)

I'm doing my best!

Raja said...

joking aside though,

I really have seen those trees on many streets around Beirut (or rather, Ras Beirut, to be more precise).

Anonymous said...

Next step, a solution for sidewalks over-crowded with cars, and lack of parking space. Underground parking maybe?

Anonymous said...

I always felt that there was little respect for green areas all over Lebanon (consistent with common Lebanese attitudes toward wildlife), but Ras Beirut certainly is one of the more pronounced examples. Lebanon needs massive green areas in Beirut to counteract the massive citywide pollution levels. Pacing a few trees on the sidewalks will hardly scratch the surface of the problem. And besides, where will the za'im and the Saudis park their cars when they are in a hurry?

Anonymous said...

I like your series of posts on the urban tissue of Beirut.
Actually, for this post I have to partly disagree. You say those slender trees are better suited for Beirut streets- which is true. However, how high are they? it seems like once the foliage grows a bit it becomes bulkier and weighs the branches the trees probably require substantial maintenance in terms of trimming...And the trees that are near the Ristretto restaurant are probably meant to be large, as the owners would want to isolate their customers from the hustle and bustle of the street...(do they also have tables outside? I forgot?)...
But do keep those explorational posts coming :) reem

Anonymous said...

raja, great posts lately..

maybe if we focus on civic sense, the politics will follow - in the good old tradition of the polis :)

btw, there is now a programme to put parking meters everywhere in beirut. a pilot scheme wil start in solidere/downtown soon...

as you might have noticed, since a couple of years ago, there are a lot of bollards on the sidewalks, which also have been raised quite high, to discourage parking on them. unfortunately, there are no "slopes" for the handicapped or women with children to roll up or down them!!

and talking about green, i find the green "moquette" on that sidewalk in clemenceau hilarious...

Doha said...

It's funny, but in Tripoli, a couple of years back, ramps for the handicapped were built on each block of some of the main streets in the city. Let's guess what happened...people never understood what they these ramps are for, and even if they knew what they are, they went ahead and parked next to them anyways.

Ashbous said...

Beirut Municipality spent a fortune revamping pavements and preventing cars from parking over them, but most of Beirut residents prefer walking in the middle of the street. Have you guys noticed this?

Anonymous said...

"most of Beirut residents prefer walking in the middle of the street. Have you guys noticed this?"

yes, and i am one of them!
many reasons - including that even though the sidewalks are prettier now, there are way too many interceptions, from sukleen bins to recycling bins to parking entrances for every single building.
when the sidewalk is 30cm higher than it normally should be, walking down then up then down then up at every 5 meters becomes like climbing stairs!

besides, from a purely psychological pov, i love walking in the middle of the road, i feel i am king, not the car :), and i feel i am in a real middle-eastern city, i make it MY city.

(sorry, it's the urbanist in me getting carried away.)

Anonymous said...

bref, what i meant to say is that even with all the goodwill in the world, if you don't plan things properly and design them properly, you're wasting public money and fixing something while breaking another.