“The flora and fauna are virtually nonexistent. There are a few trees in the area, no water tables.” This is what the lead government engineer on the Boutros road project told me when asked why no environmental impact study had been made before the state decided to tear apart one of Beirut’s greenest neighborhoods to build a series of highway overpasses.You can read my full report on the $75 million project this week in The Daily Star. (Update: rally to stop the project this Saturday March 1st)Opponents have launched a number of arguments against the 1960s era Boutros road plan, saying it is outdated, wasteful, inefficient and destructive to heritage buildings, and have proposed a park instead.
I visited the area after interviewing the government engineer and his words kept repeating in my head.
“The flora and fauna are virutally nonexistent. There are few trees in the area…We have not found any good elements to worry about in terms of environmental impact. “
But in reality, the neighborhood is one of Beirut’s greenest. It contains a rare terraced orchard, one of the capital’s last surviving farms, hidden behind a row of triple window Levantine mansions on Armenia street in Mar Mikhael:
Among its rows of olive and acadini trees is a giant berry bush:
…which provides an umbrella of shade about 30 feet in diameter:
Still standing in the middle of the orchard is what appears to be an old stone farm house:
Here are some more of the trees on the orchard, which is across the street from the EDL building:
Among them is a giant oak, right:
Activists say the orchard is ideal for a park that would exhibit the capital’s agricultural heritage…
In a place where centuries-old farming traditions are still carried out today:
Who knows how old these walls are?
There are plenty of other green spaces in the narrow streets above the orchard in the neighborhood known as Hikme:
Like this massive pine right, which towers over the 19th and early 20th century homes, which will all be torn down to make way for the road.
There is also an old banyan tree behind this one-story home (slated for demolition), which activists say could be one of the city’s oldest:
The only other place I’ve seen banyans is near the American University of Beirut and Lebanese American University, both established in the late 19th century by American missionaries, who planted them.
I wonder if they passed by the Hikme neighborhood as well:
There are so many other green nooks and crannies in the area–all are slated for demolition:
…but who needs an environmental assessment?
UPDATE 2/28/14: The project has been delayed since this post was first published but now plans are back on the table. There is a rally this Saturday March 1st to oppose it.