Beirut, 17 October 2019 - Public spaces, if planned well, can play a crucial role in bringing communities together and decrease social tension. In a country that hosts more refugees per capita (1.5 million refugees out of a population of 5.9 million) than anywhere else in the world, public spaces are a vital asset to Lebanese cities. They shape community ties in neighbourhoods and have the power to connect people and cities.
The newly renovated Mina Public Park is an example of this. The park was officially opened by UN-Habitat and the Municipality of Mina yesterday. Mina, a coastal town in Tripoli, Northern Lebanon, is the site of the ancient city of Tripolis, that dates back to the Phoenician era. It is one of Lebanon’s oldest cities, alongside Byblos, Tyre and Saida.
“The impact of the public park on the area is huge, before, it was a dump, unsafe and a place for drug abusers and pickpockets. Now the people have a safe breathing space, where they can spend their time with their families,” said Tarek Hamza, who runs Al Dekan, a shop near to the public park. Tarek added, “This is the first public space in North Lebanon accessible for physically handicapped people.”
Funded by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation, the project was implemented by UN-Habitat Lebanon, together with the Municipality of Mina. The new Mina Public Park is the biggest public land in the Union of Al Fayhaa, composed of Mina, Beddawi and Tripoli, which was destroyed seven years ago during the construction of the Pan Arab Highway.
Given its strategic location between Mina and Tripoli, in the past the space was especially vibrant and busy. The rehabilitation has produced the first inclusive public space in North Lebanon. It includes more than 4,000m2 of safe playgrounds, inclusive pathways for people who are physically disabled, tactiles for people who are visually impaired, and braille signage installed at all facilities. There are also green areas for a healthier environment, and garbage bins to keep the space clean.
In his remarks at the opening, the Mayor of Mina, Mr. Abdel Kader Alameddine, said, “Public spaces can transform our cities into a positive form and serve as a place for communities to come together and affect the well-being of citizens, including vulnerable groups, directly in the environment in which they live”. He added, “Public spaces can play a key role in the social and economic life of societies. They provide opportunities to connect, engage with the community and promote social cohesion.”
In carrying out the project, UN-Habitat Lebanon undertook a mini-profiling exercise of the Mina Municipality to identify some of the principal urban needs in the community through observation, interviews with partners, surveys with the community and the municipal council. Re-developing the public space was identified as a priority to ensure a public space that is able to cater to the diversity present in the community, and create a social space for everyone to participate and thrive in.
The Public Park has already had a positive impact on the immediate surroundings by contributing to an organic urban regeneration as residents have begun to upgrade and renovate their homes.
UN-Habitat Regional Director for the Arab States, Mr. Erfan Ali, added that this space provides an important opportunity to bring communities together, a safe place for all to meet and play, contributing to the overall social and economic fabric of the community and the safety and health of citizens.
Lebanon’s population is 89% urban, and the country continues to witness unprecedented urban growth. Decades of conflict and recurrent unrest, coupled with the absence of national and regional urban policies and strategies, and weak institutional structures, poses immense challenges to the management and implementation of sustainable urbanization.
In response, UN-Habitat Lebanon, through its comprehensive neighbourhood strategies undertakes informed and recommended interventions to improve living conditions for both host and refugee populations. This is done by a spatial and thematic phased response plan, through community stabilization, the upgrading of basic urban services, creation of public spaces, housing and improving capacity for effective governance.