Beirut is ill: The WHOs 'Healthy City Networks'

Public Green Space in Developping cities

The United Nations (1991) identifies that the number of people living in cities almost tripled in the world. More specifically it identifies that in developed countries the urban population doubled while in developing countries it linearly quadrupled. The main factor behind this transformation is a population boom of the 20th century coupled with the rapid economic growth which is unfortunately  associated with a decline in the share of agriculture in economic activities and increased share of the industrial and service sectors, the latter of which are mostly located  in urban areas. 

Public spaces and green spaces have many functions in a city that are important. Some of which are physical, ecological, social, provision of recreation opportunities, as well as opportunities for pedestrian circulation, provision of comfort for citizens , encouragement of natural habitats to remain in the city, as well as the reduction of noise and air pollution among others. To be able to provide these contributions, public green space needs to be planned systematically and maintained or at least protected. I believe gardens are much more than natural vegetation's in a dense urban context These spaces have a potential through which many cultural, social, economic, and political concerns, can be directed, expressed and brought forth to the public sphere.

Provision of urban green spaces has to be planned and realized together with the planning of housing, transport infrastructure, etc. In developing countries where all these planning resources are inadequate and are coupled with traffic congestion, air pollution, insufficient services such as water and electricity green spaces are regarded as less important aspects of land use.


The problem of disregarding planned green spaces in cities have been exacerbated and highlighted by the World Health Organization(WHO). Currently  the WHO has established indicators for what makes a city healthy.  These include a varying amount of issues including private green space, pollution levels, water quality etc....It specifically established a metric that links public green space  to public health with an international quota of 10  square meters per person as a benchmark for healthy cities. 

Several cities have produced the number for themselves to compare to the WHO number. Only a few Western European Cities make the cut for surface area. Not a single Middle Eastern City comes anywhere close.
The data graphed here are collected from varying sources between 2005 to 2010

City Intiatives: 
None the less cities across the world cities are taking measures to add green space, trying to meet the WHO criteria in order to be included IN THE HEALTHY CITY NETWORK 

-    In Cairo, an moderate Islamic NGO, the Aga Khan Development Network, created a new Park in the center of the city. The park was basically a gift but the land had to be expropriated by the Egyptian government. 0.04m2 PBS/person
-    In Beijing, the government planned a ring of green spaces around the city, expropriating land and trying to distribute it radically
-    In New York, the city government is teaming up with private interests to transform existing privately owned parks into publicly accessible green space. This adds up to a distributed network of greens.

Gardens in Beirut 

Beirut has even less available public green space than these examples. Only 1.8% of its surface area is green, this would have to be multiplied by 22 to arrive at the WHO indicator. The city would have to demolish  41%  of the city, and transform it into a park, in order to meet the World Health Indicator.

The Greenest Beirut has ever been was during the war, from 1982 and 1992. This is because a line divided the city--a no-man's zone where fighting occurred--which was overgrown and created a green desert landscape.  To qualify for the WHO city networks Beirut will need to demolish 41% of its existing fabric, and this is only regarding the existing urban population which is still continuously increasing.

In CITIES that value the density of their urban fabric, a green infrastructure needs to be inserted into the existing city fabric. We need to reimagine what and how we can inject public green space in such cities. Such is the case in Beirut where the urban fabric and the real estate is in such high demand for housing and other basic urban needs.We need to start dreaming of new types of public green-spaces that can be inserted into  existing congested cities.

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