In a recent study in the UK (Psycological Science, Would You Be Happier Living in a Greener Urban Area?, April 2013) it was found the green spaces within a city have a positive and lasting effect on our mental health and Beirut is about to find out just how true this is.
The René Moawad Garden or Sanayeh Garden, as it is more commonly known, is one of the few remaining green spaces within the growing density of the expanding city but for a while it too seemed lost. When the fence went up around the public space the rumors went flying and it wasn’t long before many were convinced the garden was good and truly lost.
But much to everyone’s delight and relief this was far from the case. Enter Azadea Foundation, which was created in 2011 to work alongside NGOs and governmental agencies with the purpose of giving the city’s public parks a bit of sprucing up.
Having been around for over a century, Sanayeh Garden is located in central Beirut and at 22,000 square meters it is counted among the largest parks in the capital. But the years had taken their toll on the garden and Azadea Foundation came in at just the right time not only to restore the garden but to maintain it afterwards for a whole decade.
As part of Lebanon’s heritage the project was close to Azadea and Sanayeh Garden is only the beginning in a long term environmental program that the Foundation has planned. Fueled by a desire to give back to the community the foundation is not only restoring the green historically and culturally rich space but tweaking the design to ensure it meets everyone’s needs. Separate tracks for runners and cyclers have been integrated into the scheme and several spaces have been included alongside original features such as the fountain to provide space for a variety of activities that encourage community bonds and healthy living.
An open-air amphitheater, wall of fame, exhibition area, reading areas and not one but three children’s playgrounds, for varying ages, will be added to the garden making the garden not only greener but multifunctional. While some elements have been altered, such as the width of the promenade lanes to include more greenery, others like the large central fountain have been renovated using the original materials in order to preserve its heritage. All in the entire project is equal parts renovation and innovation, working side by side to revive and preserve the garden for many, many years to come.
The cultural activities that the René Moawad Garden will be able to host are a major part of the restoration as it will offer the public a free of charge space to gather and enjoy performances in the new amphitheater or view a photographic exhibit at the exhibition area. Touches like these have been added to make the space a cultural hub and an educational as well as recreational space that will help a more environmentally aware generation embrace similar project and make them a permanent fixture in their daily lives.
The project which is nearing completion Azadea hopes it won’t only be a source of inspiration for other green projects to pop up all over the city but for the community to steadily embrace green spaces and make them part of their lives and leisure. Not only that but Azadea Foundation ensures us that this is only the first step in a long green road to making Beirut a more balanced city in terms of its green spaces and the long term positive effects they will undoubtedly have on its residents.