|The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: The Beirut municipality’s plan to tear up Jesuit Garden in Ashrafieh to build an underground parking complex has outraged local residents and preservation activists who are gearing up to fight the project. Jihad Kiame, an architect and urban planner who also happens to live next to the park, said surveyors with heavy equipment showed up around 6:30 a.m. Friday to take soil samples. Local residents who saw what was happening protested, he said, and eventually officials from the Directorate General of Antiquities, which falls under the Culture Ministry and should be consulted on any construction that might affect sites of historical importance, arrived and confronted the team.
Neither the Culture Ministry nor municipal council officials could be reached for comment Sunday. The company that has reportedly been contracted to design the parking complex is Team International Engineering and Management Consultants.
“The new generation is looking for much more transparency in the process of deciding anything having to do with public spaces,” said Kiame, who said he often takes his small daughter to the park on weekends.
The plot, which includes towering cypress trees and a playground, was donated by the Jesuit order to the city in the 1960s to serve as a public park.
“This place is very much appreciated by people of all ages,” he added.
The municipality has promised to replant a garden on ground level once the underground parking is complete, but activists argue that the large trees, some of them decades old, are irreplaceable. Others question the municipality’s stated motives of reducing traffic and boosting local businesses by providing parking. Local media reports indicate the municipality is planning on selling the spaces for thousands of dollars per square meter.
Activists have called for a sit-in Saturday at 4 p.m. in the garden to protest against its demolition.