We stepped over some dog excrements on the sidewalk, passed through a gate and landed in an oasis of green in the heart of Beirut, Sioufi Garden. My parents, who witnessed a green pre civil war Beirut before the construction frenzy, were desolated by the poor maintenance of the garden and the chaotic surroundings. I on the other hand, born just about when the war was ending, only know the grey Beirut and thus marveled at the relatively large area of green I found myself in.
The garden was maintained by the Sioufi family, owners of a large carpentry and furniture factory in the area, in the early 20th century. Ravaged by war and the passage of time, it is managed by the municipality of Beirut and plans for renovation have been announced this past April by the NGO Live Ashrafieh. Making our way through the garden, we found striving flora; hibiscus, jacaranda, jasmine and olive trees and even some turtles crawling in a mini pond. Here are some snapshots of the Sioufi garden, a drop of green resilient among flourishing skyscrapers.
The numbers paint a grey picture; in Beirut it seems only 0.5% of the area is public spaces compared to 2% in Middle Eastern cities and 12% in an average European city. When we find that only 0.8 square meters of green space is available per person, whereas the recommended World Health Organization standards are 9 square meters per person (Vienna has 120 square meters per person, about 50% of the area of the city!), we realize the importance of preserving and embellishing these little bits of green.