Last Updated on Thursday, 2 March, 2023 at 10:28 am by Andre Camilleri
Rightly so, last week, the media was dominated by the latest developments of the war in Ukraine, which marked the first anniversary from the invasion. This week, I decided to write an opinion piece about our highly urbanised localities and the work being executed to identify green enclaves that may serve as green lungs.
In one of my recent articles, I tried to distinguish between climate change worries and environmental concerns. Indeed, the environmental part covers biodiversity conservation and restoration, as well as the protection of natural capital. Clearly, the safeguarding of our green enclaves, and the planting of additional trees, are all measures aimed at mitigating climate change. In fact, last weekend, I attended a reception, and an acquaintance passed a cheeky remark, asking me why I stopped posting about my jogs on my social media account, now, that I returned to Malta. Obviously, I smiled and replied to follow my Thursday’s opinion piece, because the topic will be treated publicly. True, back in 2018 and 2019, people thought that I might have an interest in green businesses.
In fact, I received a lot of flak in response to my appreciation towards nature and the environment, simply for posting photos of different species of trees and for opposing hideous structures in our medieval cities. However, fast forward to 2023, and we have now become cool and trendy to promote environmental concepts such as the greening of past concrete structures and to provide for additional open green spaces. As a matter of fact, in one of my recent social media posts, I explored the idea of perhaps start planning additional green lungs within our highly urbanised zones. This reminded me of the authorities that run the city of Brussels, who are clearly not better than the Maltese in terms of planning. However, they have excellent environmental campaigners on the ground, as well as mayors that join environmental campaigns to enable green spaces for their citizens.
For example, one of the highly urbanised areas in Malta is the locality of Fgura. However, a lovely green enclave exists, and sits in between the charming village of Ħal Tarxien and Fgura. Obviously, to give some context to my followers and readers, I uploaded this piece of land on my social media page to depict the difference between the green lungs in the highly urbanised areas of the city of Brussels, and the locality of Fgura. In response, one of my followers texted me to inform me that the land in question is within local development zone, and it might be privately owned. In response, I did some background checks, and the land in question seems to belong to the Maltese government. Evidently, we are here dealing with two different ministries.
Notwithstanding that the greening of concrete spaces are needed, the same logic applies to not reduce the current existing green spaces, especially in areas that are overbuilt. In fact, when I was told that this piece of land belongs to the government, I was wondering whether they can step in to transform the area. Certainly, the government can decide to not sell it and transform it into a green lung for the residents in the area. Frankly, it would be much cheaper for the Maltese government to transform the area into a park, and perhaps add some picnic areas for the residents of Fgura and Ħal Tarxien. It is quite a sizeable area, and it would serve to all of those living within the proximity, as a proper lull area for weekends and after working hours. These are all low-hanging fruit initiatives that can be implemented in a relatively shorter period of time, and cost much less than aiming at digging tunnels to redirect traffic, even though they might be needed in the long run. Certainly, we need a culture change before renovating and digging additional tunnels.
For instance, the Maltese government restored an additional area adjacent to San Klement Park and transformed it from a dilapidated dumping zone into a picnic area. Clearly, the cleaning of the area was desperately needed, and the additional benches, litterbins, as well as recreational tables, all made out of sustainable materials, are all good initiatives and steps in the right direction. Truly, thumbs up to Minister Miriam Dalli. Sincerely, I encourage you to visit the area. One advice, though, just pay attention to the traffic if you decide to jog all the way down, as some infrastructure works are currently ongoing to renovate the main road and its pavement in the area.
Nevertheless, when it comes to the environment, the expectations are obviously high, specifically because of the lack of planning and the overdevelopment of the past six-decades. Unquestionably, we are now at a point of feeling the negative effects. This is a sheer sign of our lack of internalising environmental costs on profit makers, which seemingly, resulted in negative externalities on society. Undeniably, climate change is placed high on the European agenda, and subsequently, the Maltese government is also following in the EU’s footsteps. Furthermore, the party in government must honour its electorate promises on infrastructural green projects.
However, it might be an opportunity to transform existing green spaces in the localities of Fgura and Ħal Tarxien to serve as oxygen green lungs to the residents within the area. Sincerely, it would be a travesty if we try to green the concrete areas while, in tandem, we pour additional concrete on the existing green enclaves, especially in highly urbanised areas. When I encounter citizens, what I am told is mainly that they feel frustrated with a situation that the last standing green enclaves, in highly urbanised areas, are being taken away from them. Indeed, a citizen told me that at times they feel irritated with the lack of planning in such densely populated areas devoid of trees and green spaces. People are not against development. However, they are in favour of sustainable development, and better planning of green spaces, especially in such highly urbanised areas. Two residents even told me that they cannot comprehend the idea of reducing green spaces in highly urbanised areas, but then overdo it with our roundabouts, to the point of planting ostentatious palm trees and pottery monuments.
When I decided to write about green lungs, I asked for some advice. A close friend told me to avoid the topic because I might be opposed. Indeed, I sincerely appreciated the advice. In fact, I mulled to write this opinion piece. However, after a few days, I digested what I was told and decided to write about it anyway, as much as I wrote about green spaces in 2018. Firstly, because my father taught me to freely express my own opinions. Secondly, I appreciated the Prime Minister’s call last Sunday to put forward new ideas. And thirdly, I felt a duty to write about this topic, as I sincerely believe in the provision of additional green spaces.
Recently, the term ESG became trendy even though some are using it as a cliché. However, we must not abuse the acronym, just to promote ourselves to look trendy and jump over the zeitgeist’s bandwagon. Personally, I am in favour of sustainable development and better planning. Indeed, even those in charge of the ‘Malta Developers Association’ are in favour of better planning and superior architectural designs in our localities, and they referred to it publicly. Hence, those who were appointed to safeguard our natural capital must embark on a campaign to save the last green enclaves, especially in the highly urbanised areas of Fgura and Ħal Tarxien.
Clearly, the government’s land does not need to be purchased by the government itself, and a planning permit is just needed to transfer the land to the new agency Project Green and pledge its transformation. Lastly, we have a duty to return to our innocence if we truly believe in safeguarding our natural capital and conserve and restore our biodiversity.