Public parks, private payment

How private money could give Beirut some more public spaces

Sanayeh simulation

The coming few months will witness the reopening of Sanayeh Garden, the first green space in Beirut to be renovated through a public-private scheme. In a city overgrown with concrete, more parks are a necessity.

The reason for opening up to the private sector is partly budgetary; the Municipality of Beirut has, like most state institutions, less money to spare than in previous years. But it is also partly ideological — the body reasons that the private sector is more efficient and has more experience in producing rapid quality work than the bloated public sector.

As the municipality explained to this magazine (see article), there are also bureaucratic reasons for shirking away from public financing of parks. The official public route could have taken years, with numerous hoops needing to be jumped through. By accepting donations from the private sector, they have circumvented much of this unnecessary bureaucracy.

There are, the municipality insists, no strings attached to this donation — the park remains the property of the municipality with open access to the public. This is not to say the private sector will not benefit from indirect marketing as they boost their reputation by giving back to their community. The buildup and media campaign for the opening of Sanayeh Garden, scheduled for May 2014, began way back in December.

There is a danger, certainly, in having too much private involvement in public space. The threat of parks becoming commercialized, with private companies potentially restricting usage of the space or pushing an incessant marketing agenda, is real.

But in the absence of a municipality with the time and funds to renovate these parks, having a private company restore our much-needed green spaces is certainly a favorable solution.