#1month1park: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.

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Singapore: City in a Garden

Before we moved our family to Singapore a few years back, we knew very little about it, but a few quick Google searches consistently came back with a title that would win us over instantly: The Garden City.

A city state spanning over 718 square kilometers (about one tenth the size of Lebanon), this tiny land is home to 5.5 million people. When you do the math, it’s pretty hard to believe how such a densely populated Singapore earned its name.

Having grown up outside Lebanon myself, I can’t help but think of public green space as something a citizen of the modern world should be able to take for granted. I shouldn’t have to worry about my kids not having a place to run and jump and play. Malls should not even be on the list of options. I shouldn’t have to settle for some playground with old, rusty (and most likely unsafe) equipment about an hour’s drive away. Parks and playgrounds, or the lack thereof, should not be another source of stress in an already stress-ridden life.

But when you open up this particular subject with a fellow Lebanese, you’ll be sure to hear the classic excuse for why I should just let it go because my concern is unimportant, pathetic even: We have more important matters to take care of first.

How could you be thinking about grass and trees when we don’t even have electricity? Water? A president?!

And if I were to take this further and tell someone that one of the major reasons we left our home country was because of this ridiculous absence of green space, well they’d just think I’ve lost my mind.

Not long ago, Singapore abruptly gained its independence through a unanimous vote to expel the island from Malaysia. Overnight, the city found itself alone and very uncertain about its future. So fifty years ago, the country’s first president, Lee Kuan Yew, had quite a few pressing matters to take care of: sovereignty, unemployment, housing, civil unrest, education, military protection from much larger neighbouring countries. And the list goes on.

In his memoir, From Third World To First, Mr. Lee writes:

“After independence, I searched for some dramatic way to distinguish ourselves from other Third World countries. I settled for a clean and green Singapore.”

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All that other stuff we argue is more important than green space didn’t stop him.

Most people who have come to visit us here in Singapore, no matter where they’re from, will point out how surprisingly green the country is on the drive home from the airport. It’s something they’ll notice from a tiny airplane window before they even land.

You don’t have to go far to be able to enjoy your lunch or a book in the shade of a tree. And around every corner there’s a playground for the little ones to enjoy. But that didn’t keep Singapore from taking it one step further.

Singapore currently has 417 parks spread out over its tiny and very densely populated landscape, all of them accessible to anyone, free of charge. A lot of these beautiful parks will offer some additional attractions at a cost, but no one will charge you a penny for walking in with your family and a picnic basket.

As much as my family and I love the outdoors, we have only been to a handful of these beautiful parks. And yet, in just the few number we have visited, we have had the chance to take walks through rainforests; feed fish, turtles and ducks (using special food available in park dispensers); bike through endless alleys of majestic trees; watch outdoor concerts while having a picnic and tossing a ball around; watch butterflies as they go about their business of laying eggs and drinking nectar; learn about trees and vegetation; take strolls through trees along elevated steel bridges that connect several different parks; play in all sorts of playgrounds and water playgrounds; and so much more, all absolutely free!

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One of the more extravagant parks in Singapore is Gardens by the Bay. Built on reclaimed land, this park spans over 101 hectares (about 3 times the size of Horsh Beirut) and is said to have played an essential role in Singapore’s plan to become the City in a Garden.

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Gardens by the Bay has so much to offer, it can’t possibly be enjoyed in one day. Or two. Or three for that matter. The first thing you notice upon walking in is a cluster of giant, beautiful tree structures called “Supertrees”. The first time I saw these metallic trees, I had mixed feelings about them. I wasn’t sure if I loved or hated them. Why does Singapore need to build trees when it has so many real trees? I asked myself. But once I’d visited the park and understood just what these Supertrees are capable of, I couldn’t help but be completely fascinated by them.

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The Supertree Grove is made up of 18 Supertrees ranging from 25 to 50 meters in height. These trees are essentially made up of concrete and steel, but their ‘skin’ is in fact alive thanks to the planting panels they are covered with. Thanks to these panels, the Supertrees are home to over 162,900 plants made up of about 200 visually appealing and easy to maintain species.

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Visitors can enjoy a stroll through the grove on an aerial walkway linking two of the Supertrees. This mystical forest becomes all the more enchanting at night when the trees light up and the music starts to play.

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As impressive as the Supertrees may appear, what impresses me more is their functionality. Eleven of these Supertrees are equipped with energy harvesting canopies that make them environmentally sustainable. While some have photovoltaic cells capturing energy from the sun and providing the park the electricity it needs, others serve as air exhaust receptacles which help to keep the two domes of the park cool.

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The bio-domes at Gardens by the Bay are beautiful inside and out. While they have become one of the most popular architectural landmarks of Singapore, one can only truly appreciate them after having walked in (here, charges apply, but they are so worth it).

The Cloud Forest, the taller of the two, holds a 35 meter tall “mountain” structure, the world’s biggest indoor waterfall, and vegetation that is naturally found in tropical highlands up to 2,000 meters above sea level.

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The Flower Dome is a magical showcase of flowers, plants and trees from different parts of the world.

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The Flower Field features a different theme every few months, with flowers and structures so beautiful they will leave you in awe.

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Finally, for those looking for something a little more “normal”, the park holds four gardens that guide visitors through the history and culture of Singapore’s main ethnic groups.

And finally, what is a park without something for the kids? Gardens by the Bay offers young visitors a sensor-activated water play area for children of all ages, and two playgrounds featuring sensory playtime elements.

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Every time I visit one of Singapore’s parks, or simply walk down its green streets, I can’t help but think about our beautiful Lebanon, a country with so much potential. I can’t help but feel a little sad every time I think of all the excuses we’ve come up with that have stopped us from asking, nay, demanding, more for ourselves and for our children.

When I read statements like this one:

“Beirut, as a city, is characterized by a complete lack of safe greens and public spaces, such as gardens, parks, playgrounds and sports fields which may have direct repercussions on the lifestyle of children and adolescents such as decreased physical activity, increased screen time and television watching and consequently sedentary behavior.” (1)

Or this one:

“Further analyses of data provided by the 1997 and 2009 national surveys showed that sedentary behavior among Lebanese children and adolescents (defined as ≥ 10 h sitting time per day) increased from 19.9% in 1997 to 60.5% in 2009, a finding that may mirror the increased reliance of youth on satellite TV, computers and computer games, as well as telecommunication technology.” (2)

I can’t imagine what might possibly be more important or more pressing than meeting our people’s and children’s basic needs and civil rights by greening up our country.

I’m not asking for Supertrees and bio-domes, just some playgrounds and regular ol’ trees under which I can cozy up with a book and a cup of coffee while my kids do what they were built to do.

 

(1) Ebbeling C.B., Pawlak D.B., Ludwig D.S. Childhood obesity: Public-health crisis, common sense cure. 2002;360:473–482

(2) Nasreddine et al. Trends in overweight and obesity in Lebanon: evidence from two national cross-sectional surveys (1997 and 2009). BMC Public Health 2012; 12:798

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#1month1park is Beirut Green Project’s latest blog section, where we will be featuring one park a month from across the globe. These blog posts are written by residents of cities around the world who enjoy using their parks and are eager to share their experiences with us.
The purpose of this activity is to showcase some of beautiful parks from around the globe, to get inspired by some of their unique features and solutions, and to highlight the significance and vital need for these spaces for a healthy city life.

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“Green Your Lunch” campaign

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NEWSFLASH!!

Green Your Lunch is taking it to the next level. Bored of having lunch at the office? On your desk? In front of the computer? We want to help break the routine!
Starting June 4th and until June 14th, BGP, in collaboration with local restaurants, is proud to offer you meals to be delivered at nearby gardens during your lunch break.
If you want your company to be part of this initiative and enjoy a free lunch in the park, please e-mail us before May the 25th on beirutgreenproject@gmail.com with your company name, location & marketing contact. 10 companies close to the following 10 gardens will be selected to participate with us.
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Sanayeh garden (Hamra)
Gebran Khalil Gebran garden (Downtown)
Mufti Hassan Khaled (Verdun)
Sioufi garden (Sioufi)
Jésuites garden (Geitawi)
Capucins garden (Downtown)
Karantina garden (Karantina)
Abdul Rahman el Hout (Downtown- Zkak el Blat)
William Hawi garden (Geitawi)
Horsh Tabet garden (Sin El fil)

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Students taking matters into their own hands.

Their names are Sarya Nasser , Rhea Kattan and Celine Slim.

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They are students at the International College, and chose Green Spaces in Beirut as their topic for the Pypx activity. They were interested to know about their condition , their availability and the awareness of people about the environmental as well as health benefits of green spaces. So they contacted Beirut Green Project to start their research. Other factors that concerned the girls were urban planning , whose responsibility is the development and maintenance of green spaces and what actions can be taken to improve their conditions, availability as well as awareness.
We met with Sarya, Rhea, and Celine to discuss green spaces in Beirut. 

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After doing their research, the girls learned that there are 4 major problems :

1- lack of awareness of the available green spaces.
2- lack of awareness of the importance of green spaces.
3- green spaces are not well maintained.
4- there aren’t enough green spaces .

That lead them to take three actions :
1- Participate in the demonstration of the Horsh Beirut.
2- Write a letter to the elementary school principal to initiate an after school activity to increase awareness .
3- Organize a picnic on May 16th from 11am to 12pm for LL10,000 per person at the Sioufi garden with three objectives in mind. 1st many people do not know the garden , 2nd people will become more aware of the benefits of green spaces , and 3rd the collected funds will be used to buy items to help maintain the garden. They will also help by planting existing plants in the garden.

Sarya, Rhea, and Celine are a perfect example of people who decide to take matters into their own hands to make things better in Beirut. If you would like to, join the girls on their fundraising picnic for Sioufi garden tomorrow at 11am.

 

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Green Your Lunch in Jésuites garden tomorrow!

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Pick your favourite book and join us for our second “Green your Lunch” this Spring!
We will be having a special book swapping corner during the Lunch.

What is book swapping?

It is the practice of a exchanging books between one person and another. It provides an inexpensive way for people to find out about new books and obtain a new book to read without having to pay. This Green Your Lunch event is for all those who find joy in reading. Join us in Jesuites this Saturday May 9th with a book of your choice (old /new/boring/funny…) and discover a new one while enjoying being present in green space.

We will be gathering in Jésuites garden at 1pm.The first 10 people to get to the lunch will have a delicious meal and yummy treats by Crepaway!

RSVP here https://www.facebook.com/events/831686776867013/

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#1month1park: Indro Montanelli Park. Milan, Italy.

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Milan is graced with two parks. By far the most frequented is the prestigious Sempione Park, flanked by the Sforzesco Castle, an imitation Arc de Triomphe bequeathed by Napoleon, the original sports stadium used by Milan’s two football teams, the Museum of Modern Art and, inside the park itself, all manner of terrazas, cafeterias, gelaterias, and a small duck pond.

To the west of the centre, however, is the lesser-known, but still grand, Indro Montanelli Park. Named after the eponymous journalist and historian, it is smaller, less distinguished and, perhaps for all that, much more of a park than it is an ‘attraction’.

 

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There is something for everyone here; children’s play areas, with permanent carousels and dodgem car rides, are dotted around the grotto at one entrance to the park, where enterprising locals offer donkey rides to the children when the weather is clement. If that is not to their liking, there is a ‘trenino’, a small train that takes children around a circuit dotted with figurines from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’. In Indro Montanelli Park, you are never that far away from the surreal. The duck pond here is far more intricate and discrete, though in fact bigger, than that of its rival across town, and perhaps for that reason more of an actual haven for migrating fowl.

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One thing that perhaps marks out Indro Montanelli as being distinct is the prominence given to areas specially reserved for pet dogs, having the only ‘free’ area where dogs are permitted to run free of leashes. Sempione would never allow such equality between the species! Milan is a notoriously dog-friendly city, and the Milanese themselves often equip their pets with clothing from the famous Milanese fashion houses. Yes, you can, in fact, buy special Dolce & Gabbana doggy coats and sparkly leashes, if that is to your taste.

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At the other main entrance to the park, there are cafeterias galore, hard by the kind of ‘palazzo’ that can be found scattered all over Milan, housing an art gallery which is perhaps one of Milan’s best-kept secrets. In the Spring and Summer, ambulatory panino sellers spring up throughout the park, and it becomes a lunch-time haven for office-workers and students seeking respite in the shade of over a hundred varieties of tree (including, yes, a Lebanese Cedar, bequeathed to the City of Milan by the Lebanese authorities), or basking in the sun by one of the many fountains the park provides.

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Looming over Indro Montanelli at the third entrance is the grandiose Natural History Museum, and next to it the Planetarium. Despite the majesty of these buildings, they are simply there, part of the furniture of the park. In most other parks these wonderful buildings would be the centrepiece; the Milanese, however, are graced with such beautiful antiquities that, however marvellous these two buildings are, they don’t so much stand out as blend in.

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Now that Spring has arrived, the blossom is out, the leaves are returning to the trees, and the bustle is returning to the park. If you visit Milan, certainly take a look at Sempione Park…but come over to Indro Montanelli, and see how the Milanese really enjoy their free time.

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#1month1park is Beirut Green Project’s latest blog section, where we will be featuring one park a month from across the globe. These blog posts are written by residents of cities around the world who enjoy using their parks and are eager to share their experiences with us.
The purpose of this activity is to showcase some of beautiful parks from around the globe, to get inspired by some of their unique features and solutions, and to highlight the significance and vital need for these spaces for a healthy city life.

 

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BGP at TEDxBeirut

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A few days before TEDxBeirut, I overheard a conversation in a café between two people sitting next to me:

“- Are you going to the TEDxBeirut conference this saturday?
– No. Going to skip it. There is no one important this year. “

The inspiring beauty of TED is that no one has to be “important”. Anyone with a good innovative and inspiring message can be on that stage. Some of the best talks I have watched were of people who didn’t talk about what they do in life, but had an interesting angle looking at it.

Here’s Beirut Green Project’s story as told on TEDxBeirut  last September.
English and arabic subtitles are available for now! (French and Spanish coming next!)

We hope it’s inspiring enough for you to share it widely among your friends, family and colleagues!
Let’s spread the message for a greener Beirut.

If you would like to be a member at Beirut Green Project, please let us know.
You can just fill the google form (http://goo.gl/forms/r1WlxjnDCC) to let us know about you!

Thank you!

 

 

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Design is here to Disrupt!

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We just spent three days at the Design!/Disrupt ideathon. Three days of scratching our minds, coming up with ideas, letting go of others, developing them with mentors and getting inspired by participants with a great energy for positive change in the country.

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Design!/Disrupt was organised by MENA design research centre in partnership with HIVOS and took place at Dawawine in Gemmayzeh.
10 teams with 10 disruptive ideas were selected from more than 90 applications, in 7 different categories. You can read more about the participating teams here.

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Dima Boulad from BGP, teamed up with Pamela Haydamous from Green Studios and designer Celine Khairallah to enter the competition with a question:

How do we make use of leftover spaces in Beirut to make it greener?

We were especially inspired by Paul Hugues’ ten meters of thinking presentations that helped us clarify our idea and perfect our pitch.
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After three intensive days, we developed our question into a solution that we presented to a jury on Sunday night.

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.. And we won!
The project received great feedback and support from the judges. We are very happy to announce that the jury selected our team and gave “Meter Mrabba3” (Square meter) a chance to take part in an exhibition of the winning projects during Beirut Design Week in June 2015.

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Congratulations to our fellow winners! Mabrouk to the bomb shelter project, “Khallik metel Sami” and the Beirut River.
Another great environmental project to lookout for: The Beirut River by The Other Dada in collaboration with Made For Brands.

We would like to thank MENA DRC and their partners for this great opportunity. See you at Beirut Design Week in June!

 

 

 

 

 

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