A picturesque river once ran through a capital city, but as the city grew, the river was buried under tons of cement. Does that sound familiar? For Beirutis it should, but I’m not writing here about Beirut’s ancient river, but about Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon Stream.
The Cheonggyecheon Stream, which was covered up with concrete, starting in 1958, was used as highway for many decades. In 2003, in an effort to re-introduce nature to Seoul, a decision was made to restore the stream as part of a vast urban renewal project. The highway was turned into a 5.8 km urban park, which has become popular with local residents and a major tourist attraction.
Many Lebanese urban designers, environmentalists and ecologists, like Sandra Frem, Carla Aramouny and Phillipe Skaff have proposed similar projects for Beirut, but our visionless political leaders have completely ignored the creative proposals.
Restoring the Beirut River would not only be good for the environment but for the social fabric of the city itself. The river park would unite the capital with its eastern suburbs. Turning the Beirut River into an urban park, with perhaps an underground high-speed electric train, would be a development project we can really get behind in Beirut. But, are any of the politicians listening? Of course not!