It all started on Sept. 2, 2012. Achrafieh’s streets turned into a carfree zone where pedestrians could roam, ride bicycles and walk their dogs, and children could run freely.
The event was an initiative led by Achrafieh 2020, a non-governmental environmentally focused initiative by MP Nadim Gemayel. Founded in 2012, its mission is embedded in the name.
By the year 2020, the organization aims to reach a change for the better of Lebanon’s environment. Its overall mission is to reinvent Achrafieh as a livable, breathable, welcoming and friendly neighborhood.
Carole Babikian, one of the original founders and current president of the organization has big dreams for her neighborhood and her country.
“Achrafieh 2020 is a call from the heart. We want to bring people to love their city. Young people have lost interest and soul and enthusiasm to believe in something in Lebanon. We want to show them that it can be fun to stay in Lebanon and that it’s up to us to make it different,” she said. Music is present at all the events, as it brings in crowds and encourages people to join in.
Since their first car-free event in 2012, the outpouring of positive feedback led them to create pedestrian-friendly days for individual sectors in Achrafieh and elsewhere in east Beirut, such as Rmeil, Mar Mikhael, Gemmayzeh, Monnot and Sodeco. After so much success, they found that other organizations were starting to host the same type of event in other neighborhoods across Lebanon, a domino effect they were glad to have initiated.
“Activities like this not only bring people together, but they also encourage the economy. We asked all the shops to open on that Sunday and they did get a lot of business. Because people are not driving they see the shops and go in,” said Babikian.
Another project of 2020 was participating in the international Earth Hour, where the city’s most famous landmarks go dark for one minute, to raise awareness for energy conservation. To draw people’s attention to the project, Babikian and her team came up with a clever campaign slogan: “Baddna ntaffiya baddna nwale3a” (To blow it up, we are going to turn it off).
“Even though we don’t always have electricity in Lebanon, we don’t need to waste what we do have,” she said.
In 2013, ABC Achrafieh and Byblos Bank tower in Sassine turned off their lights, and last year, with the support of the European Union and the Centre
Commerce International, the Grand Serail, and Baabda Palace showed their support and went dark.
This year, for Earth Hour, instead of doing a one-day event, they chose to launch their one-year pledge campaign to plant trees in Achrafieh.
In March 2014, the organization invited local schools to plant trees on their rooftops, raising awareness for students. They showed the children how to plant the trees and how to take care of them, as well as how planting on rooftops can save energy. “When you have greenery on a rooftop, it reduces heat that comes inside, and in the winter, reduces the cold so you don’t overuse the heating system.
Plus, it makes the city look beautiful,” explained Babikian.
An upcoming campaign that many residents in Achrafieh will be happy to support is the cleaning up of dog poop on the sidewalks, in partnership with Sukleen. We know that picking up after our dogs may not be the most exciting part of the day, but you have to admit it’s a must if we want to keep our streets, our city and our country clean and sanitary.
Carole also dreams of making Achrafieh accessible through public transportation, where cars will be parked outside the neighborhood limits and buses will be in charge of taking passengers across the area.
While this is a long-term project, it would rid the neighborhood of carcreated chaos such as bumper-tobumper traffic and noise pollution like continuous honking and frustrated drivers.
“For the future of Achrafieh 2020, I see more people getting on board with us, feeling concerned and putting in effort to maintain the projects, because maintenance is just as important as the initiative itself,” Babikian said.
Babikian has great love for Lebanon and much pride in her Armenian background. She said her father was her biggest inspiration when it comes to loving Lebanon and wanting to make a difference in the country. He served as Deputy since 1957 and was nominated for minister more than once (7 times, in fact).
“I’ve been living here since I was born.
So many people left during the war but my family and I never did. I wouldn’t move due to the situation. I love my country,” said Babikian.