With a distinct lack of public spending in Lebanon, a group of postgrads are taking on some of the challenges themselves.
Although we like to paint a positive picture of Lebanon, we do recognize that it is not without its faults. Whether it is the traffic congestion, noise pollution or the barely adequate Internet connection, there are some things which could definitely be improved. In a country that is lacking in public spending and infrastructure, to put it mildly, the non-profit organization Public Interest
Design seeks to provide a non-governmental solution to a public problem, improving the everyday lives of Lebanese citizens by implementing and providing consultation for development projects around the country.
PID consists of several Lebanese postgrads, each specializing in different fields, who studied abroad and brought back techniques and learning to Lebanon. “We are introducing new ways of thinking,” says co-founder and operations director Karim Attoui. The six co-founders have backgrounds in urban planning, business and marketing, architecture, design and economics. Their aims are to improve the general standard of living on a national scale, but they have realized that the best way to achieve this is to work on a micro level, one small step at a time.
“One of my dreams is to have a Ministry of Urban Planning,” says Attoui, but at the moment their work is done on a neighborhood level.
This involves talking to the governor or municipalities of a certain area and attempting to work with them. To obtain substantial investments PID needs to show successful development projects. MED Generation (an NGO mobilizing economic diasporas in the Mediterranean) has given them access to wealthy members of the diaspora who want to positively engage in their country of origin. The World Bank estimates that expatriates’ remittances inflows to Lebanon will reach $7.7 billion this year but a very small fraction of this, if any, will be invested into the country’s infrastructure.
“You play with the system as much as you can, give and take, working pragmatically without taking a positive or a negative viewpoint,” Attoui says. This idea of shared space, a positive flow, improving living conditions for citizens actually originated in Mediterranean cities in the late 19th century, but it has all but been forgotten in Lebanon, PID is seeking to bring back.
Using the connections and the prowess of MED Generation, PID has begun, on a very low budget, to tackle widely varied issues its team sees around Beirut, working in concert with universities and municipalities, as well as the general public.
One of their projects is tackling the congestion and noise pollution that affects residents of Gemmayzeh, the popular nightlife district in east Beirut. The team did a study on how to encourage businesses other than bars and restaurants, to benefit the locals.
The neighborhood has a lot of assets, including architectural heritage and beautiful alleys that are not being used to their full extent. “We proposed a long term systemic change over 10 years,” says Attoui, “introducing new changes every six months.”
Their proposal included making the entire street resident parking only, reversing the stream of traffic away from Mar Mikhael and Sofil to reduce through traffic, introducing a shuttle bus service funded by businesses that would get advertising space on the buses. An interesting result of this would be to lose the grip of valet services on the neighborhood, which people always complain about but seem to be entrenched in the ecosystem of Beirut. With this proposal the valet people could be given jobs managing the bus service. Finally, businesses would be allowed to expand onto the streets during daytime, allowing them to earn more.
In Attoui’s estimations the current governor of Beirut is “young, highly educated, and open minded,” and he believes he can help engineer change. As the old guard and their worldview and methods of governance ages and a younger, modern and globally connected generation emerges, hopefully we will see a greater focus on public planning and spending in Lebanon. “This country made me and I want to give something back,” says Attoui.
Any individual or entity interested in supporting PID financially, via a grant or a donation, should contact Karim Attoui, PID’s Operations Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or directly at +9613725187.
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