The case of Beirut’s Corniche
The Corniche offers its visitors a breathing space with a view of the Mediterranean Sea and the city. The Corniche's uniqueness as a space in Beirut is due to the mix of users who occupy the space regardless of their economic backgrounds and purchasing ability.
On Sundays and holidays the Corniche is often crowded as it is, indeed, one of the very few places in Beirut where people can spend the day without paying for entrance, seats, and parking. During the week the Corniche is also congested with passers-by who spend an average of an hour walking or sitting on the benches contemplating.
Couples also wile away some of their time there as joggers run past at sunrise and sunsets. Families keen on providing their children a space outside the confines of apartments also frequent the Corniche after sunset during the week and all day during holidays and Sundays.
Yet when one spends more than an hour on the Corniche intrinsic concerns come up. Where do I sit? Where are the toilets? Why can’t I sit and eat? Where can I sit with my family or a group of friends together?
Urban Furniture intolerance
Several benches are located on the Corniche. Some made of wood and some made of cement and recently embellished. Yet public urban furniture tells you a lot about the way officials and their designers view the space and its use. The Corniche might be a promenade yet most people like to spend an amount of time in the same zone with their families, kids and or friends. This is rendered impossible because the Corniche furniture distribution and design does not invite such use and even seems to discourage it. Playing backgammon, cards or any group games is also impossible especially since bringing one's own chairs and tables is prohibited. Demands for more and better designed public furniture for a more open and inviting Corniche is every resident's right. Sitting in groups should not be rendered impossible and seen as problematic.
Two public toilets are located on the Corniche.
The first facing the American university of Beirut’s sea gate is according to several pedestrians, a catastrophe. The smell of old urine reeking from the space is already uninviting. The women’s toilet that Saturday was closed but the men’s toilet was open. The toilets were dark and the walls were scarred with human feces. Passers-by informed me that a government employee is paid to oversee, open and clean the toilet but is rarely there.
Public toilet 2: This toilet is clean, and is open all day except Sundays. The man responsible for it sits under the tree next to the door and is there all the time. He informed me the toilet is used by about 10 people per hour during the week and includes drivers who park to use the toilet as well as Corniche users. During the weekends, and especially Sundays the toilet would have a line of people waiting to use it and the average is 15 to 20 people per hour. The toilet is free for all and is cleaned regularly (sometimes more than once a day) and opens from the early morning till mid-night. They have three shifts.
The man on the day shift says that the municipality of Beirut recently decided to close the toilet on Sundays and holidays and so he isn’t paid for those days. What happens is that upon his return on Monday, the area around the toilet is often very dirty. He therefore said he is considering of opening the toilet on Sunday at his expense as the sudden closure on Sunday is a crime against humanity. ‘Imagine running towards a toilet only to find it closed. What do you do?!’
There is very little understanding of the value of toilets in the public realm. Hamra for example has none. Areas which have public toilets invite people to spend more time at and around the location.
Children, women, the disabled and the elderly people feel the most anguish over the toilet drought. Many people are shy about cheekily using toilets in shops, restaurants, bars and pubs and feel forced to purchase something.
Local authorities need to be obliged by law to provide access to toilets for free in intervals that vary and target both pedestrians and drivers alike.
Is the Corniche designed and continuously transformed to be and become only a promenade? Does the municipality want to encourage its various users to spend time, meet, agglomerate and interact with each other?
It is your right to demand that your public space become more accommodating to your activities and day.
This brief research was conducted originally for a blog entry on Beirut the Fantastic.
The case of Beirut’s Corniche