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Heather Jaber 07 May 2016

Parks, Not Golf Courses: 10 Reasons To Vote Tomorrow

Like me, there are a lot of you out there who would love to be able to vote in Beirut for the municipality elections because it’s the city you live in, but can’t, due to dysfunctional electoral laws. Another fight for another day. What you can do is encourage others to get to the booths tomorrow and use that privilege.

This is not a neutral call to action encouraging you to vote in general. Yes, a wasted vote is lost potential and takes a way your right to criticize those who represent you. The truth is that Beirut Madinati is your absolute best option out there and that you have very little reason not to use the right you are bestowed.

Here are a few reasons it’s in your best interest to vote and tell others who can.

1. Beirut Madinati stands for public parks, not golf courses.

Image via executive-magazine.com

The Beirut Hippodrome was created one hundred years ago, and became a major stable of Beirut’s social sphere in the 1950s. After the civil war, like many infrastructures, it was badly damaged. Since then, it has never been what it once was.

Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad’s suggestion, an “ecology village,” sounds like fun in theory, but not when you read into the details. A golf course, he says, would be a useful addition to the space.

Mona Fawaz, urban planning professor at the American University of Beirut and Beirut Madinati campaign organizer, rightly called this solution “elitist and ecologically unsustainable”.

In their campaign is their strategy to open Horsh Beirut securely and permanently. The largest green space in Beirut has been forgotten since its completion in 1995, with city inhabitants choking for fresh air and a little space to unwind. These aren’t privileges either, they’re rights.

WHO standards place a recommended 9 meters squared per citizen. Beirut citizens have .08 meters squared.

Mohammad Ayoub, of NAHNOO, the NGO which campaigned to reopen Horsh Beirut, explained why it’s not only about physical health benefits either.

Public space is a place you can create and imagine, he said. “That’s why for our kids it’s important. From a social perspective, where will our children play? Where will our youth do activities? They need space which is free.”

2. Garbage.

Image via Ramez Dagher

You knew this one was coming. It is municipality’s job to deal with such impending crises, or at least to manage them once they occur. Beirut Madinati proposes an Office of Solid Waste Management within the municipality to avoid such fiascos in the future.

90% of the landfilled waste we are contributing is recyclable, which is kind of a sickening thought. It’s not municipality’s job to come into our homes and force us to recycle, but it is their job to make sure effective pathways are in place.

Incentives will be given to businesses and homes which opt to recycle, naturally encouraging them to participate in a sustainable solution.

3. Beirut Madinati’s is the only list with gender equity.

Of Beirut Madinati’s 24 council members, 12 are women. The current municipal council is made up of only 3 women out of these 24 seats. That’s a sad 8%.

And this list is not made up of just any men or women. They have been carefully and thoughtfully selected to ensure a diversity of viewpoints and initiatives, ranging from accessibility for the disabled, to art and politics, to academia, urban planning, and more.

4. It’s municipality’s job to improve the housing sector, which it has not done.

Former head of AUB’s secular club put it into perspective when he said, “Today, as a student who wants to work in Beirut, I know I can’t even live in Beirut.”

Why? The price of renting an apartment in Beirut is 1,271 times greater than monthly minimum wage.

Beirut Madinati’s proposals are inclusionary and incentive-based. Again, this means that people will naturally respond in a way which helps the community. What that means is that developers will be given incentives to provide affordable housing, as well as green spaces for the larger community.

Adapting frameworks from other contexts, like Finland and South Africa, means that initiatives which have been successful abroad can prove lucrative here too. This incentive-based system is important because housing production is largely a private sector development.

5. The current Beirut municipality doesn’t have a website.

Image via blogbaladi.com

Come on, guys. Now you’re just making it too easy. While Beirut Madinati’s strategy since day one has been an open forum in the way of both town hall talks and transparency online, the current municipality remains disconnected in a very real way from the public it claims to represent.

Which brings us to our next point…

6. That 800-million-dollar surplus…what is it doing?

You’re paying taxes for a reason. What benefits are you receiving?

Take a look at this open letter to Beirut’s mayor, Bilal Hamad. The portion of your income which is going to municipality is no small sum. Added up, it’s enough to, in the very least, have a running website. Perhaps some clean water, too.

7. They have financial transparency.

No one contributor can donate more than 10% of their budget. That means they avoid conflicts of interest and are truly a grassroots campaign.

Take a look at the breakdown of their finances here.

8. Beirut Madinati has competitors on their toes.

Never has a campaign of such magnitude posed a threat. When was the last time you saw such a fuss over municipal elections, such a reactionary campaign by the current order?

To put it in perspective, it’s not Beirut Madinati who is illegally placing their election posters brazenly all over the city, defying the governor’s order to remove all such posters.

9. You have a ride to the booths and back.

Uber is offering free rides to those who want to get to the polls, and even back to their own homes. Share an Uber with your friends and reduce the trips they have to take, allowing more people to come out and vote.

10. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Beirut Madinati’s campaign reminds you that we shouldn’t have forgotten about Horsh Beirut in the first place. There are very real and practical things we can all do to shift the current order, and this is the first step.

If you’re still unsure, check out their platform, do some online research. Or, try to drink water from your water taps or take a walk outside on our sidewalk-less roads without being reminded that much more can be done.