Malta’s Budget for 2022 has given a few honourable mentions to the environment, mainly through the proposal of several open green spaces scattered around our towns and villages. This mirrors a recent demand in public or green spaces where locals or tourists can just ‘sit for a breather’ in a safe space.
This whole concept made the news some months ago, after visuals of a pedestrianised Ħamrun main street, drafted by Steve Compagno, were published by the Mayor. Speaking to TheJournal.mt, Compagno explained his belief that the pandemic and its restrictions gave us the possibility to sit quietly and become more aware of our surroundings.
“People longed to go out even more”, Compagno explained, “and when they did in their social circles, I believe that it was then that they realised that our urban areas have become too dense in terms of overdevelopment, with little or no green spaces in their locality’s inner core. I think that it is also thanks to various NGOs’ calls for a greener conscience, as their suggestions to the Government have also left their mark on the locals’ minds for a better environment with more public and open spaces to enjoy”.
Here, Compagno mentions the possibility of travelling to a ‘greener’ country and also witnessing how other cities have shifted on the internet, which have also been great influential factors, with the Maltese now asking the authorities, ‘why can’t we have this in Malta?’
This ties in closely with the public’s ever-growing concern on climate change, especially given Malta’s commitment to decreasing its carbon footprint in a matter of years. However, can a few open spaces here and there contribute towards this particular goal? Compagno tells us how “an open space in itself does nothing on its own. It requires the right green infrastructure and embellishment, to sustain the ecology around it, such as indigenous trees and shrubs, which can help to assist in our climate change challenge”.
Every project needs to be a landmark which can lure and entice tourists towards the area while instilling a sense of pride in residents.
Waste is also something to consider here, in terms of using recyclables to build and maintain these open spaces while also ensuring lighting devices are efficient for the open space to contribute to our sustainability goals. “By utilising the entire area, including the space underground for water collection and parking facilities, the area can become a sustainable and efficient design. The key to a good project is long term planning and understanding its long-term effects, which means that having a well-planned design for efficiency, sustainability, maintenance and contribution is of utmost prominence”, Compagno says.
This can only be truly successful when decision-makers rope in experts who have the environment at heart or risk these projects not reaching their full potential and maximum utilization. Asked on the role of the citizen in this picture, Compagno explained how we must be given the right platforms to comment on these projects, particularly those ‘closer to home’.
Compagno speaks on the importance of constant maintenance of the area or project. “We must also change our mentality, from that of creating a project of a regular standard to a project of excellence. I always like to say that detail is what separates the extraordinary from the ordinary. Each project needs to be extraordinary; it needs to have a wow factor in it. Every project needs to be a landmark which can lure and entice tourists towards the area while instilling a sense of pride in the residents”.
Something that can facilitate this is the concept of ‘Garden Guardians’. These are individuals or groups in the area who have offered to contribute to the guardianship of the space. “Above all though, we need to make sure that those who maintain such open spaces, especially those who work in embellishment and greenery maintenance, need to be fully qualified, trained and licensed before intervening on any tree, shrub or any other minor or major maintenance. My suggestion is that all contractors who submit their tender to perform works on the green side of the project need to have trained and licensed workers”.
The ‘environmental discussion’ nowadays also revolves around a much-needed balance between green and grey, given the recent construction boom across several countries, including Malta. When talking about a ‘green balance’, Compagno tells us, we must first understand that there are two sides to the coin.
Our heirs will thank us for the Inwadar afforestation project.
“First is the care and upkeep of our rural countryside, by ensuring that all access to the public remains public and that all fields have aesthetically pleasing traits such as real rubble walls and gates which blend in the rest of the environment”. He goes on to describe the proposed afforestation project stretching from Xgħajra to Żonqor Point in Marsascala, as a positive step that ensures our heirs thank us for what we have done, “and we can do so by investing and ensuring that such projects are well maintained and of the highest standard through planning”.
Secondly, we need to ensure the open spaces in our town cores are, as Compagno puts it, areas which further green our areas. “The projects proposed are indeed interesting, and I am sure that if the authorities keep the residents at heart, we can tilt the construction boom’s effect by a further degree. There are various initiatives which one can utilise to balance out the construction boom’s effect, such as having aesthetics policies”. These, he explains, should require that the building’s front patio has shrubs and small trees at the front, to create a sense of green scape along the street.
“There are initiatives which encourage contractors and architects to include traditional Maltese features with a modern twist in the facade’s design. The utilization of the roof as a communal green roof for all to enjoy is another idea to have further open spaces which are exclusive to the residents of that block, which in turn can decrease the pressure for quiet spaces”.