BEIRUT: Around 200 people celebrated World Environment Day Saturday with a picnic on green grass – in Beirut’s concrete Sassine Square.

“Green the Grey” was organized by the Beirut Green Project. Dima Boulad, one of BGP’s founders, told The Daily Star that they put on the event “because we feel that [green spaces are] a basic right anyone should have in a city … and green public spaces are nonexistent in Beirut.”

The World Health Organization recommends 12 square meters of green space per capita in urban areas. High estimates suggest that Beirut has 0.8 square meters per capita. Beirut’s largest park, the Horsh al-Sanawbar, has been largely closed to the public since the mid-1990s.

“People are not aware how important [green spaces] are, Boulad said, “but they reduce pollution in the city and they reduce stress.”

In advance publicity for “Green the Grey,” BGP said they planned on “taking over a grey space and making it green.” Online invitations urged attendees to “bring your picnic baskets, bicycles, kites, [and] kids.”

Sod provided by the nongovernmental organization Green Line covered a small part of Sassine Square Saturday, and potted flowers dotted the temporary grass. Attendees of all ages sat on blankets, shared food, and enjoyed free lemonade and manoushe delivered by local businesses.

Dia, a social worker from Beirut, brought her sons William and Wael, 5 and 6, to Sassine Square. She said she wants to “make Lebanon green finally,” and she came with her sons to teach them “how we can organize, how we can participate … I would like to raise them with this idea.”

Strumming on a mini-guitar, student Samer Shami said although there were less than 200 people at the makeshift park, this does not mean other people do not want green space in Beirut. “There have never been so many people just sitting like this … on the side of the street,” he said. “Some people need to see other people doing it first in order to get out there and do it for themselves.”

Boulad of BGP said the organization has ambitious plans for the future. “I’m not going to wait for the government to make decisions about [this issue]. I don’t think that’s going to happen soon, so I think people have to take matters into their own hands.

“Today, we took this gray space and made it green … We think that one day we will be able to take a space and make it a park.”

“Green the Grey” took place the day before Sunday’s World Environment Day, an annual event established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1972.

Other World Environment Day events over the weekend included tours of Lebanon by bike, and the launching of a joint U.N. and Lebanese American University project entitled “Think before … ,” which focuses on conversion in light of this year’s international World Environment Day theme “Forests: Nature at Your Service.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 06, 2011, on page 3.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::