By Efi Xanthou
So, some good Samaritan wants to donate €1.7 million to the Limassol municipality, what is people’s problem with this? Can’t Cypriots appreciate a good deed? It’s probably someone who wanted to upgrade the Limassol Municipal Gardens so his kids can enjoy it. What’s all the fuss about?
The mayor Nicos Nicolaides basically says we should not be looking a gift horse in the mouth. The municipality is grateful for the upgrade, everything is being done in the most ecological way possible, and activists are naysayers and conservatives that just can’t recognise a good thing when they see it. He further claims that the municipality was not obligated to put the designs to a public hearing, besides the whole construction process was undertaken by the donor so the municipal council just unanimously rubber stamped the whole project and work was initiated. Why would the municipality waste precious time to put a gift through public scrutiny?
I think it’s pretty obvious that things went horribly wrong for the municipality precisely because the public was not made aware of the municipality’s plans. One day visitors to the Limassol Municipal Gardens discovered that work was being conducted, that the trees’ root systems were being torn away and the topsoil removed at an alarming level. Posts on social media led to articles in local newsletters and then in national papers. Residents were outraged at the level of intervention but mainly at the fact that the plans, as presented through media spots, described a theme park rather than a nature park, as the Municipal Gardens were up to then.
The mock-ups distributed describe a plastic bonanza, with the children’s playground being stripped of any trees (and hence any shade in the process) and plastic and cement being poured over the biggest portion of the park. This is done to such an extent that the viability of the trees that remain is put in jeopardy, both due to the roots system being disturbed but also due to the extent the soil is sealed under the plastic tarmac and cement. None of the previous landmarks seem to remain and there is no significant increase in trees or plants.
The first to come to arms were the environmental organisations, explaining that for the millionth time local authorities were negatively affecting established trees and reducing urban green areas instead of increasing them. Besides the obvious optical negative effects of destroying a green space in a densely built city, the significant increase of temperatures of the microclimate in the area were stated. Mention was made of the lack of shade of the new playground areas and the devastating effect this will have both on the utilisation of the area by children and their families, as well as the rapid deterioration that will occur of all these plastic installations due to their exposure to extreme climate fluctuations. Furthermore, neglecting to go through a public presentation stripped residents of their right to oppose the plans or influence them.
ΕΤΕΚ, the Cyprus Scientific and Technical Chamber, also entered the fray, noting that the municipal gardens were a historical landmark and thus could not be touched without the proper procedures. Furthermore, they state that the lack of public consultation and the fact that works were not put to a public tender was also problematic.
Then the Forestry Department investigated and stated that the law had not been observed and at least five protected trees were negatively affected, that a fine would be imposed and every effort to ensure that the trees survived would be made.
The most interesting intervention in my opinion came from the commissioner for children’s rights. She stated that children’s right to access to nature was constantly being violated and that, in this case, their access was irreversibly taken away permanently. She stated that local authorities need to start taking into account the needs and rights of children from the initial stages of preparing parks and playgrounds if they truly respect children and want what is best for them.
I find this public debate fascinating and way overdue. Whilst nobody refutes the need to increase urban green areas as a key component in combating climate change, it seems that the respective responsible authorities just don’t seem to comprehend what exactly this entails. How is it possible that a whole municipal council just said yes to a plastic tarmac theme park, destroying a historic established park in the process?
How can they have been discussing this donation since 2019, with work starting only this September, but they deemed that time would be wasted if a public hearing was held? No environmental impact assessment was prepared, no efforts to increase the natural landscape were made, and none of them thought that there was a problem with their decision.
This needs to be taken seriously by every local and state authority that is responsible for what our cities and villages will look like. People want more green spaces, not less! They want their children to be in contact with nature and be able to recognise species of flora and fauna in a natural setting. They are fed up with fake grass and plastic tarmacs. It is our responsibility towards the next generations to ensure these basic rights, as well as work towards saving our island from the worse affects of climate change.
Efi Xanthou is a political scientist and the Coordinator of the Interior Committee for the Cyprus Greens-Citizens Cooperation, [email protected]