When the Knights of Malta built Valletta they had to give up one thing they had been used to in Rhodes: buildings with lush gardens that allowed them to pace up and down while courting kings, popes and lovers.
But Valletta was dry. Aqueducts had to be built for water to reach the city from Rabat and, of course, that water could not be wasted on watering plants in home gardens. However, ever clever, the knights came up with a holistic solution: communal gardens. The entrance of the city would be a vast open garden space, where one could gather one’s thoughts before stepping in the hustle and bustle of the city. (The space is gone now – centuries later Dom Mintoff decided it would be a perfect spot for a hideous block of flats.).
Not only that, the knights planned for the suburb of Valletta – the town of Floriana – to be designed as the city’s public garden to give people a reprieve from the city life. Floriana was like what Hyde Park is to London, hence the beautiful gardens like Sa Maison and Argotti.
Today, when we think ‘Floriana’ we do not think ‘gardens’; we do not even think ‘town’. To me, it is nothing but that 400m strip that is St Anne’s road: winner year-in-year-out of the most polluted road on the islands.
Floriana does not exist for anyone except for the couple of thousand people who live there and for the Beltin – who see the Furjaniżi as their arch enemies. It so happens that, six years ago, four brilliant young Maltese architects drew up a detailed plan to put Floriana’s green credentials back on the map. St Anne’s road would see cars no more; it would become a pedestrianised green strip and traffic circulation would improve because cars would drive down into a tunnel instead.
It’s a project which would have put Malta on the green map and you’d think it would be snapped up but no: it has been left on the back-burner for the last six years. Shelved, ignored, practically binned. Can you imagine our young architects’ frustration when, this month, Paris announced that it was transforming its two-kilometre long Champs-Élysées into a garden?
These architects – Ian Camilleri, Adam Brincat, Anna Gallo and Bernard Vella – deserve a standing ovation for daring to believe that it is possible to inject fresh air into our urban areas. They are an example of the brilliant minds that this island can nurture. But what do we do? We suffocate them.
By rejecting one beautiful project after another we are killing the souls of our budding architects. We’re telling them that, if they want a salary at the end of the month, they have to quit this creative green nonsense and just draw plans for nothing but grey, tall, concrete blocks.
They do not even get the support from the man who should have been hopping with excitement. When Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia saw the project last year, he showed “great interest”. And? That’s it. He’s brilliant at showing “great interest” in environmental issues and then acting with absolute disinterest.
Aaron Farrugia is nothing but a spineless whimper of a man who plays the part of the cool green dude- Kristina Chetcuti
Sadly for our environment, Farrugia is nothing but a spineless whimper of a man who plays the part of the cool green dude, posing for cool PR pics on the bus or on a bike or whatever gets him lots of ‘likes’. He fancies himself as Aaron the Hedgehog from the Sonic cartoons but, in reality, is nothing but a groundhog, a rodent who is rarely far from a burrow entrance, ducking at the slightest menacing nod from the more powerful ministers around him. He won’t be pushing for the Floriana garden because he’s too scared of getting ‘the look’ from bully Minister Ian Borg, whose Infrastructure Agency dismissed it as a vague “future investment”.
There is no money for such a project at the moment, the agency implied. Clearly, it’s needed to destroy more farmland to build more roads. The green Floriana makeover costs €250 million. Now let’s see, how much did disgraced Joseph Muscat decide to give the hopeless Steward daily, from our taxes, to do eff all in our hospitals? Ah, yes, €250,000 per day for 30 years. Are we throwing away that money so perhaps it can fill somebody’s pockets? If we weren’t, we could have had the Floriana park built in two years.
French architect Philippe Chiambaretta, who drew up the makeover for the Champs-Élysées, said that the Parisian thoroughfare needed to be redeveloped because it had become a place which symbolised “pollution, the place of the car, tourism and consumerism”.
No wonder the Floriana project won’t be pushed: “pollution, the place of the car, tourism and consumerism” is what our government stands for. The prime minister would rather have us talk about other stuff, like you know, euthanasia and other “civic reforms”.
He wants to discuss controversial moral issues when his own party is drowning in the immorality of corruption that is denying us citizens the basic right of a justice system which works.
Why don’t we talk about the long-awaited construction industry reform, instead? Isn’t that civic too? Are public green spaces going to be given priority in this reform? Or will the grey blocks of concrete still have the last word?
They should all look for an answer in the Latin inscription on Portes des Bombes, the arched gate built by the knights at the entrance to Floriana. It reads Ad Majorem Popvli Commoditatem.
For the greater convenience of the public.