We shouldn’t even be here. The db Group should never have had the gall to propose a concrete insanity that will bury hundreds of families living in government-built apartment blocks in a residential area. The db want to condemn us all to permanent traffic gridlock. And they expect us to pay for a tunnel, a veritable U, to get their residents and patrons from St Andrews Road to their exclusive ‘city centre’ and back. How’s that for a deal?
On Thursday, the board members of the Planning Authority will decide about this project proposal. They will declare whether they stand with those who, over the years, have made Malta their own private backyard, or with those, thousands, who are trying to defend their basic human right to live in peace.
They will declare whether they want a 37-floor tower (that’s Portomaso with 14 floors on top) and a 450-room resort hotel to permanently gatecrash the lives of residents in the area and beyond.
The insane thing about this ‘brainchild’ is that it parachutes a ‘city centre’ into a tiny, essentially enclosed residential area whose quality of life is already suffering because of its proximity to Paceville.
There is no way this concentration of concrete and air and noise pollution can be integrated, as common sense and experts like Aslı Ceylan Öner and Burkay Pasin (2015) demand in such cases, within “the broader urban context”.
It will just take the clueless sprawl of Paceville further into Pembroke where it was never meant to be.
This case should have never landed on a case officer’s desk. Needless to say, no case officer should have even considered recommending it for approval. Not if they had the common good in mind, that is. This project is against everything our society claims to aspire to. There is nothing sustainable about the erection of this proud hymn to prepotence.
Instead of a harmonious relationship with the decreasing space we live in, it proposes installing 37 floors of ‘exclusive’ apartments, offices and more of the bland blocks of shopping malls, casinos and nightclubs that blot out our sun, tear our skyline, sully our air, and disturb our sleep.
We’ve been here before.
I disagree with those who think that there is no design behind this seemingly aimless construction frenzy that has made some people very rich and lowered the quality of life of the rest of us. There’s an unquenchable thirst for generating personal wealth behind all of this, of course. But there’s also the belief, among some powers-that-be, that Malta can only continue to prosper by building more. And the sky is not the limit.
I don’t want to live in a country that makes me feel as if I were some tolerated intruder. A country that expects me to be grateful for the little spaces it affords me
So the real question here is, I suppose: what kind of Malta do we want to live in? That is, if we’re still in time to choose. We’ve kind of given up trying to change the general direction the country has taken over the years. So we fight the smaller battles, like this latest db insult to basic human decency and intelligence.
I don’t want to live in a country that makes me feel as if I were some tolerated intruder. A country that expects me to be grateful for the little spaces it affords me.
I don’t want to spend my free time in piazza Tignés, walking along gentrified walkways, trying to get a glimpse beyond rows of yacht marinas with fences and CCTV cameras staring down on me.
I’m sick of the privatisation of our public spaces and shared heritage. Pembroke was a restricted area in colonial times. Are gated communities the best Independent and Free Malta can offer us and future generations?
Why does a public tourism college on public land have to pack its bags to make way for the lucky few who can afford to buy ‘exclusive’ property that towers over people’s lives? Wasn’t this meant to be a jaw-dropping model of an island nation that invests in the education and well-being of its people? Do private interests have to come before the interests of the community?
Do we really need all these buildings? All these high-rises? Some level-headed people are convinced that we have no alternative to high-rises if we want to protect the little countryside we have left. Thing is, we’re not doing that either. It’s just build, build, build. Asphalt and concrete. Everything is up for grabs.
No policy will defend our individual and collective rights. Or our property. Whatever it is. Wherever it is.
Besides, it’s not like these public resources are being sacrificed to satisfy a need for housing felt by those who already live here. If anything, attracting very wealthy foreigners is making buying and renting living space in Malta more and more unaffordable for common people. Is this really what development is all about?
The db Group is not the first to launch a concerted assault on the already precarious equilibrium on our overbuilt, overpopulated tiny island State. And it won’t be the last.
They tell us it’s all about ‘excellence’. The ‘one word which captures the essence of success in our business’, ‘which explains our staying power’, ‘which deﬁnes who we are’, ‘which is our future’. You get the awesome db drift.
According to the db Group’s virtual locus of self-ingratiating platitudes: “It’s all about movement.”
There won’t be much of that if db and its merry, white-shirted, tie dangling coterie have their way. There won’t be much movement anywhere around its ‘city centre’ in what successive governments designed as a quiet residential area.
When already approved or in-line-to-be approved high-rises are completed, the only movement among those crawling through and around St Andrew’s Road will be that of the tongue and the jaw.
And the words coming out won’t be something db Group will want to reproduce on their jolly website.
Adrian Grima, a writer and academic, is a Pembroke resident.
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