Think green, think local. This is the approach I believe we need to take if we want a return on social benefits from the current shift towards highly-developed areas. And to do this, we need to start at street level.
Indeed, facing the problem of overdevelopment is an imminent issue we need to tackle, before it is too late.
We lack data about the impact of overdevelopment on our immediate surroundings. Our environment, globally and locally, is being erased at a much faster rate than it is being recreated. I am not too sure we have understood the worrying implications of a wiped-out natural landscape. We need to act fast and we need to start at street level.
So thinking green means allowing Malta some breathing space in districts that are heavily built and getting developers to contribute to healthy post-construction spaces.
I am not opposed to development. I am completely for it but it is lack of foresight from a long-term planning perspective that new buildings under construction are not designed in a way that upgrades their immediate surrounding spaces as part of a communal project. Many construction projects present a number of additional problems as soon as contractors leave the site: potholes, cracked tarmac from heavy cranes, shabby pavements, fallen concrete from trucks, lack of seating for the community, lack of trees and uprooted plants or mounds of material, to name a few.
We need to instill a culture of responsibility. Once a site is complete, owners should be responsible, as part of their development application conditions, for the upgrade of the immediate communal space. Communal spaces include pavements, roads, small and larger gardens, pedestrian crossings and anything the community uses around the area being developed.
We need to instill a culture of responsibility
Architects issue compliance certificates for buildings. More beneficially, we should issue compliance certificates for surrounding public spaces so, once construction is complete, developers are encouraged to upgrade them.
This is part of our responsibility towards street design and care for neighbourhoods. Local policies call for public spaces that are safe, attractive and meet the needs of both the users of the building and the wider neighbourhood. But how is this measured?
What exactly is a safe, attractive outdoor public space that meets the needs of its users and the wider neighbourhood? If you are an applicant from another locality, why would it interest you? It is unlikely that, as a developer, you will deal with the issue of fewer trees, noise, broken pavements, damaged tarmac and dirt left after a site is completed. But the neighbours and residents will be affected for at least a couple of years if the local council ever upgrades the spaces affected, a job which, we must admit, takes time too.
A solution here would be for developers themselves to think about bettering public spaces. I encourage Planning Authority applicants to include contingency measures for street enhancement as a way towards enhancing public spaces and street design without having to go through unnecessary bureaucratic measures.
Alternatively, I strongly recommend that the Chamber of Architects and Engineers take on a monitoring role and act as an audit tool for the community. It has the expertise and can easily undertake the task, provided that good governance prevails (appointed architectsare independent).
Good governance is not an ideology, it is a practical tool for monitoring decisions and actions when planned properly as a supporting act to organisational management. Monitoring and control are critical, especially as rapid infrastructural change is happening across the island.
Developers and site owners will form part of the ‘good governance idea’ where they will contribute to the rehabilitation of streets. This would lead to people-oriented street designs, safer access as well as cleaner and greener post-construction solutions.
Plant a tree with every plot issued. Rebuild the pavement once the work is complete; tarmac the road; install public benches.
Monitoring and control, despite being tiring for some, always leaves a trail of good governance and communicative solutions in the longer term strategy of life.
Plaques bearing the names of the individuals or firms involved in such initiatives could lead to others following suit.
Proper planning for our streets and spaces makes for satisfied residents and raises awareness.
Think local, think green, think residential.
Rebecca Dalli Gonzi is an architect and MEP election candidate with the Alliance for Change party.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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