Urban open spaces and climate change

After a free-for-all building spree during which the development of multiple private gardens in our towns and villages were targeted, mostly successfully, our towns and villages have been promised open spaces. This, it is being stated, will bring nature closer to people! A shining sun which will hopefully produce less hay!

The implementation of the first such proposal for an open space is nearing conclusion. An open space in the Tar-Rabbat Housing Estate in Ħamrun has been partially built-up to produce an artificial garden on concrete stilts! The area below the concrete stilts is being reserved for parking of cars! This is definitely not an open space.

The open spaces which we need should not add to the concrete jungle which has developed unabated around us over the years. The open spaces should be free from any form of construction and should be the opportunity to squeeze out cars from the urban environment, preferably relegating them to the periphery of our towns and villages. The open spaces are meant to re-introduce nature into our lives, even if in a very limited way.

Our urban areas have been left to develop on their own for quite too long. As a result, they have been guided by business-friendly or market-friendly authorities, producing the mess of an urban jungle we have to face every day. This is a mess resulting from political decisions which have ensured that profits repeatedly have a priority over people and their quality of life.

The availability of funds to introduce open spaces in our urban areas is a unique opportunity to redesign the urban environment such that it becomes people-friendly. It is also an opportunity to bring urban planning in line with the requirements of climate change mitigation policy.

Earlier this month the latest report on climate change was published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). The document, almost 3000 pages long, emphasises that without profound changes to our lifestyle the Paris 2015 Climate Summit objectives will not be attained.

As islands, Malta and Gozo should be at the forefront in the international climate change debate. Climate change is already here. Extremes of temperature, long periods of drought or sudden floods are no longer a rare occurrence in the Maltese islands. We have experienced this repeatedly over the past years.

A sea-level rise will impact our coastal areas. Large stretches of our coastline are developed and used for residential purposes or else they are utilised for the maritime and tourism industries. A sea level rise, dependent on its extent, would severely impact all this activity. It is in our interest that any sea level rise resulting from climate change would be minimal, if at all. This can only happen if the climate mitigation targets agreed to at the Paris Summit are adhered to the soonest.

One of the ideas doing the rounds in the climate change debate is to rethink our urban design strategy as one of the basic tools with which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as “the 15-minute city” by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris Mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our needs are available not more than 15 minutes away on foot or by bike! Consequently, our dependency on the car would be done away with, as a result even claiming back our streets. The open spaces initiative could fit in perfectly within the parameters of the “15-minute city”.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyle within this framework?

The Covid-19 pandemic has given most of us a taste of working from home. If this could become a permanent feature of our urban lifestyle, some of us would not need not travel to work every day. This would address and potentially reduce our addiction to the car. Over a period of time this would impact our carbon emissions.

Our contribution to climate change mitigation as a result of which we can accelerate our path to carbon neutrality could be achieved without impacting our mobility. Through a judicious use of public transport, and the facilitation of other sustainable mobility options our mobility can in fact be substantially improved as a result.

Come October all public transport will be free of charge. Hopefully it will also be reliable and efficient. If adequately planned this could be a turning point in climate change mitigation measures as over a period of time it can lead to a reduction of cars from our roads. Initially such a reduction would necessarily be of a temporary nature. Eventually we can move towards a permanent change.

Within this context open spaces adequately planned have a pivotal role. They improve our quality of life by bringing it closer to nature in our 15-minute cities.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 24 April 2022

The architect-developer

The death of Miriam Pace buried in the ruins of her collapsed Ħamrun home as a direct result of building works in hand in an adjacent property has shocked the nation. The theatrics of Ian Borg, Joseph Muscat and Sandro Chetcuti, in the aftermath of last summer’s incidents had instilled a false sense of security that matters were now under control. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The whole construction industry is justifiably once more under the spotlight, for the umpteenth time since last summer. This spotlighting justifiably includes an examination of the ethical behaviour (or otherwise) of architects and civil engineers.

In the resulting public debate, it has been pointed out that the architect and civil engineer in charge of the problematic works at Ħamrun has more than a professional interest in the works in hand. He is also a minority shareholder of the limited liability company which applied for and holds development permit PA6459/19 issued by the Planning Authority in January. It has been reported that he holds 10 per cent of the shares of the company in question: MCZMC Developers Limited. He thus also has an interest in the returns resulting from his shareholding.

The debate as to whether it is ethical for an architect and civil engineer to have other than a professional interest in any specific development under his direction is not a recent one. Nor is it limited to Malta.

The Code of Conduct for holders of a warrant to practice locally as architects and civil engineers is contained in a schedule attached to subsidiary legislation entitled Chamber of Architects Regulations.

The schedule is entitled Code of Professional Conduct. This code of conduct, was originally drafted in 1969, but it was subsequently amended in 2010. It clearly lays down that a locally warranted architect “must not hold, assume or consciously accept a position in which his interest is in conflict with his professional duty.”(rule 1) Furthermore, it is provided that a locally warranted architect “is remunerated solely by his professional fees payable by his clients and/or by his salary payable by his employer. He is debarred from any other source of remuneration in connection with the works and duties entrusted to him.” (rule 2)

This clearly signifies that a locally warranted architect is barred from being involved as a property investor or as a developer in property in respect of which he or she is professionally involved.

Notwithstanding all this, readers would however easily point at a number of cases, both recent as well as not so recent, as to their being surprised when viewing a property which they were interested in purchasing to get to know that the developer was also the architect in charge of the development in hand. While in most cases no particular problems arise, there is always a feeling of uneasiness when dealing with the architect-developer with such a blatant conflict of interest.

At times, when there are problems associated with the property being purchased it is not possible to distinguish between the architect and the developer. The developer takes over while the architect takes a back seat. A situation which fits perfectly into George Orwell’s description in his Animal Farm: looking from man to pig and from pig to man again and not being able to tell which is which!

A number of these architect-developers are known, while others hide their identity behind corporate structures and/or business partners. The question to which I have no clear answer is: why has such a blatant disregard of professional ethics been permitted as if it is the “normal” acceptable behaviour?

The Chamber of Architects, maybe, could supply an answer. Since its foundation 100 years ago, the Chamber has been responsible for enquiring into “the professional practices of architects and civil engineers”. I am not aware of any action initiated by the Chamber in respect of any architect-developer to date.

When a conflict of interest arises, the removal of the cause of the conflict or withdrawing from the situation which gives rise to the conflict is essential. Taking no action signifies accepting the situation as the normal acceptable behaviour.

Through lack of action over the years we are currently on the brink of transforming the unacceptable into the “new normal”. This is the amoral society at its best.

published in The Malta Independent : 8 March 2020

In-nies qabel il-profitt

Wara inċident  ieħor ta’ kollass ta’ bini li seħħ iktar kmieni illum bejn Santa Venera u l-Ħamrun, bħal kulħadd jiena mnikket għax uħud fl-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni jidher li ma jridux jitgħallmu li n-nies jiġu qabel il-profitti.

Ilna ngħidu li n-nies għandhom ikunu mħarsa. Ilkoll naqblu suppost. Imma l-incidenti donnhom ma jridux jieqfu.

F’dan il-mument ta’ dieqa ħsiebna mal-familja ta’ Miriam Pace li hi maqbuda taħt it-terrapien.

Mhux prudenti li ngħid iktar f’dan il-mument.

Toni Abela fir-raba’ sular

Toni Abela. EU hearing 160316

Id-deċiżjoni tal-bieraħ tal-Kumitat tal-Parlament Ewropew dwar il-Kontroll tal-Budget setgħet kienet antiċipata. Toni Abela hu persuna li qatt ma ħarab il-kontroversja, u l-istess kontroversja bla dubju baqgħet tiġri warajh.

Bħal ħafna oħrajn jiena kont sorpriż meta l-Gvern iddeċieda li jinnomina lil Toni Abela għall-Qorti tal-Awdituri, prinċipalment minħabba li m’għandu l-ebda esperjenza ta’ amministrazzjoni pubblika. Qatt ma miss direttament b’idejh id-deċiżjonijiet politiċi dwar l-allokazzjoni ta’ fondi pubbliċi u l-infieq tagħhom. Esperjenza f’dan il-qasam ma kellu xejn.  L-esperjenza bħala Viċi Sindku tal-Ħamrun 24 sena ilu, fil-fehma tiegħi ma tfisser assolutament xejn.

Ma dan trid iżżid il-kontroversja dwar id-droga fil-Każin Laburista ta’ Ħal-Safi li dwarha, l-ispjegazzjoni li ta Toni Abela, anke jekk probabilment hi korretta, qatt ma kienet sodisfaċenti. Hi spjegazzjoni li ma kkonvinċiet lil ħadd. Hi kontroversja li wasslet ċar il-messaġġ li l-Partit Laburista ipproteġa l-kriminalità fil-każini tiegħu.

Dan kollu, trid tarah ukoll fid-dawl tad-dibattitu kurrenti dwar il-korruzzjoni fil-pajjiż kif ukoll fid-dawl tal-fatt li l-kaz John Dalli ta lil Malta isem ħażin fuq l-livell Ewropew. Dan hu salib li bħala pajjiż irridu inġorru għal snin kbar u minħabba fih kulħadd ser jeżamina kull ma nagħmlu u nipproponu bil-lenti.

Hemm min qed jgħid li dan kollu hu riżultat ta’ kampanja negattiva mill-membri parlamentari tal-PN fil-Parlament Ewropew. Issa jiena ma nafx dawn x’għamlu, imma naf li illum il-ġurnata, sempliċi search fuq l-internet, f’tebqa’ t’għajn tagħtik l-informazzjoni kollha li tkun trid jew teħtieġ, mhux biss dwar Malta iżda ukoll dwar Toni Abela.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu Toni Abela seta faċilment antiċipa r-riżultat tal-bieraħ. Żbalja bil-kbir meta aċċetta n-nomina.

Għadni ma nistax nifhem kif l-istrateġisti tar-raba’ sular dan kollu ma fehmuhx.