On the night of 10th March, I arrived back in Beirut from Egypt on literally one of the last planes allowed into the country. I was on holiday when the ‘Corona talks’ had started, but none of us understood what was yet to come. I considered myself lucky to be back, starting home quarantine the next day. None of us thought we would be in full lockdown for over two months, with restricted movement and the airport closed until 1st July.
Beirut has many balconies that had social significance before, and flat roofs, but during the quarantine times, these spaces were truly reinterpreted. For these were the only spaces people could use for a breath of air, doing sports, gathering with neighbours for coffee, cultivating mini-gardens, or simply for a change of scenery. Ultimately, the balcony and rooftop gained new meaning: people from facing houses connected through them, sharing some kind words or a smile, something that they might not have done in ordinary times. Lebanon took serious measures from early on, transforming daily life to contain the spread of the virus. People here are very social, so they transformed their gatherings, connecting through their balconies and sharing social moments on their open gangways, obeying social distancing measures.
All places are unique, and all have their own challenges. The hot weather struck in Beirut early on, so some people started to put small pools on their rooftops, adapting to the situation in whatever way they could. There has been tremendous social support among neighbours and friends, and with good spirit and laughs we kept each other hopeful for better days to come.
This period offered a moment of deep reflection, as for many of us our workspace was relocated to our living space. For most of us, there are no gardens attached to our houses, or parks for a walk – which was forbidden for a long while anyway – so mostly we had to reinterpret our living spaces to become both our offices and spaces to exercise. ‘Public spaces’ became semi-private spaces that are conceived as passageways or foyers to get to one’s flat, and rooftops (ordinarily used to store water tanks and satellites) became crucial outdoor social and recreational spaces. I believe times like these offer opportunities for creativity and a new way to look at spaces which might be considered ‘tiny’– their perceived value grows immensely, as for some of us this is the only space to have a bit of greenery. The notion of nurturing a small balcony garden was suddenly invaluable.
In these extraordinary times, there is an opportunity to truly contemplate transformative change, as some of the ‘what ifs’ have now been tried (out of necessity), for example the alternative use of balcony and rooftop gardens. There is no measure or act ‘too small’ to start change, and perhaps if we focus on the opportunity this pandemic has given us, we as a species can collectively start making changes for a regenerative future.
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Nikolett Puskas is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Global Prosperity and holds an MSc in leadership for global sustainable cities, an MA in sustainable design, and a BSc in light industrial engineering.
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