‘Parks and cars’ are like ‘oil and water’. They just don’t mix

And all thanks to the policies of a Labour government, that is now ‘surprised’ to discover that it somehow managed to lose around 40,000 votes, in the space of the last two months alone

Take a good look at this picture, and tell me: what do you see?

Hang on, wait. I keep forgetting that you can’t actually do that, can you? No, you’d have to wait until this article is already online, before posting all your comments beneath it... by which time... um...

Tell you what: much simpler the other way round.  What do I see, when I look at that picture? (And just to further complicate matters, for no particular reason: I’ll start with what I would I have THOUGHT I was looking at... if I didn’t already know the answer, only too painfully well.)

At a glance, my initial gut-reaction would probably have been to assume that this could only be one of two things, really: the first (and most likely) being...

... SATIRE, of course! I mean: it’s got to be a joke, right? Because let’s face it: no one in his right mind could SERIOUSLY think it’s a good idea, to combine a ‘petrol station’ with... a ‘public garden’, of all things! You know: a place that is supposed to be synonymous with ‘clean, fresh air’, and ‘healthy outdoor activity’; where children can play in safety, in surroundings that are as ‘close to nature’ as can possibly be contrived, within an urban environment...

In a nutshell: a place that is supposed to be ‘secluded’ from all the stress, noise, hassle, noxious fumes and (above all) DANGER, of, erm... ‘cars’, ‘traffic’, and ‘vehicular exhaust’.

What better place to actually put one, then, than slap-bang on top of a ‘petrol station’, no less? Which combines all three of those things, together... and which also – in this instance, at least – includes “an additional tyre shop under the proposed garden, a reservoir, and an additional seven parking spaces in existing landscaped areas”?)

I mean, come on. It would be an utterly daft proposal, even if we weren’t already living in a country where ‘air pollution’  - caused chiefly by motorised traffic, by the way - remains the number one cause of ‘respiratory diseases among children’ (not to mention, the most serious public health risk facing ALL categories of the general public, indiscriminately).

All things considered, then: I would almost certainly have mistaken this for one of Matt Bonanno’s satirical offerings, on ‘Bis-Serjeta.com’. In which case, I’d also have to congratulate him for so perfectly capturing the sheer ‘surrealism’ of Malta’s situation, today: a country which willingly permits ALL its green, urban spaces (right down to the last remaining public garden) to be literally ‘gobbled up’ by commercial developments, everywhere you look: just like that petrol station you see in the picture...

And that is (or would have been) ingenious, not only because it can be taken as a direct reference to an actual case – happening right now, in Gzira  - where a public garden really IS being partly gobbled up by a (very real) petrol station, even as we speak; but also because – like the very best of satire – it uses that real-life image, to project a much deeper underlying concern.

Allow me to expand the metaphor further. If we interpret the public garden as a ‘metonymic’ representation  (if my memory of A-level literary criticism serves me well) of ALL such ‘open urban spaces’, currently under threat by encroaching development...

... it also becomes, by extension, a metaphor for ‘the concerns of the wider Maltese general public, itself’ (at least, insofar as its ‘quality of life’ expectations are concerned: health, leisure, safety, welfare, environment, etc).

By the same token: the ‘petrol station’ could easily double up as a cynical allusion to ALL such commercial interests, that are currently bull-dozing and jack-hammering their way directly into (what little remains) of that very same ‘public space’, and all it represents.

So if you put it all together, it becomes an instant snapshot of the so-called ‘balance between economy, and environment’, that every government of Malta has always (supposedly)  tried to strike.

Including the roads, car-park and all other associated infrastructure... that ‘petrol station’ actually takes up a good deal more than 85% of all the space available, in the entire picture! [Note: except the sky above the horizon, naturally: but don’t worry, those ‘vertical spaces’ will no doubt all be gobbled up soon, too...]

Not only that: but by placing the public garden so far in the background, huddled against what appears to be a ‘wall’ - in stark contrast to the dominant (and ominous) central position of the petrol station itself (that almost seems to point, arrow-like, menacingly in its direction)... the dynamics of the entire picture suggest that it is actually the ‘general public’, that’s being pushed forever further towards the bottom of the national priority-list...

... while those who greedily profiteer from our losses, are constantly being awarded more - and more, and MORE – of what was once OUR land; OUR space: leaving the Maltese public with forever less (and less, and LESS) that it can realistically call ‘its own’.

And what is that, if not a spectacularly accurate ‘satirical comment’, about the precise level of importance given by the present government (and a ‘Socialist’ one, too!) to ‘commercial’, and ‘national’ interests, respectively?

On the basis of this picture, alone: it works out at ‘85%+’ to commercial interests; and ‘less than 15%’ to the concerns of the wider Maltese people, at large (including, naturally, the Labour government’s own supporters)...

Honestly though: it’s almost as though we didn’t even that Steward-Vitals ruling, to conclude that the government was ‘placing private commercial lobby-groups, above the national interest’. (Nor that MaltaToday poll, either, to confirm that a growing number of people have finally had enough, of being ‘robbed blind’ from right under their own noses.)

No, indeed: all it would have taken was just one, single ‘satirical image’, of a public garden in the process of being ‘devoured’ by an instantly-recognisable metaphor for ‘commercial greed’...

Alas, however! By now you will probably have worked out that the picture was NOT actually intended to be satirical... which also means that – apart from Matt Bonanno having to be deprived of those earlier ‘congratulations’, after all – we have no option but to progress to ‘Option 2’:

ADVERTISING! This image must have been taken from some kind of billboard campaign: presumably for the latest brand of ‘eco-friendly’ automotive fuel, to hit the market.

You know, the sort of thing a Public Relations exec would come up with, at short notice, to sell you the idea that: “Try ‘Brand-X Fuel’! It’s so clean, so green, and (above all) so SAFE... that inhaling its fumes actually makes you feel as though you’re in a ‘public garden’, and not a ‘petrol station’ at all!”

And if this were indeed the case... then yeah, I do kind of see the point. After all, adverts are known to occasionally ‘exaggerate’ the qualities of certain products, here and there. Like that one on TV right now, for instance: about a certain Swiss ‘yoghurt’ (I think) whose taste is so exquisitely ‘magical’, and ‘otherworldly’... that the moment you put a spoonful into your mouth, an entire troop of ‘lederhosen’-clad Swiss folk-dancers suddenly burst out of your fridge, and yodel their way through your living room...

Not as ‘ingenious’ as the satirical interpretation, perhaps; but yes... I can certainly see it working, as a television ad campaign for ‘green fuel’. One small problem, however: in advertising, there is usually a limit – set, in Malta’s case, by the Broadcasting Authority – on exactly how far you can take this kind of ‘exaggeration’, for the purpose of marketing a product for public consumption.

Now: I won’t go into the question of whether Malta’s own BA would actually allow the above ‘advertisement’ to be aired, or not (let’s face it: they’ve permitted some far more egregious examples, in the past). But surely, any other broadcasting watchdog - anywhere else in the world - would at least ‘raise an eyebrow’, when faced with an ad that seems to ‘encourage’ families to spend all their rest-and-relaxation time... in what is effectively the extension of an auto-servicing station: i.e., within inhalation-distance of every exhaust-pipe, of every vehicle, that will ever fill up at those pumps.

And given that ‘public gardens’ are traditionally frequented by – all sorts of people, naturally; but primarily families, pensioners, and above all, CHILDREN... it almost makes it the equivalent of ‘advertising cars (or cigarettes, or alcohol) for the consumption of minors’.

Not only does it feel and sound ‘all wrong’, on both moral and public health grounds... but it is also something that is actually ILLEGAL in all European countries (including, incidentally, Malta).

In fact, I don’t think there even is any jurisdiction at all, anywhere in the civilised world, that would so much as contemplate this idea: even in the form of a (fictitious) ‘television advert’... let alone, as an actual  ‘development permit-application’, to be  submitted for evaluation – and possibly, approval - by the country’s planning authorities.

But, well... that IS, in fact, what that picture all along represents, here in Malta. A reality that is more ‘surreal’ than even the most outrageous forms of satire; and more ‘harmful to our collective health’, than a fictitous ad that would no doubt be banned – on purely medical grounds – almost anywhere else in the civilised world.

And all thanks to the policies of a Labour government, that is now ‘surprised’ to discover that it somehow managed to lose around 40,000 votes, in the space of the last two months alone.

Go figure...