… it’s a small world

The industry is permanently involved in an orgy, eating at old homes, pulling down relatively new homes and constructing new apartments, turning the townscape into a vista of lego blocks and not giving a flying hoot about the infrastructure around all these projects

Walt Disney opening ‘it’s a small world’ in the US
Walt Disney opening ‘it’s a small world’ in the US

For those who had the fortune or misfortune to find themselves in Disneyland, Paris, they surely are aware of a ride. A ride that is simply ideal for those with very young children or those who are too scared to go on a roller coaster. It is a ride that is over 50 years old and was conceived by Walt Disney himself. 

It is called simply a small world, and it takes you via countries and continents through an artificial water canal past singing, moving and rotating puppets representing different countries.  

The underlying message is that we are all one. That it is one wonderful planet with the same challenges, imperfections, fetishes and hang-ups.

If Disneyland were not only geared to making money, and loads of it, it would have been useful to create a ride about the traits of the human race.

I would love to be there to provide some ideas and suggestions. I would talk of love, hate, lust, greed, corruption, sex, intolerance, hypocrisy, selective memory and short term vision, the obsession to dominate and build big homes, bigger businesses, own more things, cars, boats and second homes.

Which of course brings me to the theme of this week.

I was interviewing Johann Buttigieg, the Planning Authority’s chief who has had a fair share of being taken to task for three main concerns.

One, his overly pro-development stance, his conflict of interest and, number three, his position on the Paceville masterplan.

To be fair to him, he did not run a mile when faced with the questions. 

But after the programme ‘XTRA’, which I hope everyone knows has replaced the old format of ‘Reporter’, now showing on Thursdays at 20.50 on TVM, I had a foul aftertaste for two reasons.

First, I would have liked to have had the time to ask Johann Buttigieg about the serious concern being felt about the building rage sweeping wildly across Malta and Gozo.  

The other reason for the foul aftertaste was the incredible gall with which one architect on the programme, Alex Torpiano, presented his arguments when only not so many years back the project he served at Tigne Point practically broke every planning rule he was attempting to promote in the programme.

On the first point, it has to be said that the present building rampage in Malta and Gozo is a reflection of government policy.  

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in particular knows and knew that one way to sustain growth is to wave a green light to the building industry.  

The industry is permanently involved in an orgy, eating at old homes, pulling down relatively new homes and constructing new apartments, turning the townscape into a vista of lego blocks and not giving a flying hoot about the infrastructure around all these projects. The multiplier fiscal effect is tremendous, there is a good-feel factor and lots of people are making a killing.

Money talks, Bullshit walks, as Bob Hope said.

But that comes at a price, our town centres continue to be destroyed, building and construction are incessant, everywhere communities are faced with relentless building activity and in the end everyone succumbs to the power of money.

Our Maltese character is dying. We are all becoming unrecognisable.

Malta and Gozo, already badly beaten in previous decades, face a challenging moment where everything is technically possible if it falls within policy. As if the policy justifies the destruction.

Those policies have been incalculably wrong and misconstrued since the days of George Pullicino and before his day.

But now under Deborah Schembri, the task is of dismantling the look of Malta and Gozo and turning it into a cement factory.

It is true that many policies date back to Pullicino’s days, but if they are wrong then why not repeal them?  

The reason is very simple, this administration has zero empathy when it comes to our cultural and social heritage and shares the same zeal and effortless challenge to create wealth from our only resource, our limited land area.

Without our land, our native land, we have no country, no identity, just nothing.

If it weren’t for the small grouping of environmentalists, the government would not even feel the need to address these issues. Without the lobby, politicians, especially Prime Minister Muscat, would think that the world is all about growth.

And it would simply bulldoze and get on with the business of turning this country into a mini-Dubai. Needless to say, no one ever told him that Dubai had nothing, just sand dunes and open desert.  Not even a carob tree for some shade.

The only redeeming factor is that most people do not want their children to grow up in a country which is recognized by its concrete towers or so called aesthetically beautiful architecture.

The dreadful thing is that in spite of all these mishaps voters still consider their pockets more important than their soul. 

Our soul is not shaped by the euros in funds and assets but by the natural contours of our country, the aromas, the wind swept shoreline, the valleys green and barren, the stories of yesteryear, the terraced fields, the language, the idioms, the nostalgia of our forefathers, the traditions and love for our country.

But all this ends when the place we live in is reduced to an ecosystem of mesh of lime, silica and alumina, in totality better known as cement.

By no stretch of the imagination am I saying that we should reduce ourselves to the dearth of a third world country. But I will start believing that we mean business when Muscat starts to show the same enthusiasm for our infrastructure (which will also keep the construction industry happy). If this were the case we would be living in a country which could boast of marvellous roads, splendid suburbs, pristine pavements and gardens, and well designed open spaces.

It would mean that we would drive without worrying about potholes, and not concern ourselves when it rains.

Three years down the line, and we are still facing roads that are simply the worst in Europe. 

The second point I wanted to raise was about architect Alex Torpiano. On XTRA he had some valid points. He talked of consultation processes and against expropriation. I looked on and listened attentively.

As far as I know, people change, but Torpiano surely could not have changed that much since he was lead consultant to one of the best placed projects in Malta, and surely one of the ugliest of all.

In the project he captained, the Tigne project, the word consultation was not only non-existent, it was simply abhorred by the government of the day and shunned by the avaricious owners of the project.  Perhaps Francis Zammit Dimech (then minister of infrastructure) could remind us also how the residents of Tigne were handled and were eventually moved out.

Perhaps we should remember what a fuss there was more than 15 years ago when all those residents were pushed out.

Today Tigne Point is a popular site, it rises high over Valletta, and is a monument to what architecture should never be like, a tribute to the insatiable desire of investors to make a quick killing and long term investment.  

Anyone in their way was called a retard, in so many other words a depressed person.

The Midi consortium, which owe much of their vision to the late Albert Mizzi (a man who will be remembered for what he was), insist on their website that: Tigné Point is one of the most forward-looking and comprehensive real estate projects ever planned for Malta. Part of the circa €600 million Midi development, Tigné Point bridges the gap between the island’s rich cultural heritage, and an altogether newer sense of luxury and sophistication. 

It is of course one cheeky way of putting it. Frankly we did not need a glorified birdcage made of concrete to bridge the old with the new.

Which is why history repeats itself, and believe you me the players may have changed, but the finale is still very much as expected. 

The show goes on, it is after all such a small, small world!