Architect hopes he can sow seeds for Maltese ‘green network’ of parks and walkways

Inspired by life in the UK, Charles Saliba’s Malta ‘Green Network’ is a 15-year project for outdoor spaces that are weaved into the national infrastructure

Starting point: The Ta’ Qali national park
Starting point: The Ta’ Qali national park

A Maltese architect based in London has a great dream: a nationwide connection of Malta’s urban green spaces with new open spaces, walking and cycling routes… if planning policies can be refitted for this vision.

Charles Saliba’s vision for the Malta ‘Green Network’ has already had its seeds planted, having presented his vision to the transport and environment ministers back in January 2019, through the support of the Building Industry Consultative Council.

“I am constantly drawing industry comparisons between what I experience in the UK and what I observe in Malta,” Saliba, who has been working in the UK for the past 15 years, said. “One of these is how green and blue infrastructure is weaved in the UK building process, how this manifests itself in tangible outdoor spaces that I regularly enjoy with friends and family in the UK, and the seemingly lack of such a process and associated space within our islands.”

Simply put, Saliba’s vision is a map of Malta in which all its green and blue hubs can be interconnected through strategic green streets, a national cycle network, and a national walking and running network.

The idea involves the improvement of existing open spaces for recreation such as the Marsa Sports Club, Buskett Gardens, Chadwick Lakes, Wied Ghomor, nature reserves and Natura 2000 sites, as well as coastal and urban parks.

A case in point, Saliba suggests the current regeneration of the Ta’ Qali National Park as the initial catalyst, by transforming the park into a much-needed recreational green heart for Malta. “This could be primarily achieved through the holistic enhancement and integration of existing uses… imagine how we could use this space to take the kids to the petting farm, have a jog around the park, buy some fresh produce from the vegetable market while finishing off your day with a family picnic under the shade of carefully chosen trees. Alternatively you could organise a corporate event at the Meridiana wine estate, entertain your guests at facilities provided by the national stadium before watching a spot of local football.”

Charles Saliba
Charles Saliba

Saliba admits that the heart of his proposal is a planning regime that imposes  green obligations on developers. “If we start from one green area, the next step should be that of integrating, say, cycle lanes into the national infrastructure… such obligations on other green areas or urban spaces would be pieces of a puzzle that need completing.”

What Saliba hopes to achieve is a nationwide masterplan in which existing open spaces can be identified, together with the creation of new spaces – such as urban pockets of undeveloped land – and how they can all be interlinked. “This masterplan would need to be fully integrated into our town planning policies, through which permitted developments can make their proportionate contribution to making this masterplan a reality,” Saliba said.

Saliba hopes that after sowing the first ‘awareness seeds’ in meetings with the BICC and the Maltese government, his idea can lead to better and greener connections between Malta’s open spaces – allowing a seamless transition from one local area to the other within regional clusters of green and open spaces.

“We have an opportunity to alleviate our current transport challenges through the introduction of cycling as a realistic and alternative safe form of transport. We can add another string to our touristic bow by widening the range of activities on offer, possibly also enticing tourists to stay an extra day. We can improve the quality of the air we breathe, alleviate our extreme air temperatures, for example through shading from trees and the use of green walls and roofs, reduce noise pollution, and improve biodiversity within our island.”

Saliba thinks his vision would need 10-15 years to be fully delivered, and does not discount the challenge of being a project that would thirst constantly for new skills and developments, and support from local councils and school visits.

“Most of the population crave open space. There is a justified perception that the development process is detracting, as opposed to seamlessly enhancing our natural environment. There are shortcomings at a town planning level – for example, local plan inconsistency, and a lack of development conditions that address and enforce matters of green and blue infrastructure.”

Saliba complained that Malta’s streets are regularly flooded and precious rainwater gets wasted – with Malta highly dependent on energy-hungry desalination of sea water – and that the island has the second highest rate of car ownership in the EU, with all related impacts of traffic congestions and air quality.

“We do not invest enough in green and blue infrastructure research and education, while professions such as landscape architects and ecologists are virtually non-existent.  The recent increase in population continues to put additional strain on our transport, waste, energy consumption and our natural environment. All these challenges have an impact on our economy through reduced productivity, either because we waste valuable time stuck in traffic, or cannot work at al due to ill-health.”

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