Skyscrapers at the crossroads

March 18, 2017

by Maria Grazia Cassar

We have heard the phrase that we did not ‘inherit’ our world but are taking care of it for future generations so often that the severity of this claim no longer has any impact on our sensitivity.

We live, we use, we thrive and it is all in the moment, without any real consideration of the future.

Contrary to what our ancestors did, when they strived to build lasting structures or accumulate wealth, sometimes sacrificing their own well-being for the sake of that of their future heirs, today we tend to make decisions which will benefit only our present and leave the future for others to worry about.

This mindset is reflected in the way our built and natural environment has become a disposable commodity and nothing is too important or too sacred not to use for our own selfish advantage, even it means destroying it.

We have heard our Archbishop pronounce himself against the greed that is governing our society, with a stern warning to the government that the actions of today will have a lasting and irreversible effect on our country’s future.

Past wrongdoings by previous legislators, however unpardonable, do not detract from the necessity of stopping further damage being done today and, thankfully, we have seen neighbours, local councils, eNGOs and well-meaning people voice their indignant outcry against the planned skyscrapers at Tignè and Mrieħel.

More importantly, we have had a movement from civil society that is standing up to legislators and telling them that it has rights too and that, as citizens of the European Union, the right to public participation in decisions which affect the environment we live in is sacrosanct.

No word-twisting will convince anyone that an opportunity was given to the public to voice its opinion about the suitability of Mrieħel as a site for high-rise buildings. No such opportunity was given to the people of Malta to warn against the irreversible negative effect of such monstrously-scaled structures, which are so alien to our traditional landscape, if allowed to sprout out of the centre of the island destroying the best view of the gently sweeping terrain from Valletta to Mdina.

Din l-Art Ħelwa commissioned photomontages which show irrefutably that the high-rise towers at Mrieħel will blot out the view of Mdina when seen from the Upper Barrakka, for example.

This will happen with the current proposed development; one can only imagine the effect of more high-rise developments that would probably ensue.

This choice of location for high-rise was not studied, not even mentioned in the draft of the Floor Area Ratio Policy, but presented as a fait accompli on the approval of the policy document.

This is a gross act of deception, which will have consequences that will change the physiognomy of our country forever.

No one will be able to enjoy those iconic views anymore; Valletta will forever have the blotch of the high-rise towers in front of its majestic view.

Can we allow this to happen?

The photomontages also show a sinister vision of the Townsquare tower appearing over the Valletta skyline from the other side of the Grand Harbour. We have calculated what would be seen from the parade ground at Fort St Angelo, from the new Esplora Science Centre at Bighi and seen the effect from Dock No. 1.

The images speak for themselves: a shocking preview of what will be perennially in everyone’s sight. This is clearly more than a Sliema issue, it concerns all those who have their country at heart and wish to see the splendid view of our capital unspoiled for future generations.

What is also of grave concern is that these developments might compromise Valletta’s outstanding universal value as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The Unesco World Heritage committee, through decision 33COM 7B.113 of 2008, had requested Malta to:

“Establish a declared buffer zone in accordance with paragraph 103 of the operational guidelines, with height controls around the property as a means of protecting the skyline configuration of the city (Valletta) and prepare a ‘views and vistas analysis’ from strategic points within and outside the property.”

This buffer zone has not yet been declared and, therefore, high-rise projects should not be approved until it has.

It is unthinkable to rush these decisions that will have such dire consequences and impacts on our landscape and the way we live.

Din l-Art Ħelwa appeals to the good sense and conscience of all who have the power to stop them.

To view the photomontages by Daniel Cilia and a group of architects from Din l-Art Ħelwa, one may visit www.dinlarthelwa.org.

Maria Grazia Cassar is the executive president of Din l-Art Ħelwa.

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