What is the AUB Neighborhood Initiative?
“It is an initiative under the patronage of the President that tries to capitalize on AUB’s resources to affect a positive change in the neighborhood. We would like the things we teach at AUB to be implemented in the neighborhood, through our students, and collaboration with the public authorities.”
What are the types of changes and decisions that you can make?
“We do anything that would benefit the neighborhood, which of course benefits AUB because it gives first-hand knowledge to students on how to apply their knowledge in solving real-life problems.”
Who is involved in the initiative?
“We give students projects so they solve problems as part of their curriculum. We call out for volunteers when we have surveys and things that need to be done on the ground, and we’re open to any student initiative [clubs]. Even faculty, staff, and AUBMC are involved.”
How do you decide on a project and implement it?
“We first identify problems based on the neighborhood’s needs, and find who could collaborate with AUB, then we draft a research proposal. We talk to the authorities, whether it is the municipality, the governor, or a ministry, and we get preliminary approval ensuring that we have support to develop the actual project. Finally, we try to follow up on and implement the project.”
Can you elaborate on the renovations of Jeanne D’arc Street?
“The project started in 2011 with the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) as a design. It is a collaboration between the CCECS under Mounir Mabsout and the AUB Neighborhood Initiative [which was under the former director of the initiative, Dr. Cynthia Menti]. It involves the rehabilitation of the street, from Bliss to Hamra in terms of superstructure and infrastructure such as electric wires, water drainage, and sewage drainage.”
“The idea is to have a pedestrian-friendly street. We deleted the right-hand side parking lane if you’re going up from Bliss, so the sidewalk is widened by 2.2 meters, and we have added a safe passage which is highlighted by a different tiling color. Also, instead of going down from the sidewalk at the intersections to cross the street, the street rises to the level of the sidewalk, which also forces cars to slow down. The street will include Jacaranda trees, benches, and all services will be grouped. The street will hopefully be done in less than two months.”
How were the residents and shop owners informed?
“We interviewed the residents, and the shop owners who had to agree to give up the parking space, and understand that this is in their interest. There were meetings at AUB and in the town hall of the municipality to discuss the project.”
Who is actually implementing it on the field?
“The municipality held a bid as always, and a contractor won the bid.”
Who is financing the project?
“The municipality is fully financing it from taxes. Unfortunately, the municipality has not approved supervision, so we are trying to do it informally.”
What about the smoking ban?
“We have collaborated with Recycle Lebanon, who are starting a cigarette-butt recycling project. We highlighted some areas around the gate where we will provide recycling bins for cigarette-butts, so smokers can dispose of their cigarettes in a responsible way.”
What are other plans you want to work on?
“Our next project involves Bliss which is a longer process because of the food businesses, the double parking and intensity of traffic. We have set up an NGO with residents and people from AUB, called the Bliss Area Association (BAA), who are working on a project to beautify and clean the street, and provide ways to reduce congestion.”
Is there a solution that the AUB Neighborhood Initiative is trying to work on in terms of public transportation and parking spaces?
“The congestion and parking demands are in our top priorities. There is a committee for transportation led by Dr. Issam Kaissi and Dr. Maya Abou Zeid. We have been working on two solutions: taxi sharing, and a shuttle service. The taxi sharing will group people coming from the same area, while the shuttle service will provide satellite parking in Beirut, and a shuttle will take students to AUB. Having a bicycle lane on Bliss street is one of the BAA’s objectives. We’re working with the Chain Effect for bicycle parkings, and we are trying to put bike-sharing stations near AUB. Regarding parking availabilities, the Municipality of Beirut bought the land facing HSBC at the intersection of Makdessi and Abdulaziz Streets, and it’s supposed to become a multi-model car parking.”
Do you have any other projects that you are working on?
“There is the Green Wall project with schools. We are trying to partner private schools and public schools to teach students vertical agriculture. There is an upcoming project in Spring which involves a storytelling walk about AUB and Ras Beirut through three locations: Ras Beirut, AUB campus, and Ain el Mreisseh. We would also like to present the oral history of the fishermen, and try to provide a fish market on the Corniche.”