UN-HABITAT said this week that a newly restored park in an area damaged during a 2009 Israeli raid had inspired the building of more green spaces in the Gaza Strip as local residents and the agencies working with them to build back better.
In a statement, the agency said the Barcelona–Gaza Peace Park implemented with the help of the Municipality of Barcelona in 2005, symbolised the aspirations of many residents for quality urban green space and was now in full use again. At the time work started, UN-HABITAT's Executive Director, Dr. Joan Clos, was serving as Mayor of Barcelona.
In a place where an Israeli and Egyptian embargo has prevented the private sector legally importing building materials for over four years, Mr. Zeyad El Shakra, the Habitat Programme Manager in Gaza said: "This is not just about rebuilding houses, but making sure that our neighborhoods will be greener with safe streets for our children to walk to school and public spaces for our families to meet on hot summer days."
The blockade, coupled with a poor economic situation, a harsh climate and a lack of space to build in the Gaza Strip, has pushed Gazans to become ever more creative in pursuing a sustainable urbanization of the Gaza Strip. All this has meant that reconstruction of damaged homes so far has been piecemeal, while natural growth needs remain unmet. It has also meant, that newly weds, for example, end up sharing space with their parents because there is not enough accommodation.
UN-HABITAT, working with the Palestinian Housing Council, is supporting Palestinian families in their own efforts to build back better, looking at improved designs, efficient use of materials and energy efficiency. The Palestinian Housing Council is also engaging the community in greening the neighborhoods and creating public spaces. They are building a school which will include a 'green' room, engaging the community and the youth in further learning.
UN-HABITAT will support the neighborhood level planning. Carefully chosen interventions in public spaces and pedestrian shortcuts to schools are meant to help ensure sustainable growth of the neighborhood which is bound to come under high development pressure once the blockade is lifted.
The agency said it hoped that this project would help to shape greener and more child-friendly policies with regard to public spaces in the Gaza Strip.
UN-HABITAT's involvement is financed by a Saudi charity called the Campaign of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for the Relief of the Palestinian People in Gaza.
The project is benefiting from the results of a three-day interactive workshop held in September 2009, jointly with the HABITAT Partner University of Westminster (London, UK). It brought together all key housing actors in order to explore concrete ways of building back better and greener.
The participants argued that building back better does not end with building more energy efficient houses, but should extend to the street and public spaces in the neighborhood, making the living environment greener, more productive and child friendly.
Talking to Gazans and municipal staff, the message is clear: They hope to create 'Barcelona' parks throughout the Gaza Strip, taking further inspiration from their sister city across the Mediterranean.