Beirut's first street atlas creates order out of chaos, Nairobi gets an airport "bush hotel" and Lagos motorists get some hi-tech help to avoid traffic.
Navigating the streets of Beirut can be a tricky exercise. Landmarks – from the name of an old pharmacy to the colours of a building’s shutters – are points of collective reference, as street names are seldom used or do not exist.
Inspired by London’s A-Z and Rome’s Tutto Città, social entrepreneur Bahi Ghubril (pictured) published Zawarib Beirut (Beirut Alleys). Beirut’s first street atlas has been going from strength to strength with everyone from the Beirut marathon to the city’s municipality and the local yellow pages asking for his maps. An expanded edition covering nearby cities, as well as a pocket version (with eight different covers designed by local artists) and the first Beirut bus map, came out last year. A BlackBerry application and an online version are soon to follow.
The company was formed in 2005 and it took Ghubril two years to compile his first guide with satellite images, filling the gaps on foot and enlisting the help of mayors, municipality officers and cartographers. “The project was born from a need to organise the city, but also as a socio-political project to open up the city to its residents and visitors,” says Ghubril.
Passionate about maps, Ghubril realises the poetry in the way the Lebanese have learnt to describe Beirut and its suburbs. Whether it’s the “sycamore” neighbourhood or the “elephant’s tooth” hill.
Ashghalouna restaurant: First right just before the “ring road” after Barbar sandwiches, in a red house which used to be an annex to the old British embassy in Zokak al Blatt.
Madame Reve jewellery shop: Opposite Doculand printing shop in Gemmayzeh, take the stairs and it’s the second building on your left with an Art Deco tower.
Nabil DVD shop: With the Druze centre in Verdun behind you, take the third road left, and then right just before Pain d’Or bakery.
French Lycée: After Sodeco tower, on the Damascus road take the first left between the gas station and “Beirut homes” building.
Bored with coffin-sized airport hotel rooms lying at the end of the runway? The Nairobi Tented Camp pitches itself as the ultimate bush airport hotel – sleep in the open savanna to the sound of howling hyenas as lions pad around the camp, knowing you’re a short ride from Nairobi’s international airport.
Open since December, it has proved a hit with tourists and is now trying to snare the business market used to anodyne airport hotels. “Safaris in Kenya used to start after a long five-hour drive down to the Maasai Mara,” says owner Guy Lawrence. “But now your safari can start 10 minutes after leaving the airport.”
Dubbed “go-slows”, kilometre-after-kilometre traffic jams bring Lagos to a grinding halt for hours each day. But now, traffic.com.ng is trying to offer a little pain relief.
Armed with mobile phones, a team of motorcyclists weave through the city taking pictures of gridlocked highways or open tarmac. A text message fires the photo to HQ where traffic is graded: “slow”, “moving” or “free” and alerts are sent to subscribers and posted on the website. So far so simple, but the project is up against monsoon rains and Lagos’s corrupt police, who are after backhanders for taking photos.
With the UAE’s dependence on food imports hovering at 85 per cent, pressure is on for the country to take note of what can grow in its own – admittedly arid – backyard. Reports surfaced in February that food stockpiles would stretch to 10 days in a crisis (compared to an international six-month standard) and an agenda has been struck for 50 per cent self-reliance by 2030.
Grants will be issued by the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority from August to farmers who reduce water use by modernising outmoded practices, but an overhaul of the Emirates’ 38,000 farms is needed before it can start turning the freighters away.
The fastest-growing city in the world is Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. According to the UN, the city’s population has grown by 139 per cent over the past decade.
Andry Andriamanga is executive secretary of Voahary Gasy (VG), a new environmental alliance trying to keep alive efforts to save biodiversity in Madagascar. Since a 2009 coup, the international community has withdrawn almost all aid and plundering is rife.
How bad is the eco-crisis?
We estimate that 26,000 rosewood trees – worth up to €3,500 each – left Madagascar in 2009 alone. The previous annual average was 1,200 trees. In the first five months of this year, 114 tortoises were seized in Asia.
What can be done?
The international community should re-engage with Madagascar on the condition that authorities stop the smuggling.
Can one control what leaves the world’s fifth largest island?
Absolutely. Aid money should be spent on boosting our control infrastructure. The judiciary should also take action against smuggling syndicates. Madagascar has 10 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity. Saving it is a joint responsibility.