There are many places in Malta you can visit and still get a quality of life feeling, although sometimes these seem to be disappearing quickly, metre by metre.
Today, traveling around the countryside there are some breathtaking views, but as often as not you’ll come across burgeoning development. Some examples of which are truly scandolous. A few blots on the landscape hit the headlines from time to time. And some, after a bit of rare investigative journalism, do turn out to be real scandals. But, it’s fairly common these days for a harmlessly small building footprint to grow stealthily into village-like proportions. One wonders how.
Last winter, I did quite a lot of walking in the countryside, carrying my camera to take photos of country vistas or plants. Half a dozen times, I was stopped by farmers asking me what I was up to and if I was from ‘ta-l’ambient’ (from the Malta Environment & Planning Authority).
Sometimes I was asked to move along.
The beauty of our architecture too is slowly disappearing as architects and developers go for high rise boxes with no social, asthetic grace or beauty. Architecture of the past had an inherent beauty belied by a simple door and two windows which opened into inner courtyards from cool, thick-walled rooms. We had facades adorned with beautiful Moorish-style balconies.
I am finding myself more frustrated each day as I see or read about some part of our heritage being lost. These feelings are compounded when I read that our laws allow us to convert agricultural water reservoirs into swimming pools, and that a mere tool room or roofless, decrepit building with a tree growing through the roof is passed as habitation and therefore allowed to become a massive villa in a so-called protected, ‘outside development zone’ (ODZ).
Malta is fortunate to have a growing body of NGOs who are doing their vociferous best to protect what can be protected. Though they may be fighting a losing battle as it seems to me that the laws are written to favour developers – our laws having input and the ‘yeh’ or ‘neh’ from elected representatives who are often lawyers, engineers, architects, notaries and draftsmen; all professions which have empathy with the construction industry. It is difficult to get away from a mentality that still equates ‘all things development’ with economic growth.
I’ll conclude with a story that illustrates the point perfectly. It’s a familiar tale, with a sting at the end:
A scorpion was stuck on a sand bank in a river which was slowly raising. He calls to a passing toad: “Please Mr Toad would you give me a ride over to the other side or I shall drown?” “No,” said the toad, “as if I do you would sting me and I would die.” The scorpion replies, “No Mr. Toad, I promise (electoral promises), I will not sting you if only you get me to the other side, for I fear I shall drown if you do not help me. I give you my word as a fellow God’s creature that I will not sting as I do not want to drown”. “OK then,” said the Toad, “but remember, your promise. Hop on my back and let’s both get to safety.” Off they went, but as they approached the other bank, the scorpion stung the toad who, with its dying breath, asked: “Why did you sting me as now we will both die?” I am sorry,” said the scorpion, “but it is in my nature to behave so.”
Photo: Dragan Donkov