Okay, so at the time of writing this, the Manoel Island happenings are not really news to anyone. Everyone and their mother has read the articles, and everyone, their mother, and their dog has taken to the internet expressing their opinions on the new development. The proposal seems to have split opinions even less than Salvu Mallia’s antics, as seemingly everyone – from Gzira bar workers to high-brow University hipsters seemed to slam the new project harder than a national ban on tipping (or stipends).
But what is this proposal exactly? It’s put forward by MIDI – a public limited company bent on breathing a new life into two pretty decrepit areas – Fort Tigne and Manoel Island. It took over the two areas on a 99 year lease from the Government (a practice which, by the way, is a disgusting affront to liberty and public domain), and immediately began pushing to turn Tigne into a luxury residence extravaganza, complete with a shopping mall and football pitch, all finished elegantly enough to give Roman Abramovich stirrings in the nether regions.
Manoel Island was, for the most part, left alone – kept out of the spotlight entirely until the nice people at Kamp Emergenza Ambjent cut through the gates last September and opened the foreshore to the public for the first time in 16 years. Now MIDI finally turned their attention to the place. Their new development supposedly allocated 62% of the island to public open spaces, and only 18% to new buildings. But it’s not the building up of the island I take issue with. It’s the kind of buildings that are being propped up there. We’re getting another casino. We’re getting another hotel. And we’re getting more luxury apartments. If this ends up following the model of Tigne Point, we’ll get some common areas where the everyday man is allowed to mix with MIDI’s elites, the prime area getting gated off to allow the same elites to pay for the privilege of keeping the views to themselves, and a public swimming area – one where no one would really go swimming unless they want to get one of their limbs stuck in a superyacht.
And believe me, I’d love to stand up with the rest of the crowd and fight to stop Manoel Island from getting ruined. But I feel far more compelled to turn around and point out that it’s pretty ruined already. If we look at it closely – it’s two historical buildings doing all they can to not fall apart surrounded by shrubbery, boats of all shapes, sizes and working conditions, rust, dirt, ducks and a small venue that caters to hipsters. MIDI are right on one thing – the place needs a lot of work. Just not THEIR KIND of work.
We can start by restoring the Lazzaretto, and opening it up to the public and tourists. The fort can soon follow, being turned into a museum for contemporary art and culture. This would tie in with the best part of MIDI’s proposal – turning the parade grounds into a venue for concerts and events. The rest of the island (and I cannot believe I am agreeing with Mr. Cassola here) should be open to the public. Trees could be planted and a park could yet be made. Someone clever enough to think of the idea but naive enough to think it would change anything even circulated a petition last night – asking for Manoel Island to be turned into Malta’s own Central Park. I’ve certainly heard worse ideas.
Obviously none of this would be cheap. But if a government that spent €4.2 million of hard-earned taxpayer money removing people from Tigne so MIDI could redevelop it actually balks at spending some money to make Manoel Island Great Again – then it’s about time we start asking questions. But unfortunately – we don’t live in a country of middle grounds. It seems everyone either wants the island built up into just another place with overpriced cocktails, coffee and parking, or wants the island to stay the mess that it is. And I don’t know which idea I like less.
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I mainly just eat in bed and think of witty things to say on the internet, though.