The construction industry has a poor image. Reports of large-scale corruption involving contractors and governments are commonplace. The manic clatter clatter of jack hammers drives people insane. Clothes, cars, trees, windows, furniture are coated with a fine dust film. We are dominated by monster trucks on the road, slowing traffic down to their pace and subjecting deafened road users to evil smelling carcinogenic smoke and choking dust. Tower cranes dominate the skyline and are a constant visual reminder of the destructive impact this intrusive industry is having on our lifestyle. Rather than a peaceful haven in the sun, Malta is a frenetic construction site.
These are attacks on our heritage which must be remembered so that we can fully appreciate the damage that has already been done by the construction industry and to resist further assaults on the environment. The following is in no way a comprehensive list of the horrors that have been visited upon us, there are far too many of them. It is just a list of the ones that spring to mind first.
Before Independence, some of our finest landscapes got defaced by concrete pillboxes, unsightly barracks and tin Nissen huts. However the biggest crimes have surely been committed by us Maltese in the decades following Independence. The first slap in the face was delivered almost immediately when part of the magnificent centuries old Floriana bastions was brutally demolished to make way for the Hotel Excelsior followed many years later by the second even more brutish Excelsior.
Many remember the pristine rugged beauty that was Madliena Valley before the slopes overlooking the environmentally protected Wied id-Dis were defaced by the beehive development of nearly 100 luxury apartments.
Creeping urban eczema infected Mellieha ridge spoiling the skyline in the process.
Xemxija viewed from St Paul’s Bay is a fine example of property speculation running wild and it could take first prize for the most visually distressing assortment of tasteless apartment blocks and Qawra would be a stiff contender for the same prize.
Marsalforn in Gozo is now a brassy neon tourist trap but it used to be a charming sleepy fishing village before the rape which started with a cheerless block of flats dominating the Menqa closely followed by the equally tasteless Calypso Hotel. Xlendi is more of the same.
Sliema today can truly be described as an urban hell hole with its higgelty piggelty blocks of apartments and dug up sidewalks. Cranes block streets because they’re building more apartment blocks and the term traffic congestion could have been coined here. The truly handsome row of town houses along Tower Road were wiped out to make space for more cigarette box apartments whose architects could not have given much thought to aesthetics.
Speaking of aesthetics, there are few kind words that could be said about the monstrous blocks of Qui si Sana and Tigne. There is much more to come with 40 floor high rise projects already approved and in the pipeline and one can only sympathize with the unfortunate Sliema citizens for the many more years of suffering they will have to endure. It is truly ironic to reflect that Qui si sana translates from the Italian as One gets healthy here.
Maybe one of the most superfluous projects of recent years is the widening of the Coast Road. It used to be one of the most scenic drives on the island with its spectacular seascapes but has now been transformed into a tarmac superhighway whose boundary walls incomprehensibly hide the sea from motorists.
Industrial estates spring up in scenic valleys like Wied il-Ghasel, replacing open countryside with stone and concrete. Most of the garages are empty, the roads are dirt tracks and the electricity infrastructure is incomplete. This must be one of the most cheerless places in the Island with no attempt at landscaping to soften the dusty harshness.
It has to be said, though, that the biggest affronts to our intelligence, repeatedly levelled at us by successive administrations are the shanty towns of Mellieha, St Thomas Bay, Dwejra and Armier, illegally built and condoned because of the perceived political clout the inhabitants supposedly wield at every election.
Development is necessary and every country needs infrastructure but it does not need over development. Malta is shabby and lacks quality and it needs to stop creating new concrete blocks and to take a good hard look around and to take care of what is already there. It needs proper planning. Traffic congestion needs solving. Pavements need repairs. Roads need re-surfacing and the paint on them regularly renewed. Rubble walls need to be repaired. Water tanks removed from rooftops. The list goes on and on.
We need a quantum leap in quality. And if we don’t know what it means, let’s learn it.