Here’s another pre-electoral project for you Mr Government…

No Parking in the Pinetum
I will be hard-pressed to find anyone who disagrees with me when I say that finding green, open spaces is a problem in Malta. I acknowledge that on a small island like ours, avoiding the concrete jungle look while embracing “progress” is a tad difficult – but this doesn’t mean that I actually like living in said concrete jungle.

Of course if you really want to be at one with nature, so to speak, you can manage this with a bit of effort. The national park in Ta’ Qali is lovely enough and perfect for family picnics (shame about the lack of dog space, but that’s a different story). If you’d like to venture further afield, the area surrounding Golden Bay is pretty spectacular, as is L-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa. I’m sure there are other lovely spots around Malta  – Fawwara also springs to mind, if only I can ever remember how to get to it. But none of these, except for Ta’ Qali, are real parks in the traditional sense of the word. Most are a pain to get to and offer no amenities, which automatically means that families with small kids won’t bother. And neither will the rest of us, given we’re a nation of lazy so-and-sos (I include myself in this description).

The point that I’m trying to make here is that we have precious little opportunities for outdoor recreation in an organised setting. Which is why I don’t understand the reason we don’t make the most of those natural spots that lend themselves to being transformed into parks. A case in point is the Pinetum in Pieta.

Apart from sniggering at the hilarious “No Parking in the Pinetum” sign that adorns the entrance on the side of Pieta creek  – seriously, people have actually tried to park in there? – I had never really paid much attention to this area and probably neither have you. The only time the Pinetum registers on my scale of consciousness is during my morning drive to the office, when I notice a vague clump of trees to my left, somewhere.

Until recently, when a group of us were trying to pick a place where we can allow dogs some freedom to roam off the leash. The Pinetum was picked for various reasons, mostly because it’s central, parking is easy and there is enough space that the mutts will be kept busy away from the roads. The perfect solution, you’d think. Only, not so much. Turns out there’s a perfectly valid reason why the place isn’t full of happy families picnicking. As usual, everyone seems to have been aware of this reason, except for me. Even in broad daylight, the place is a hotbed of vice that would give the Detroit ghettos a run for their money. Well, ok maybe not. But by Maltese standards the place attracts a pretty freaky set of people, just hanging around waiting for business, glaring at any strangers who are evidently there for recreation purposes as opposed to for business purposes.

Thanks to the presence of dogs, the hostility scale never actually exceeded the glaring. But the message was as loud as it was silent: we’re going to make you as uncomfortable as possible until you leave. This goal was accomplished in less than an hour. The Pinetum is huge, but despite how assiduously we tried to avoid these “runners” they seemed to have no similar wish to avoid us. The accepted tactic seems to keep moving parallel to any intruders so that no matter which direction we picked, we were always accompanied by three or four hooded strangers a few metres away. Granted, the effect would have been a lot more sinister had these strangers not backed off in fear whenever approached by even the smallest of dogs, but the fact remains: it’s not a place for families.

My question is this: why are such premium spots allowed to fall into such a state that the majority of us can’t enjoy them? Why is the area surrounding the Pinetum not gated and transformed into a park? Why not install facilities to encourage Joe Public – as opposed to Joe Hoodlum – to make use of it? Heck, if you really think that a public park is such a bad idea, make it Malta’s first official dog park.

Whatever the authorities opt for, I’m sure there are better uses for the area than allowing it to become a drug hotspot.

This post was published on The Tv Guide (Times of Malta).