The Debate on Roadside Beautification

“If authorities stop planting trees, flowers and roses along roads and at roundabouts, BD1 million can be saved,” say some councillors in this country.

This, I immediately realised, was a matter to think about, and write about.

“Spending BD1m (USD 2.65 m) on such beautification,” according to Northern Municipal Council chairman Mohammed Buhamood, “is ridiculous, unnecessary, and a clear drain on funds.”

He also said, “The government says that it is facing huge funds shortages and needs to borrow with oil prices having halved to $30 from $60 the national budget is based on. Yet it was keen to spend on such nonsense.”

But is this beautification really a drain on funds? Is spending on greenery, nonsense?

These questions, I felt, must be addressed. And, answered in such a way, that all those with a similar opinion can view the issue from another perspective.

First, let us look at some of the arguments raised by the councillors, against the planting of trees or greenery along the roads.

Argument One: “Most of the time, palm trees grow and branch out onto the road making it difficult to drive. Thousands of dinars are spent on getting them trimmed by specialised companies”.

Argument Two: “These trees end up turning yellow or die because of negligence or improper maintenance due to unavailable funding”.

Argument Three: “Roses and flowers are cheap to buy. But they die very fast and have to be replaced regularly, which is another reason why they shouldn’t be bought in the first place.”

Argument Four: “People don’t care for such beautification; they are keen on reaching home, work or their children’s school in the fastest time possible.”

My response to the above arguments is, as follows.

Palm trees are the only trees that grow well in desert areas like Bahrain. If these trees are also avoided, the land would look completely barren. In fact, the government is actually wise in ensuring that palm trees, and not some exotic trees from rain-forest areas, are grown along the roads. A bit of maintenance cost, of course, is necessary, and must be accepted.

With environment here not conducive to grow roses, on the sides of the roads, it is not roses, but other flowers that are actually grown. Horticultural companies here are ensuring that flowers and greenery are appropriate, as per the season.

And, anyway, why are they generalising? Who says people don’t care about beautification?

When I entered Bahrain for the first time, more than 30 years ago, I was very happy to see the greenery in many places like Riffa, Adhari and Budaiya. Now, with the increase of concrete buildings, it is all the more important that we increase greenery, even if it costs us a bit.

I firmly believe that beautification of a nation, and its cities, is an important responsibility of its rulers.

History is replete with examples of kingdoms which worked hard to make their cities beautiful, from centuries ago.

In Rome, during first century BC, Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar had invested in lush green gardens, both private and public. And two centuries earlier to them, in India, Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty had had trees planted on either sides of long highways.

Beautification of a city’s roads is no new phenomenon. And it should not be taken lightly. It is a cost that must be budgeted for, and spent upon.

Trees produce cleaner air for us to breath, and do not merely decorate roads. They soothe the eyes, and lift up our spirits. They, definitely, increase the quality of life.

In Bahrain’s budget for 2015-2016, approved in July 2015, the 2016 revenues are estimated at BD2.177bn and the expenses at BD3.682bn. The recurrent expenditure is estimated at BD3.217bn and spending on projects at BD465m.

While the approved municipal and capital revenues (estimated at BD58.4m for each year) are not much, I am sure, saving 1 million is hardly going to make any difference.

Other non-oil sources of revenue must be actually increased, to combat oil-price fall. Not cutting on small amounts which hardly make a difference.