Benghazi is an open shopping mall: How we exchanged money with chaos

"We're not lucky that our home aren't located on main road"
“We’re not lucky that our home aren’t located on main road”

“I am not rich!!” I usually use this phrase as a response to some friends when they ask me why you do not buy that thing!. Some Benghazi’s residents have their own answer. They use “My father is not rich, nor our home does locate on a main street”. The second part of the answer is referred to the convenient stores attached to their houses.

People who own homes facing the main road or streets switch number of rooms to shops. They either rent them or start their own businesses. Therefore, houses located on the main streets are much more expensive than ones are not on the main streets. New shops are opened wherever new roads are paved. The whole city switched to become one shopping mall.

Problems

There are (Or I should say there WERE) regulations, rules, and standards classify and arrange zones in Benghazi. The land use was set precisely to split between zones. There are culture, commercial, residents, services, and other zones. These zones arranged to work perfectly with each other. In addition, zones could be mixed up together, which called in urban development mixed-use. Benghazi center set up to be mixed-used due to some historical restrictions and geographical location. People completely neglect these regulations and standards. They act on their only own benefits. In addition, the absence of following up and monitoring by the government makes it for residents easier to break out these regulations.

The Current Land Use by Alemarha Office
The Current Land Use by Alemarha Office

Another issue to be addressed is updating Benghazi’s master plan. The last master plan generation should be finished in 2000. Since that year, we live in planing vacuum which results the chaos attached with slums everywhere.

One should admit that the new shops opening up everyday take a systematic approach for the type of business. That has been said the one street is form from many shops specialized in one business type. Therefore, you can find streets sell only furniture, other sell computers.

The convenient stores within walkable radius should be a great idea especially in terms of sustainability. This could sound perfect as we do not have to go far using cars to get our stuff. However, with the current situation of Benghazi’s infrastructure turns the advantages to disadvantages. Main roads are completely in urgent need to maintenance. These roads were not designed to handle this mixed-used zone. There should be some standards with certain number of parking spots to handle these shops. Tight roads make it difficult to find parking spots and drive smoothly. Too much traffic in these roads as some or many people park in the middle of the way. Some say there are six millions cars in a city has a million population. All that make our commute so difficult.

For example, 20th Street is one of the busiest streets in Benghazi. It has too many shops. People moving around shopping and parking their cars adjacent or on the sidewalk. Before opening these shops, the street was one of the preferable rout as it connects some critical areas as shortcut. Nowadays, people, including myself, avoid using this street as it becomes nightmare to drive in.

The busy 20th Street
The busy 20th Street

Solution

It is easy to fix these issues. First, we have to embrace the current situation. It is too difficult to ask people to close their shops. There should be some organized way to study and analyze which shops should be closed and which ones are OK to operate. Some shops hurts the city and some benefit the city. Second, we should upgrade our infrastructure, maintaining and providing some parking spots (Multi-story garages for example). We have a great number of convenient stores, but Benghazi is not walkable city, we need to improve walkability. Most of neighbors lack of good walk side. Third, drivers should follow traffic rules and drive in lanes and park correctly in places designated for parking.

We complain of many issues in our daily life. We must realize that we created these issues. Therefore, no one will fix them to us unless we do. We should understand the problem first, then act accordingly for the best result. To change Benghazi from one open mall to a real developed city, we have to admit the issues now, and start to act immediately.

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