Jerusalem residents and green organizations proved that entities from outside the establishment can not only oppose construction plans that endanger nature, but also successfully promote alternate plans of their own.
The Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee approved a plan yesterday that was initiated by residents to preserve Jerusalem's Valley of the Gazelles. The valley, which was set to become a residential neighborhood, will be turned into a large park, and the gazelles will be protected in approximately one third of the area. The rest of the area will be used to create leisure and recreation space along the lines of New York's Central Park.
The Valley of the Gazelles, a green island surrounded by neighborhoods and highways, is home to some 17 gazelles. Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim and Kibbutz Ramat Rachel have previously used the land in the valley for agricultural purposes, but six years ago real estate developers sought to change the land designation to allow construction, and thereby in effect eliminate this open space.
Local residents and environmental organizations immediately enlisted in a vigorous public campaign and canceled most of the construction plans, but a plan to build commercial buildings on a substantial part of the area remained.
After discovering that it is not enough to fight the construction plans, the residents decided, in an unusual move, to offer their own plan for preserving the Valley of the Gazelles. A team of planners from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) drew up the plan with funding from the Bracha Foundation. Much to the delight of the plan's initiators, including the action committee of residents living near the valley, the SPNI, and community administrations of other neighborhoods, the municipality signed on to the effort.
The committee's decision yesterday to allow objections to the preservation plan for the Valley of the Gazelles to be heard is another important stage in the process of obtaining its final approval. The decision gained a majority after the mayor announced his support for the plan two days ago, and instructed the city engineer to maintain this position during the committee's discussion. Yesterday, the district planning and construction committee also approved part of the Jerusalem master plan to develop a ring of green spaces around the centers of government and around the city of Jerusalem.
"This is an area of 260 dunams, and it will become a nature park," noted Noami Tzur, of the SPNI. "Our plan offers to protect an area of 60 dunams exclusively for the gazelles. This area will be fenced, but it will be possible to approach it and see the gazelles. It is true that it will be a kind of cage, but even now they are living in a kind of cage. They can leave it and then they are run over."
The rest of the area will be turned into a municipal park, which will include a cafe and a visitors' center. There will also be gardens, surrounded by a promenade and a bike path.
The next challenge for residents and green organizations is to find funding for the development of the park they planned. They expect to receive support from the municipality, but it is possible that they will have to rely on donations from the public and funding from various bodies, led by foundations active in environmental affairs.
Tzur is optimistic about the issue of funding. "I believe that if we managed to get this far, we'll also succeed in dealing with this challenge."
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