Bicycle riders and walkers must make their way through a thicket of busy and noisy streets if they want to reach any green spots in the Gush Dan region. But now a new organization has come to their aid, suggesting the many existing plans for park extensions and bike path networks finally be put into effect to create a green belt. This belt would allow for an unbroken path from the Yarkon River in the north to the park planned for the Hiriya area in the south, as well as toward the sea and back.

The non-profit organization - called GreenRing - was started recently by two architects who live in Gush Dan and manage an office together, Ilan Abramovitz and Dan Grynhaus. "We love to walk and discovered that if you ride a bicycle in Yarkon Park you can't continue on to the next park without passing through crowded streets," Abramovitz said.

Abramovitz and Grynhaus decided to do something to help create a continuous path between stretches of green. Many cities around the world, including several in Israel, understand the notion that such areas lose a great deal of their impact if they are not directly connected to each other. The architects say that while working out the new idea, they learned that the green-belt concept had already spread to Moscow, Sidney, Bremen and some Spanish cities. Other green belts are also in various stages of planning and execution in a few large Israeli cities.

Completing the route

There is a solid basis for a green belt in Gush Dan - which will include the park along the Yarkon River, Begin Park (also known as Darom Park) in the south, Tel Aviv's beachside promenade and the planned Hiriya Park. "There are a multitude of plans - some of which have been carried out and some approved - to extend parks and create bike paths," Grynhaus says. "But the authorities don't communicate with each other in order to connect them. Each local authority behaves as though its neighbor is somewhere [entirely unreachable]."

The two architects examined several master plans, including that of Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv, to determine the location of parks and green spaces, and which had marked out a similar green belt; from there they drew out a 25-kilometer ring.

They envision a bike rider being able to set out from Yarkon Park, travel south on bike paths and along the promenade being planned for Ben-Gurion Street - which will cross the borders of Ramat Gan, Bnai Brak and Givatayim - and reach the Ramat Gan National Park. From there one will be able to continue to Hiriya, a former garbage dump being converted into a park and where a bicycle path is already open. From Hiriya the bike rider will continue through parks and paths to the edges of Holon and southern Jaffa, eventually reaching the sea. From the promenade, one can return to Yarkon Park and complete the route.

"Large outlays of money are not required, and of course new routes may be developed," Abramovitz emphasizes. "We need to prepare paths and examine projects such as electric buses on which bicycles may be loaded and which would follow the beltway, as has been done in Rome. At a later stage the belt can be connected to more parks, and a tourist route created with building rights for cafes or other centers for tourist activities."

In Be'er Sheva, one green route connects different neighborhoods to the city in addition to passing by Nahal Be'er Sheva, a small stream. Nahal Be'er Sheva Park, which is slated near the Bedouin town of Tel Sheva, is already in the planning stage and part of the promenade has been erected. In addition, some environmental hazards have been corrected, such as the dumping of trash and sewage into the stream. The government decided three months ago that the project was of national importance, and budgeted a significant amount of aid for it - NIS 150 million.

Residents of Migdal Ha'emek, in cooperation with the municipality and the Jewish National Fund, have for the past two years developed a system of paths that would make the adjacent forest more accessible. It was also determined that the forest would become the basis for a regional green belt, with paths connecting Migdal Ha'emek with two neighboring communities - Kibbutz Ginegar and the Arab town of Yafia.

'Thousand steps' path

"In Haifa we are in the advanced stages of creating a trail joining the Carmel Mountain with the beach," says architect Dafna Greenstein of the firm Greenstein-Har Gil, which planned the existing Hecht Park on the shore. "When the overpass near the railroad tracks is complete, walkers and bike riders will be able to set out from a central city park [Gan Ha-em] up on the Carmel and reach the sea via the Nahal Lotem path."

Greenstein participated yesterday in a tour aimed at encouraging urban trails of different types. Some of these Haifa routes follow staircases which descend the Carmel toward the Hadar neighborhood in the lower part of the city. The municipal Haifa Tourist Board would like to create routes through these stairway-streets. Walkers may also make their way down to one of the Carmelit subway stations in the lower city, ride back up the mountain on the Carmelit and descend again via a different street. "It will be called the 'thousand steps' path, according to the number of steps on the street," Greenstein said.

Two central green routes in Jerusalem are also underway. One is a route from metropolitan parks to be erected on the city's western outskirts, which will connect to each other via a series of paths, thus creating a continuous strip of nature and recreation areas.

An additional route planned is to be called Mesila Park and will cross the city center on the historic railroad path. "At first a four-lane highway was planned for the former rail line," said Amir Balaban of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which has been involved in recent years in preserving urban green areas. "But the municipality had a change of heart and decided on a park providing a continuous route of open land, connecting historic sites, as well as Bible Hill, which has been declared an urban nature site to be preserved. The park will allow for foot and bicycle traffic, and will connect the Talpiot, Katamonim and Beit Safafa neighborhoods, among others, on the way to the Teddy Stadium."

In order to advance the plans for the Gush Dan green belt, Abramovitz and Grynhaus are approaching everyone in the local authorities involved in the decision making process, and using all design means possible to create a logo for the project. They've met with Meital Lehavi, deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, who is responsible for the city's "green skeleton" plan - meant to create a network of continuous paths connecting green areas. Lehavi sees the green belt as an excellent idea, and says she has been involved in furthering the plan in Tel Aviv, where she will try to match plans with those of neighboring areas.

In Jerusalem, the initiative for a network of parks and a green belt started from the ground up, from residents and local community center directors. Some citizens recently created a plan to conserve the deer park in the center of the city, a project which has been adopted by the municipality and the planning authorities.

Over time, the idea of preserving open areas has won support from the city and the Jerusalem Development Authority," Balaban says. "Everyone understood that the idea, in addition to preserving nature sites and green spaces, will bring about the restoration and increase the value of urban areas, while also leading to a general improvement in the quality of life for Jerusalem residents."