An 'Oasis' Named Hiriya

The plan to develop the Hiriya garbage dump southeast of Tel Aviv, and its surrounding area, has been making the rounds of planning authorities for years. And years. Now and then, somebody cuts a ribbon and declares that a new master plan has been approved, that the name of the future park is being changed from "Ayalon" to "Ariel Sharon" or that the authorities have formally agreed to ban construction of housing developments on the site. Yet for all the ceremonies, actual progress, activity on the ground, has occured at a glacial pace - except at the dump itself.

Hiriya needed attention not only from planners, but from public relations experts: It had an image problem, you see. The authorities involved in running the site and planning the park had the good sense to realize that the dump itself was the place to emphasize. Also, it's easier to appreciate progress in a small area. Thus, works at Hiriya itself have begun, although the rest of what is to be the greater Ariel Sharon park remains untouched. The dump has not been used as such for some years.

The plan to develop the park, named after the former prime minister, including the Hiriya site was finalized and approved in May 2005. (Sharon suffered a stroke in 2006 and is still in hospital, in an irreversible coma; he had been one of the driving forces behind the project's establishment.) After years of planning, a 2,000-acre area was demarcated for an urban park devoid of construction.

The man in charge of planning the entire project, including the rehabilitation of Hiriya itself, is Peter Latz of Kranzberg and London, working with landscape architect Laura Starr of New York (who was involved in rehabilitating Central Park), as an outside consultant, and the Israeli office of Moria Sekely Landscape Architects. Latz is a landscape architect and urban planner, professor of landscape architecture at the Technical University of Munich and also a partner at Latz & Partner. He won the international tender for turning the once-festering garbage dump at Hiriya into a delightful public park. The work is based on a master plan prepared by the Israeli company Plasner and Guggenheim Architects.

The tender for the project was held in 2004 by the Beracha Foundation, which was founded in 1971 by Caroline and Joseph Gruss, and is supported by American donations earmarked for Jews in Israel. The foundation explains that it focuses mainly on three fields: "the environment, Jewish-Arab coexistence, and culture."

The Beracha Foundation thus became interested in the project because of its environmental nature: Hiriya lies on the edge of Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, among the most densely populated areas in Israel. Dumping there may have stopped a decade ago, but its negative image persists.

Latz has experience planning the transformation of befouled sites that once housed industry into urban "post-industrial" parks, as he calls them. Among his projects was the conversion of an abandoned industrial zone in northern Duisberg into a flourishing verdant park that still maintains elements of its past: Indeed, remnants of the area's industrial structures are still dotted about, merging into the new outlines and lush greenery.

The importance of reclaiming contaminated land has become clearer as cities grow and sprawl. Speaking with TheMarker, Latz points out that the environment can't grow beyond the boundaries of the planet. There is no choice, therefore, but to make use of contaminated areas. They need renewal, he explains, to reach the point of being able to be of service to urban life. Cleaning up poisoned land is a mission for society as a whole, not just landscape architects, Latz says.

He is well aware that it's hard to change the image of a site such as Hiriya. Say that word to your average Israeli and his association, without thinking, will be "garbage." Landscape architects can't change a place's image per se, Latz notes: Changing the public's attitude is part of a process. He suggests keeping places undergoing a makeover, like Hiriya, open to the public, to accustom people to the thought that the place will have a new use.

One can't work miracles. You can sweep it under a rug or take it elsewhere, but contamination remains contamination, Latz says. Therefore, the best solution ecologically speaking is to handle it directly - and on site.

Indeed, the plan for the Sharon park includes various facilities that exploit the trash buried at Hiriya. One is producing electricity from the methane and other gases being released by the rotting garbage; another recycles discarded plastic, and so on.

Latz believes in working with the material at hand. Since the 19th century, our environment has been dominated by technology, he explains. This is especially true in the urban environment, where in fact it's taken for granted. He believes that technological elements should be recognized as being part and parcel of landscape architecture. "They should be part of the modern concept of a pragmatic city," he urges.

His principles are manifested in his plan for Hiriya. Yes, a lot of vegetation will be added to this project, and landscape issues will be addressed. But the elements of trash recycling and industry will remain.

Latz's plan for renewing the site has reached advanced stages, and works have already begun. But it looks like much water will flow down the Dan before Ariel Sharon Park becomes the Central Park of the greater Tel Aviv area, because there's a snag - money.

At first the park's planners calculated that the rehabilitation and conversion would cost a quarter-billion shekels, plus a few tens of millions more each year for routine maintenance. Others suspect that the cost will run to NIS 400 million, just to establish the park, plus NIS 60 million a year for routine maintenance. Where is money like that to come from, especially in these economically dark times? And the whole project was supposed to be financed by donations, which makes the problem all the more challenging.

As for the giant hill of dirt in the park that is Hiriya, Latz sees it as a potential "mystery mountain" inside the greater park. By his description, Hiriya the dump is extroverted while Ariel Sharon Park is introverted. Hiriya looms above the space as though the space belongs to it.

This is the raw material from which Latz intends to create a natural site, which will also showcase innovative approaches toward handling it. To that end, the developers intend to use the resources at hand, including agricultural elements and water, he says.

How does one go about planning a giant park like this, while creating a feeling of intimacy? Latz: "An emphasis on structure is essential in large-scale parks. Structured planning can combine the various elements. In the case of Hiriya, it's a smaller element, like an oasis, inside the big garden of Ariel Sharon Park. The elements at Hiriya, the wadi, the terraces, the oasis, emphasize the differences of scale and different kinds of intimacy of landscape inside the park."