park for Bnei Brak - Daniel Tchetchik - 19022012
Field of dreams: it will cost NIS 120 million to develop farmland into a new park for Bnei Brak. Photo by Daniel Tchetchik
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Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park is to be expanded into Bnei Brak. The area's regional planning committee will officially confirm the plans in coming weeks, paving the way for work to commence.

The plan is to develop a 350-dunam park (some 88 acres ) that will be contiguous with Yarkon Park (formerly known as Ganei Yehoshua Park ). The park currently runs from the Yarkon River estuary to the Kiryat Atidim industrial zone in north Tel Aviv. The mooted new area is largely farmland at the moment, and does not provide convenient access to the Yarkon river. Like other lands along the waterway, it has been treated as Bnei Brak's backyard and become, among other things, an illegal garbage dump.

"Bnei Brak does not have a single park, and its largest garden spans 20 dunams," says Ruth Mozes, an architect who heads the city's urban planning department. Bnei Brak is one of the most crowded cities in Israel, home to 165,000 people who live within 7,000 dunams. Today the open public space in Bnei Brak totals 570 dunams, nowhere near the 1,245 dunam needed to meet government standards for public space per person.

The new park, designed by landscape architect Shlomik Zeevi, will comprise three strips, one of which will be adjacent to the stream and preserve the natural landscape as much as possible. Beyond that, there will be an area with playgrounds and activity hubs. The strip farthest away from the water will be adjacent to a major employment area being planned for office and commercial space, and will serve as a park with lawns and picnic and recreation areas. "There will be additional sites in the park where we will preserve the natural flora," Mozes adds. The Bnei Brak municipality faces two challenges: obtaining the funds - some NIS 120 million - needed to develop the park, and creating easy access to the park from the main residential neighborhoods, which are far away. "To improve accessibility, we've designed a passage of green tracts through the employment zone to the park," Mozes says. "I am talking about pedestrian routes, through which it will be possible to reach the park. There will also be accessible by bus and in the future we will operate shuttles from the city to the park, mainly in the afternoon.

"Naturally, the park will be open to everyone, not only Bnei Brak residents," Mozes continues, "and it will constitute a continuation of the existing park in Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan."

Purified wastewater

The first stage of the project will be creating pedestrian and cycle paths close to the river. "Parts of the park will be developed by real-estate developers, who will build in the employment zone," Mozes notes. "That is one of the tasks they will have to take on as part of the construction plans."

Yarkon River runs from the springs in the Rosh Ha'ayin area to the estuary near Reading Power Station in Tel Aviv. There are two parks located at its opposite edges: Yarkon Park and Mekorot Hayarkon National Park, near Rosh Ha'ayin. These days, the water flowing in the stream is a tiny fraction compared to the water flow of the past; most of the water is, in fact, purified wastewater.

The Yarkon's water quality has improved in recent years after improvements were made in the purification of wastewater. At the same time, the Yarkon River Authority - which answers to the local authorities located along the river - began, for the first time, to develop the waterfront for visitors. It introduced bike trails, and last year erected pedestrian bridges that allow people to cross the river at additional points.

Extending the park into Bnei Brak is part of an overall plan aimed at turning a large share of the agricultural land along the Yarkon into a central park for metropolitan Tel Aviv. Right now, the cities of Petah Tikva and Hod Hasharon, and the Drom Hasharon regional council, are meant to be drafting plans to develop the park in their jurisdictions and submitting them to the planning boards for approval.

In the Drom Hasharon (South Sharon ) region, Israel Railways intends to build a large maintenance facility on potential parkland. The regional council is waging a campaign against that plan and has joined forces with Arab communities, including Jaljulya and Kafr Qasem, which also have an interest in preserving the Yarkon lands.

In Petah Tikva, the municipality has had to contend with the fact that a good part of the lands slated for the park are privately owned. The city came up with a plan whereby it would develop the park areas in its jurisdiction (some 10,000 dunams ), with landowners receiving building rights in exchange for areas on the edges of the park. The improvement tax levied for the building plans would then pay for the park's construction. However, the planning and building committees rejected the proposal. Petah Tikva was sent back to the drawing board and is expected to present a new plan soon.