Jerusalem's planning authorities are poised to approve plans for an urban nature park to be home to a herd of gazelles in the heart of the city. But even if the plans are approved, the park still needs financing.
In 2001, environmental organizations cooperated with the residents of neighborhoods bordering on Pri Har Valley to block plans to turn the green valley into a housing and commercial project. The area is also known as Gazelle Valley because of the small gazelle herd that lives there.
Now it may be turned into the first public park to be planned entirely by the people who live in the adjacent neighborhoods.
The city's planning authorities are considering the residents' plan to turn the open area, which once served kibbutzim Kiryat Anavim and Ma'aleh Hahamisha for apple and cherry orchards, into a special gazelle park.
"This park is a wonderful place," says one of the leading activists for the area's preservation, a former nature teacher living across the road. "There is a wondrous peace a few steps inside it. Real nature in the heart of the city," she says.
"The people really care about this park. We mustn't let the real estate sharks get their hands on it. The new plan is wonderful and I hope it is approved soon."
Thousands of people from the Katamonim, Givat Mordechai, Rasco and other adjacent neighborhoods took part in planning the park over the past few years. Three years ago the planning was completed and the plan was distributed among the residents. A copy was posted in the park itself, with an e-mail address for people's comments. Some 1,000 residents sent their observations.
"Today the plan is accepted by all those who wanted to have a say in its design," says Jerusalem landscape architect Yael Hammerman, of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).
If the authorities approve the plan, a third of the compound will be allocated to the gazelles and closed to the public, while the remaining two-thirds will be a public park. People will be able to observe the animals, visit the visitors center or sit in a cafe. In the evening the park will be closed to the public and the gazelles will be able to wander and graze where they like.
"An urban nature park, the first of its kind in Israel," says Hammerman.
"We're not trying to create an inaccessible nature reserve but to enable people to enjoy the gazelles and other wildlife. People will be able to observe nature without infringing on it.
"In 2001, after it was decided to preserve Gazelle Valley as an open space, the area's residents took it on themselves to plan the park. They decided how much space would be earmarked for nature and how much for public areas," she says.
"The High Court of Justice ruled in the past that people living around a certain area have rights on the land and can submit the plan," she says.
"In the last two years we've been running back and forth between the residents and the regional planning authorities. Now we're at the finish line."
What next? The residents know that even if the plan is approved, without funding it will not be carried out. "We're planning to enlist donors to finance the development work to make the park," says Hammerman.
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