Time to invest in parks
Until now the government has not been asked the simple, basic question, why is it justified to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year in compensating landowners whose property has been confiscated for parks that significantly improve the quality of life for most of the people in the country?
Several years ago, while the national budget was being drawn up, senior treasury officials discussed infrastructure investments essential for economic growth. After approving a long list of investments in roads, ports, and railways, a senior representative of the Environment Ministry asked that they also invest in developing parks. The officials shuffled their papers, hemmed and hawed a bit, and said they didn't see how parks contributed to economic growth, and therefore could not grant the request.
The discussion described here is entirely imaginary and never took place. Until now the government has not been asked the simple, basic question, why is it justified to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year in compensating landowners whose property has been confiscated for parks that significantly improve the quality of life for most of the people in the country?
This question is more relevant today than ever since planning bodies and local authorities in Gush Dan are trying to preserve the two most significant green lungs in the area. One is around the eastern part of the Yarkon, and the other is at the southern entrance to Tel Aviv, in the area that is supposed to become Ayalon Park.
A month and a half ago the National Planning and Construction Board decided to move forward approval procedures for the metropolitan park in the area of the Yarkon river bed. The project is supposed to preserve extensive national park areas and agricultural lands. As part of the project, there will also be municipal parks established in Hod Hasharon and Petah Tikva. Altogether, this is an area of more than 30,000 dunams.
However, large parts of this area are privately owned or leased to farmers. In order to confiscate these areas for a park it will be necessary to pay compensation to the extent of several hundreds of millions of dollars. As the state has absolutely no intention of allocating this sum or part of it to a park, the method for releasing the lands will, in part, be the granting of alternative lands in compensation. In many cases the land will be an area at the edges of the park, which will be given to the landowners.
In the plan that was approved by the national board, the exact extent of the lands that will be sacrificed as compensation for the landowners was not determined. Their extent depends on the plans that will be formulated by each of the local authorities that have jurisdiction over lands in the park. However, there is a real fear that more than 1,000 dunams of the Yarkon Park will be allocated to the compensation arrangement.
Therefore it is essential to hold a discussion in the government about investments, in which scope will be given for presenting the matter of the parks. Someone from the Environment Ministry who understands the importance of the issue will just have to tell the government clearly: "You must invest in the quality of life, and not just in the quality of driving on the roads."
If Finance Ministry officials tell him or her there is an urgent need for roads, the representative of the Environment Ministry will have to tell them that Israel is way behind Europe in the length of its roads relative to the number of cars in the country, and the representative of the Environment Ministry will also have to tell them that Israel also lags far behind in the number of square meters of park per person. The residents of Gush Dan have 9.5 square meters per person of metropolitan park compared to 22.5, which is the international standard for recreational space.
If the Finance Ministry people insist and argue that there is a need for an economic basis for the necessity of investing in parks, it will be possible to present them with the figures on the two-digit percentage increases in the value of apartments that overlook parks.
It will also be possible to present a considerable number of studies and projects from around the world that indicate that for many years, in the context of the market economy, no monetary quantification of the many advantages of parks has been made.
Thus parks have remained without value in the eyes of economists and have become a kind of luxury, the maintenance of which is paid for, so far as is possible, and if it is not possible they remain neglected or parts of them are sacrificed to construction.