About 10 years ago, another reporter and I were invited to the offices of Hazera, where company executives and consultants told us there was no chance of obtaining either government or private funding to build the park originally planned for the area. They argued the company should be allowed to build thousands of apartments on the land it had leased, and that they could finance the desired park with the income derived from such development.
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A decade has gone by, and last week, several other reporters and I visited the same offices, which house the government company in charge of planning and building the Ariel Sharon Park on that site. The company, which answers to the Environmental Protection Ministry, has already begun work on the land formerly leased by Hazera. Its CEO, Moshe Borochov, said a three-year budget for developing the park was recently approved, totaling 120 million shekels ($34.2 million).
Some people criticize the way and slow pace at which the park is being built. But there’s no dispute that environmental organizations and the Interior Ministry’s planning authorities for the Tel Aviv district, both of which fought for the plan to build the park, were right when they argued that the project was feasible even without sacrificing some of the land to construction.
The site already has several bicycle paths and an educational center, both of which require prior coordination to use. Work recently began on a major drainage system that will both create additional land for the park and enable floodwater collection, which will greatly reduce the recurrent problem of houses in the area getting flooded by heavy rain. Soon, construction of the entrance to the park will begin.
But the most advanced work is at the top of the mountain of trash in Hiriya, which will be turned into a visitors’ center and lookout point. A large portion of the summit already has hiking paths, vegetation and water pools. The slopes of the mountain have been reinforced with a thick layer of construction waste.
In another few months, the hilltop will be fully open to visitors, and eventually, the entire park will be open to the public, free of charge. Musical performances are already taking place on the hilltop, and from the lookout point, which has already been built, you can see the entire Gush Dan region.
Today, many places worldwide are trying to rehabilitate mountains of trash. One of them is the city of New York, which in the past operated the world’s largest trash mountain at a site called Freshkills. The site is about the same size as Ariel Sharon Park – some 8,000 dunams. But in the Israeli park, the hill of trash occupies only a small portion of the site. At Freshkills, it fills the entire site.
A few weeks ago, Eloise Hirsh, administrator of New York’s Freshkills Park project, visited Israel to sign a “Twin Parks” cooperation agreement with Borochov. According to Hirsh, the history of New York’s mountain of trash resembles that of Hiriya. Just as Israelis did, New Yorkers understood that ending the practice of burying trash provided an opportunity to make use of a large area that previously couldn’t be built on for the benefit of the public. And just like in Israel (where it happened thanks to the former director of the Beracha Foundation, Dr. Martin Weyl), New York then organized an international architectural competition over plans to develop the area.
Hirsh said the Freshkills Park is meant to be an open public space and an educational site, and also to assist scientific research on environmental rehabilitation. At the moment, it’s still closed to the public, because “our approach is different than yours,” she noted: The park administration first wants to bring the site to a state of full rehabilitation, and only then open it to the public. Nevertheless, she said, the goal is to gradually develop parts of it that have been rehabilitated, so that the public can get to know and experience the site.
The site that became New York’s landfill was originally natural marshland. The park’s planners therefore hope to restore some of the pools and water channels that existed in the original marsh system. As part of the rehabilitation process, they introduced a flock of goats to the area to help thin out the invasive flora, and have planted native marshland species in its stead. This, too, has a parallel in Ariel Sharon Park, where over the past two years, efforts have been made to restore native flora to the area.
Responsibility for carrying out the Freshkills Park project rests with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, while Ariel Sharon Park is being built by a government company established especially for this purpose. According to Hirsh, the estimated cost of rehabilitating Freshkills and turning it into a public park is about $1 billion, and the work envisioned for the park is expected to take about 30 years altogether.
Hirsh noted that it took time to change the site’s image among the public, but the park has already raised the value of apartments in the area. The irony, she said, is that if the area hadn’t been a landfill, today, it would already be built up.
The same is true to a large extent of the Ariel Sharon Park, which was established in part to deal with the environmental disaster known as the Hiriya dump. Had it not been for that mountain of trash, which sits in the heart of Israel’s most desirable real estate locations, it’s reasonable to assume that the area would already be packed with residential neighborhoods.