The Tel Aviv municipality is pressing ahead with plans for building projects on an area of 155 dunam (38 acres) in Hayarkon Park, despite a decision by the Interior Ministry to limit construction in one of the few big parks in the city.
Eighteen months ago the ministry decided to reject a request by the municipality to allow it to extend construction in the park, and build on an area of some 12 dunam. Instead, the ministry allowed construction on an area of only 3 dunam.
According to the municipality, the building plans are meant only for infrastructure, which is not included in the zoning plan determined by the ministry. However, the data suggests that the municipal plans threaten to destroy the park's character.
The projects planned by the municipality include a controversial drainage project, which is meant to solve the problem of flooding in the area. The project requires construction of large concrete structures in the middle of the park.
In addition, the municipality is preparing to build the Ayalon-East freeway on part of the park, as well as a new freeway around it. Another project planned by the municipality is the Rokah-Ibn Gabirol compound: a massive project of public offices on the western edge of the park. Additionally, the city council is laying the ground for the so-called Yarkonite Peninsula, an extensive building plan destined for the mouth of the Hayarkon River, near Tel Aviv's old sea port.
All the building plans are currently in the late stages of approval by the city's planning and zoning institutions. The 155 dunam of open space the building plans propose to take away from Hayarkon Park constitute some 14 percent of the entire open space in the area. Of the park's 2,850 dunam, 526 are already occupied by various structures.
In other words, 18 percent of Hayarkon Park, which serves the inhabitants of the most heavily populated area in Israel, is already taken up by various buildings and structures. By comparison, only 7 percent of New York's Central Park is taken up by buildings.
This, in part, formed the basis for the state's decision to bar the city council from building on additional grounds, a decision which the municipality has apparently decided to ignore.
The drainage program being prepared by the municipality would snip 10 dunam from lawns and gardens in the center of the park, replacing them with huge concrete structures. The plan includes the construction of a concrete duct that would divert overflowing water from the river, encased in a huge concrete hall. If built, the project would change the appearance of the central region of the park, annexing some parts of the park's cactus, tropical and rock gardens.
For these reasons, the chief architect at Hayarkon Park, Gideon Sarig, opposes the plan. "There are other solutions to overflowing, the water can be stored in a system of dams and reservoirs," he says.
Yarkon River Authority manager David Pargament claims, however, that the solutions proposed by Sarig would require cutting down hundreds of trees in the park, and the expansion of the river bed. "I don't like the buildings either, but we can't have flooding," he told Haaretz.
Tel Aviv city engineer Hezi Berkowitz told Haaretz in response that he shared Sarig's sentiments regarding the construction of the concrete structures for the regulation of water flow in the narrow Hayarkon River. "We're thinking green, a lot greener than people give us credit for," he said.
Berkowitz added that the plans for the construction of an office complex in the park "have not yet been approved." However, he refused to comment on the plans to build a housing project near the Tel Aviv Port.