Holon Plans Park to Save Last Dunes From Construction

The urban dune park - spanning more than 1,000 dunams - will be Israel's first.

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To see the remnants of the dunes that were once the symbol of Holon, you have to drive all the way to the southern part of the city, amid the constantly expanding houses and neighborhoods.

Holon's last remaining dunes were also supposed to disappear under construction plans, but the municipality has changed its tack in the past year, promoting a development plan for a dune park in the southern part of the city. The urban dune park - spanning more than 1,000 dunams - will be Israel's first and one of the few in the world.

The municipal decision stemmed from a desire to preserve the area in the city's south, but also from a contingency that made the area unattractive to developers. The area is within the noise boundaries of Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the high noise levels there restrict construction of residential housing or public buildings intended for lengthy occupation.

To promote the park plan, city hall took the unusual step last month of holding a two-day brainstorming session for residents and experts.

Participants were acquainted with the present state of the dunes, which suffer numerous indignities, such as a slaughterhouse operating in the area and garbage wildly dispersed. But according to the ecologist Nava Sever, who is an adviser to the Holon municipality, there is still a wide variety of plant and animal life in the area, including deer, foxes and porcupines.

Paradoxically, the presence of off-road vehicles has helped preserve roaming dunes. "The dunes are exposed as a result of the vehicles, which cause a complete removal of plants that stabilize the sand," Sever says. "Thus, the rare landscape of an unstable dune returns to the region."

According to Holon's city engineer, Tali Simcha-Elyakim, a general outline for the dune park exists. It entails a complicated process that will require granting alternative building rights to nearly 10,000 private landholders in the designated area. "They will be able to get building rights for neighborhoods that will go up around the park," Simcha-Elyakim said.

The city will also have to vacate a slaughterhouse, as well as residents of a veteran neighborhood, Givat Holon, who will apparently receive financial compensation or alternative housing.

The brainstorming session was meant to generate a master plan for the park, and participants grappled with the question of how to develop it without damaging the dunes. "We had to consider the nature of a dune park that reaches into the heart of a city and constitutes the largest green space of a city that does not have any real parks today," said Dr. Ronit Davidovich-Marton, who organized the meeting for the municipality.

Davidovich-Marton said that children and teenagers had come up with several interesting ideas, including leaving sandy protrusions into the neighborhoods surrounding the park and making the park an integral part of a study environment, with some classes held there. Others suggested turning part of the territory into a community garden, where residents could cultivate plots.

"An important principle agreed upon was that this park should not be financed through granting commercial franchises within the area, but be based on public funding," she added.