A Chance to Escape 'The Crushing Impact of Cities'

It is still possible to preserve a number of 'green lungs,' even in the heart of the dense coastal strip. One of the most important ones is adjacent to Tel Aviv's southern neighborhoods, stretching to the entrance of Holon.

It is hard to escape what the great poet Bertolt Brecht called "the crushing impact of cities" and relax on a plain of grass, a river bank or a simple meadow. It is especially difficult in Israel's densely populated coastal plain, where construction encircles the few remaining open areas.

However, it is still possible to preserve a number of "green lungs," even in the heart of the dense coastal strip. One of the most important ones is adjacent to Tel Aviv's southern neighborhoods, stretching to the entrance of Holon. This area has, amazingly enough, remained undeveloped, but also unused by visitors and vacationers, bikers and hikers. For many years, it was overshadowed by the Hiriya garbage dump, which has not been used as a waste site for years.

Usually it is hard to attribute to the planners a special concern for the preservation of parks and open areas. But, in this case, they displayed a surprising amount of vision and decided to turn the entire area into a park, called Ayalon, covering 8,000 dunams.

In addition to considerable space for hiking, sport and leisure activities, the park will include the Hiria mound, which will be rehabilitated, and an adjacent waste recycling park. It will also have areas for water storage to help prevent flooding in parts of southern Tel Aviv.

This vision now reaches a crucial juncture. Within two weeks, the national council's subcommittee for planning and construction is due to convene and discuss the objections to the park plan. The bodies that objected claim there are no available resources to finance the park's construction and maintenance. They say part of the area must be designated for construction, the revenues from which will be used to build a park in the remaining area.

The Zera company, which leases about 1,000 dunams of the designated park area, went too far. The company, which received the area for agricultural use only, is now demanding permission to build on it and thus finance the park. The company has appointed itself the representative of the grievances of the southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods, announcing that the prestigious construction in the park would create a socioeconomic revolution in the entire region. Who knows, maybe the Zera people will call the neighborhood they are planning "New Neveh Tzedek."

The company has also argued that earmarking the area for a park was too generous and there is already a large amount of nature reserves and park lands close to the Tel Aviv metropolis. In the company's opinion, an open area less than half the park's size would suffice. Yes, this should be read again - the residents of the Dan bloc have enough open areas, and there is no need to go overboard with these large parks.

The coalition of public figures, politicians and environmental organizations acting for the park has launched a campaign against the Zera company. But the most effective means of protecting the park is to present it as it is - the only open area of its kind that must not be gnawed at, and a recreation and leisure resource that could be at least as successful as the Yarkon Park.

This is a park that will not rob future housing land reserves. The Tel Aviv district planning bureau says there are enough reserves in the entire district, including some 50,000 housing units near the park. A lot of money will be needed to build and maintain it, but first it must be defined as a park in which no construction will take place. Directing public funds to build a park is acceptable in the world. For example, in The Netherlands and Britain, the state funds the building and maintenance of parks.

However, one of Zera's arguments should be examined more carefully. It says that its construction plan will only infringe on a total of 12 percent of the park's area, leaving a large, significant space. But the park plan stipulates that no changes are to be made on the grounds of the agricultural school, Mikveh Israel, and the Hiria compound will serve more as a place to visit a waste-recycling installation and an observation point, rather than a park like Yarkon. This means the area the Zera company wants to build on will comprise more than a quarter of the remaining park land. The planning commission debating the objections must reject out of hand such severe harm to a public resource.