A Park for Everyone

Over the past two years, the Hazera company, which works in a wide variety of areas, some of which (if the company's spokesmen are to be believed) address social needs in low-income neighborhoods, has been persistent in its efforts to prevent authorization of the plan for the Ayalon Park in south Tel Aviv.

Who says there's no social justice in Israel, and that nobody tends to the needs of disadvantaged population groups? Consider, for instance, the Hazera company. It was originally established for seed production, but today it works in a wide variety of areas, some of which (if the company's spokesmen are to be believed) address social needs in low-income neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv.

Over the past two years, the company has been persistent in its efforts to prevent authorization of the plan for the Ayalon Park in south Tel Aviv. The park is planned for areas of a current waste dump (which is to be cleared away), the current Park Hadarom, and agricultural lands.

All told, the plan, promoted by the Interior Ministry's Tel Aviv district planning department, addresses an 8,000-dunam area. It will require a huge financial investment, both for the renovation of the Hiriya waste dump, and for the establishment of recreation and leisure facilities. It will be the largest park available to residents of Israel's central areas. The plan has now reached the stage at which critics have the opportunity to voice objections in hearings sponsored by a subcommittee of the national planning and building council.

As an agricultural company, Hazera controls a large swath of land - some 1,100 dunams - that has been marked off for the park. It has attempted to promote its own alternative plan, whereby some 10,000 housing units would be built on this land area. The park would be established next to this new neighborhood; revenue accrued via the construction of the residential area would help finance the park's establishment. Hazera contends there are insufficient funds in the public coffers to finance the ambitious park plan, which is backed by the Interior Ministry.

Hazera's residential initiative, from which the company will reap huge revenues, is being wrapped by its spokesmen in a cloak of social idealism; and the real estate proposal has the backing of experts, who (of course) received hefty payments for delivering their opinion in support of Hazera's design. As part of its opposition to the original park plan, Hazera claimed that the establishment of a well-off residential neighborhood, as proposed in its alternative plan, would "upgrade south Tel Aviv's socio-economic status." South Tel Aviv neighborhoods would enjoy improved educational services, thanks to the new residential area. Problems faced by south Tel Aviv - for instance, an aging process - would be solved.

Hazera doesn't mention that the establishment of a large park, which will attract numerous visitors, can serve as a springboard for the improvement of the quality of life in the area. It can help attract diverse population groups to south Tel Aviv. Recent studies in Israel have established that there is a clear connection between increased residential real estate values and proximity to parks. In addition, the park will fulfill an essential social purpose simply by being a recreation site of unprecedented size. It will be extremely accessible, both to low-income residents of south Tel Aviv and also to other groups from the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Grasping all these considerations, environmental and social activist organizations have formed a coalition to promote the establishment of the large park.

Continuing with efforts to weaken support for the park project, Hazera last week revealed that some local council heads in the Gush Dan region have in recent months announced that they do not support the park. The company claimed it is motivated by public-spirited considerations, and is promoting its own plan as a planning branch of the Israel Lands Administration. It made this claim even though the ILA declared categorically that it does not support Hazera's initiative - the ILA wants a more modest construction plan, in a different part of the park.

The Ayalon Park project still has devoted supporters, not only in the Interior Ministry's Tel Aviv district planning division. Mayors from Ramat Gan, Holon, and Herzliya have announced that they support the park. They attacked the Finance Ministry for upholding an approach whereby the park's establishment is to be financed by sacrificing part of its area for residential construction.

Were the Finance Ministry's viewpoint to be a little less distorted, it would try to promote the Ayalon Park plan as a national project involving environmental-social infrastructure resources. Such a project warrants an adequate allocation of government funds - such allocation, together with donations from private foundations and continuing investment from Dan region cities, would facilitate the gradual construction of the Ayalon Park.