Open Spaces Put to the Test

Any visitor immediately understands and feels that this area, centered around the Valley of Peace, should be preserved and not turned into another neighborhood.

Much of the open spaces in Israel, which is already so small, will be built-up in the upcoming decades in order to provide for the needs of a growing population. This trend is unavoidable, but precisely due to the heavy cost of the loss of open landscapes, construction should be designed to provide for the needs of a large number of people in the most efficient and inexpensive way.

The future use of open space is currently facing a test of principle in the community of Upper Yokneam.

The community grew at an amazing pace during the past decade, with the number of residents rising from 5,000 to over 20,000. Upper Yokneam's local council is already thinking ahead, and seeking to turn it into a real city. According to the council's plan, some 45,000 people will live there by 2020.

This is all well and good, and indicates daring and social and economic prosperity. But the Yokneam council wants to annex thousands of additional dunams to its jurisdiction to absorb more residents, or in its words, to offer "an attractive supply of residences."

In practical terms, this definition is liable to transform another part of the Ramat Menashe hills into an area of single-family homes.

These homes will be built on one of Israel's most beautiful landscapes, particularly in the Valley of the Peace (Emek Hashalom). The council has submitted a request to annex additional land earmarked for construction, and a special borders committee will rule on the request.

The granting of such a request would constitute a mockery of the conception Israel's highest planning institutions have formulated in recent years, and which the government has approved. This conception is based on denser urban construction and preservation of open spaces, especially in areas important from a landscape and ecological perspective.

The region adjacent to Yokneam was defined as an area designated for preservation in master plans.

Its importance was described in ecological and landscape terms in master plans, policy papers and landscape surveys. But there was really no need for all of these - you only have to visit there in the spring and see its beauty and wild flowers blossoming there.

The visitor immediately understands and feels that this area, centered around the Valley of Peace, should be preserved and not turned into another neighborhood inevitably called Givat Hatormus (Lupin Hill) or Kalanit (Anemone) Valley, named for the plants that will be destroyed in the process.

Upper Yokneam also must not be allowed to continue to expand through land-intensive construction due to social reasons already noted by environmental groups: not far from it are communities like Migdal Haemek that also need an attractive supply of residences to bring in a strong, well-educated population. But these communities lack the advantage of being located next to highways as in the case of Yokneam.

If no limits are applied to the scope of land-intensive housing in Upper Yokneam, Migdal Haemek will have less of a chance of attracting a population that could help it grow stronger.

The head of the Upper Yokneam local council, Simon Alfasi, has recorded many achievements in developing the community and turning it into a successful center of commerce and employment, following years of unemployment and distress.

His desire to continue development and increase the population is understandable. If he wishes to double the number of the community's residents, he should do so by using the land at his disposal in a different way, or at most adding a small parcel of land in accordance with environmental groups.

This would mean denser, yet sufficiently attractive construction, especially if it enables hiking or biking to the Valley of Peace and its adjacent Menashe Park.

It's true that several other communities have been developed here in recent years via large-scale construction of land-intensive housing, but this trend cannot continue.

This is especially true if the community, like Yokneam, is surrounded by the largest and most important green lungs remaining within the narrowest and most crowded part of Israel.