Last week, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked decided to prevent construction in the Peace Valley nature reserve by annexing it to the nearby town of Yokne'am. The decision is specific, but it has broad implications for the future of construction in Israel, as there are many cities whose green lungs are under the threat of bulldozers.
In Ashdod, there is a plan to expand construction at the expense of the sand dunes; near Ramat Hasharon and Herzliya, there are plans for extensive building on the site of a former Israel Military Industries factory. In Rehovot, construction is encroaching on an open area east of the city that serves as a green lung. In Sderot, the Construction and Housing Ministry is advancing massive building plans that will damage areas of great ecological and aesthetic significance. This is just a partial list. Such building plans are supposed to mitigate the housing crisis and ensure that cities have land reserved for construction ahead of 2040. The housing crisis must be solved, of course – but Israel has additional needs that must be taken into consideration.
Israel’s green lungs are national infrastructure no less important than any other vital resource. In addition to preserving nature, they give all residents of densely populated cities a space for leisure and recreation. They also absorb rainfall, which prevents flooding and helps to regulate temperature and air pollution. Their importance will only increase in the coming decades alongside Israel’s predicted population growth, which will further reduce open spaces while at the same time increasing the demand to enjoy their benefits. As far as the climate crisis goes, these areas serve as natural plant reservoirs that absorb carbon and moderate floods.
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The planning authorities must direct all resources into plans for making cities denser and into urban renewal. These are complex processes that require cooperation with residents of older neighborhoods and transparent, fair management by the companies chosen to carry out the renewal projects. Sadly, these conditions are not always met, and this situation must change quickly so that housing solutions can be provided and open spaces preserved.
Today, we have several examples of at least partially successful preservation projects: the city of Modi’in has decided to preserve the hills to it's south rather than designate them for construction, near Nes Tziona, a large area was reserved for a metropolitan recreational area, and construction plans were drastically curtailed.
All other construction plans must be reviewed in order to guarantee that as many open spaces with high environmental and recreational value can remain so in the future.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.