The Parks Of Holon As a Parablet
The expulsion from the Garden of Eden could very well have been what caused humankind to become alienated from its natural environment. Indeed, the first deportation in human history was probably not occasioned by the sharing of the forbidden fruit, but by sloppy maintenance and failure to tend the Garden properly, as its residents were obliged to do. In any event, the craving to design and develop 'alternatives to Nature' seems to have developed in our souls as compensation for the void left by the loss of Paradise.
Today, every kindergarten child plants flowers - and, in Israel, seedling trees. But the desire to observe flowers in bloom, with the fervor professed by most Israelis, seems generally to be limited to their own private gardens, with occasional trips to faraway lands. In the public spaces of our cities, the facts are quite different. We are impatient; we do not have the proper mindset to deal with parks. Perseverance and devotion are vital prerequisites for the nurturing of public parks, and the number of perseverant, devoted Israelis is small..
Israels kibbutzim, many of which are now struggling for the privatization of their lands, were for long years the leaders in landscape design. Most kibbutzim were founded by immigrants from Europe, and their public gardens were very European in nature. Attempts to develop local greenery were few. The fascinating research by Prof. Ruth Enis and Joseph Ben-Arav, and their book 'Gardens and Landscaping on the Kibbutz', indicate that the planning of kibbutz landscapes was a subject of severe controversy. Garden plots, in general, were viewed as a mere supplement to the construction array. In most cases, the building architect would add a bit of greenery in an effort at decoration. Personal design principally developed in the gardens surrounding the kibbutz cemeteries. The first landscape architects in Israel were newcomers from Germany and took over the subject of landscaping and public gardens in the kibbutzim. From there, people leaving kibbutzim introduced the subject to the cities.
The very existence of a patch of Nature within an urban environment is like living with 'samples'. City-dwellers in Israel yearn for green (a real need or a cliche?) and the city administration has to meet that need. A house full of potted plants or a roof patio disguised as the Hanging Gardens, are just not enough, and the few meters of 'garden' at the front of most apartment houses would be easily sacrificed by any car owner for the sake of another parking space.
METERS AND PARAMETERS
The significant differences of opinion between the definitions of the Ministry for Environmental Affairs and the functionaries in Israels municipalities indicate differences in the definition of parameters for checking the extent to which green spaces contribute to city residents lives. The idea of determining the scope of the green areas through aerial photography is ridiculous and misleading. Not all that looks green from the air matches the concept of 'park' on the ground. Some of the dark patches in the aerial photographs are abandoned refuse dumps. A statistical distribution of the total number of meters of landscaped area per resident gives a distorted picture. The difference between a huge park serving visitors and pilgrims from other cities and a modest patch of green serving neighborhood residents in their daily lives is significant. And even landscaped boulevards and traffic islands at the entrance to a city and its outskirts, or green strips preventing motorists from parking on the sidewalk, count where quality of life is concerned.
LOCAL LANGUAGE FOR PARK PLANNING
Everyone believes in 'green areas', but the solutions are many and varied, differing from one city to another. The dramatic changes in lifestyles dictate and affect Israels landscapes - and the effect is not always a positive one. In the newer cities and in various organizations in charge of city planning, environmental design is strangely defined, with streets drowning in a complex pattern of chlorophyll and proving just how boring, and even suffocating, greenery can be. On the other hand, the religious precept 'Living in a city with no greenery is forbidden' does not seem to apply to the new town of Kiryat Sefer, although it was designed and constructed by Orthodox Jews who follow the precept of settling the Holy Land. Today, the concept of clinging to roots and the dramatic pursuit of tribal memories, while they affect contemporary architecture in Israel, do not seem to include the wonderful groves, orchards and Oriental-style gardens.
The 'hottest' news in the field of park planning comes, of all things, from the Israel Police. After solving all of its other problems, the 'Community Police' (the new name of the Civil Guard) is talking about redesigning public parks in such a way as to keep criminals and rapists from hiding out in them. The concept is based on the English model; but someone apparently forgot that an English park bears no resemblance whatsoever to an Israeli one. The idea is rather frightening, and the promise that the remodeling will be done by architects to be specially recruited for this purpose does not reduce the danger of cheapening the concept of 'public park'. According to press items, the first stage of the plan will be implemented in several problematic neighborhoods where the crime rate is especially high. In the initial phase, the architects will cut back the greenery, increase the number of entrances and widen the paths, to enable easy access to patrol cars. Jagged rock gardens will prevent people from climbing or spraying graffiti. Because there is no practical plan as yet, the project sounds more like an attempt to justify the expenses of a trip to England than a set of valid conclusions regarding park design.
THE PARKS OF HOLON
The selection of Holon definitely makes sense. Holon is almost the only city in Israel (Carmiel is the only other) which has won the Environmental Design Prize of the Council for a Beautiful Israel five years in succession. The number of public parks in the city is especially large, and the Municipality views investment in the citys appearance, its parks, and the integration of design and art into public areas as a supreme obligation and not as something forced upon it by entrepreneurs (as was the Tel Aviv method, which did not stand up in court...). Holon has succeeded in changing its image from a 'border town in the sands' to a green city of parks. There is no exact answer to the question of whether the citys unique population mix is the decisive factor in its development. However, the case of Holon can obviously be used to deduce a great deal regarding the greening of other places in Israel. Can the success of the Holon Municipality be extended to other places?
Holon - the name means 'city of sands' - is the fourth largest city in Israel, with 175,000 residents on an area of 2,050 hectares (5,000 acres). The city began as five separate neighborhoods, very different in population, which struggled to life in the sands south of Tel Aviv between 1931 and 1937. Freeing the city from the encroaching 'layers of sand' became almost an obsession, which has characterized all of Holons mayors since it was declared a city in 1950. The attempt was, if anything, too successful, and now planners intend to symbolically preserve the disappearing sands in an experiential park. The debate on this issue currently revolves around the question 'How many hectares of sand constitute an experience?'
Today, it is difficult to imagine the green city of Holon as an isolated town between Arab villages during Israels 1948 War of Independence. Holon is the first city in Israel whose outline plan was legally approved, in 1956 (but is this an advantage or a deterrent?). The older, anachronistic downtown area is now undergoing the reshuffle of rehabilitation. On the other hand, the citys geographical center, which is still surrounded by sands, enables modern planning (now being implemented by Lerman Architects).
After the establishment of the State, many 'Golda housing blocks' - a typical early-Israeli development, dating from Golda Meirs term as Minister of Labor, characterized by the use of poured concrete - sprang up in Holon. These buildings, which still stand at the northern entrance to the city, are modest in size; relatively few of them are populated by their original inhabitants, and most tenants are short-term. For years, Holons image was that of a motley collection of residents from the lower socio-economic strata and a stop on the road to the cemetery (which is officially located in the neighboring city of Bat Yam). Holon houses many members of the Samaritan sect; its Jessie Cohen quarter, to the south, has acquired an unfortunate reputation. In recent years, the city has absorbed a large number of immigrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States (the former USSR). Only in the last decade have high-class neighborhoods been built in Holon, enabling its residents to improve their standard of living without having to move to another city.
Holon has a total of 170 public parks and gardens, some of which form a continuous green strip 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) long. Dozens of small public parks, 1 to 1.5 hectares (2.5 to 4 acres) in area, serve the citys neighborhoods, as do some 350 landscaped corners. Older parks and gardens are undergoing change and introducing 'innovations' for the benefit of the environment.
The city houses two mega-parks. One of these is Youth Park, designed by architect Gideon Sarig, on the northern border of the city, on an area of 6.1 hectares (15 acres). It includes a water park, an amphitheater and areas devoted to sports, picnicking and play. The water area, which can be seen from the main road, is a slope of lawns, citrus trees and flowing water routed through canals and down stone stairs.
The Shimon Peres Park, in southern Holon, was designed by architect Paul Friedberg for Studio-Landscape. Extending over 13 hectares (32 acres), it houses activity centers intended to serve the citys entire population: an artificial lake, rockeries, waterfalls, picnic areas, a sports center, an open acoustic theater, restaurants and youth clubs open at night as well.
Two additional mega-parks are now in the planning stage. One of them, slated to occupy an area of some 80 hectares (200 acres) is located in a 'noise-plagued' area below the flight path of aircraft taking off from Ben Gurion Airport. Such areas are generally considered appropriate to industrial zones, but the Holon Municipality decided to establish a park there. An additional plan for a park, to be implemented jointly with the Tel Aviv Municipality, has already been filed; this park (to be called College Park) will connect the existing Park Darom with the campus of the Mikve Israel Agricultural School, the former Army camp that has already been vacated, and the Vehicle Licensing Bureau compound, which is scheduled for evacuation. This continuous stretch of green will include a pedestrian and bicycle path leading west to the seashore.
Themed parks and gardens within the city include the Rock Garden, the Japanese Park, the Cactus Park, the Tumarkin Sculpture Park, and the 'landmark' statues along the west side of Kugel Boulevard. The 'Parking Park', planned by Landscape Architects (Segal-Dekel-Mueller-Zeevy) at the northern entrance to the city, connects the adjacent parking areas to the city stadium. This is a park with dense greenery, a Tumarkin statue, a pool and water fountain, benches and lawns. The corner area is designed by architect Moshe Keilaf, who also designed the Twin Cities Park. This park elegantly conceals the nearby gas station by means of towering elements which support vegetation, the emblems of the twin cities, and an environmental sculpture by Keilaf himself.
The realization that Holon residents prefer flowers led to a change in the concept of the greenery along the citys roads; the former hardy plants, which coped successfully with the noise and odors of highway traffic, were replaced by annual flowers (about 200,000 new plants per year). The city operates 17 ornamental fountains, in which children can often be seen playing and foreign workers bathing.
The decision to plan larger, more developed parks precisely in areas populated by weaker strata has also proven to be a success; the residents are delighted with and protective of 'their' parks. Most vandalism, it would seem, takes place in parks which are not clearly defined as 'belonging' to a specific neighborhood (one more proof that Israelis tend to protect only what belongs to them).
In most cities, promotion of the subject of public parks and gardens has followed the recent willingness of the respective municipalities to dare to invest in this field. This willingness, in turn, is raising the level of the landscape architects ideas and personal ambitions. This phenomenon, while a positive one in itself, involves an element of risk. Out of a sense of determination to get the job done, many landscape architects cling to their ideas even at the price of difficulties foreseen in future maintenance, which remains the responsibility of the municipality.
Even a preference for a certain kind of tree can be a touchy subject in itself. The best proof of this is the obsessive planting of palm trees throughout Israel. This phenomenon may have its roots in typical Israeli impatience and the need to show fast results by planting adult trees. The fact is, however, that many kinds of trees have begun to disappear from our public spaces, and not as the result of disease. The nurturing of vegetation native to this region, such as cypress, cedar, carob and olive trees and grape vines, is vital to maintaining the image of the Land of Israel in its parks and gardens. And let us not forget the importance of preserving the timeless landscapes of Bible country, many of which have already fallen prey to the large-scale paving of roads and bypass arteries - the battle ensign now vigorously flown by many of Israels landscape architects.
WORKS OF ART
Placing works of art in public areas is a problematic subject. The history of art throughout the world does not always correspond to the history of democracy. If ambitious rulers were to consult their 'flocks' before commissioning each work, the world as a whole, the history of culture, and - accordingly - international tourism would look very scanty today. Standing at the northern entrance to Holon are sculptures by Buki Schwartz, Yigael Tumarkin, and Moshe Keilaf, all far enough from residential areas to ensure that the attitude toward them will remain even-tempered (except for the anger and complaints at the display of the emblem of the German city of Wadding in the Twin Cities Park).
The case of the array of 'landmark' statues placed by me on Kugel Boulevard may be indicative of the problematic nature of this subject. The boulevard starts at the northern entrance to the city and ends in the old center of town. The east side of the road, which has been rehabilitated and no longer consists of a mass of bushes, now displays lawns and benches and houses the Yad Labanim Memorial complex, which includes the Holon Theater and an art gallery, home of varied cultural activity. The intention in rehabilitating the west side was to provide a designed space in which the residents of the area and other Holon inhabitants passing through could pass a pleasant hour. Residents of the immediate vicinity reacted with great joy to the changes in the area, which was transformed from a mass of bushes in the shade of the old jacaranda trees to expanses of bench-studded lawns, planned by architect Deddy Golan. One of the two parks along the road has basically become an illegal parking area for the congregation of the synagogue behind it. A limestone monument in memory of the victims of the 1977 helicopter crash has disappeared, in the course of time, between the agava bushes.
My acquaintance with Holons parks and gardens began when Mayor Moti Sasson and Hana Hertzman, Director-General of the Municipality, contacted me in October 1996, asking me to cooperate in creating an array of sculptures at the northern entrance to the city. The idea that an array of art would constitute an integral part of the rehabilitation of the east side of Kugel Boulevard was raised in connection with the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel. The transformation of the entrance to the city into a boulevard of ideas depicting the history of the State and recalling its foremost builders seemed reasonable; moreover, it was an idea with which all facets of Israeli politics could identify. The decision reached was to set up a group of modular elements, constructed of local stone, with the names and short descriptions of Israels founders. This required many discussions and decisions in order to reach a balanced selection of personages and to choose the accompanying texts. Dr. Mordechai Naor was the scientific consultant for the project; the entire process was accompanied and supported by academic and municipal steering committees.
The work gave rise to a stream of complaints, such as 'Why did they put up gravestones next to our houses, instead of playgrounds?' The treasurer of the synagogue later complained that the statues were offensive for religious reasons, adding that he would not be surprised if the columns were miraculously made to 'disappear' by divine intervention. Paradoxically, the form of the columns and portico, with their descriptions of the five decades of the State of Israels history, was designed to complement the synagogue wall, taking into consideration the element of the traditional seven-branched candlestick atop it. It is important to note that the criticism of such art on ostensibly religious grounds is not supported by Jewish religious law. There is nothing in the Jewish religion which prohibits works of art, except for the exact figure of a human body (as Man was created in the image of God).
It is not certain whether the complaints have eased up because the residents have adjusted to the novelty or following a gradual discovery of the qualities of the design. In any event, the neighborhood children quickly made themselves at home among the statues, and may often be seen climbing on them and playing among and around them. The stone columns have become soccer goalposts, with 'cheerleaders' sitting high atop the monuments now placed at the center. Following the changes in site development, the residential buildings along the boulevard are now themselves undergoing a process of rehabilitation. The catalog published by the Holon Municipality is distributed at a nearby kiosk, which has been transformed into a garden cafe.