We Are All Sustainable- Green Community



            At the initiative of  TSE - "Together for a Sustainable Environment," citizens in the northern town of Beit Shean are working together to plan, develop, and maintain open spaces in the urban environment. TSE’s staff of three – landscape architect Michal Fishel, town planner Inbal Strool-Daabul, and, engineer Marsela Rotstein – conducted a course of  lectures, tours and field work designed to catalyze residents of this neglected development town into improving the town’s quality of life. Landscape architect Michal Fishel discusses the project below:


            Many designated "open spaces" are often in reality deserted lots in between built structures. They are defined as "public open spaces" only because someone painted them green in a master plan. A town’s so-called open spaces are often inaccessible, tiny areas of greenery along highways or at heavy traffic intersections that do no fulfill their supposed purpose of improving the residents’ quality of life. How can we guarantee that open spaces will be more than bureaucratic decoys?


            "If you mean how do landscape architects give life to those green pieces of land, then the answer is that any greenery improves the quality of life, even if only to draw attention towards gray areas as well." 


            The maintenance of planted areas is costly and almost taboo these days. However, the natural vegetation is not necessarily more economical - and it is also hard to keep it in bloom all year round.


            "Wild flowers and natural plants needs to be maintained only during the first two years, after that they need little attention. Cost is a time-dependant variable which needs to be calculated against overall maintenance budgets. In addition, other factors must be taken into account, such as the role of vegetation in reducing temperatures in the urban environment. One shady tree can reduce the temperature in its vicinity by between 7 and 12 degrees, and the mental and physical health of the public benefits from improved air quality. Reduced expenditures on health care mean that greenery is a good investment on the part of the government. There are, of course, other advantages to landscaped vegetation, such as the prevention of soil erosion and runoff, when rainwater carries pollutants into the water table instead of replenishing the soil."


            What about grass, the great consumer of water, which helps give some the sense that not only their neighbors grass is green?


            "Grass is the greatest water consumer, but if used in the right place – and not only for decoration – it is improves the quality of life of certain populations.The greatest advantage of grass is that it is good for walking and recreation. But if the goal is to achieve a green landscape, there are other groundcovers, not for walking on, that are economic and there is no reason not to use them."


            Sustainable architecture is aimed at minimizing the negative environmental impacts of building, promoting the efficient use of natural resources found in the surrounding with a minimum use of energy-intensive materials. How is it related  to landscape architecture?


            "Landscape architecture is the bridge between the aspiration of the real estate entrepreneurs and the ability of the environment to sustain what exists. I see sustainable architecture as planning that takes every variable into account. That is, the built structures, the health and wellbeing of its occupants –  animals, human beings and anything else that may be affected by it. The point is to create an environment that will minimize the negative impacts – it is not always an easy nor a clear process, but smart planning should relate to all the factors involved in order to improve and enhance what exists at a minimum cost."



            Do you have your own real-life examples of sustainable architecture?


            "Yes. The Butterfly Circle - a roundabout with butterfly statues located in the entrance to the Butterfly Neighborhood in Kiryat Bialik. The name was chosen for the neighborhood because of the multi-floor residential complex. But I used it as an opportunity for increasing environment awareness by emphasizing interdependence of man and environment. Vegetation needs butterflies, butterflies need the vegetation, and the residents have the right to see some animals amongst the inanimate statues." 


            We approached you following the Beit She’an project, but I suppose you have an opinion about public open spaces in general...


            "The project lasted about six months which demonstrates that education is the most important issue.  In this seminar, the participants, in cooperation with the municipality, chose an open space located near their homes,  and planned, developed, and took responsibility for its maintenance. The result gets them to think about what their perception of a public open space is, but mainly gives them pride in their neighborhood. That pride is expressed by their constant will to improve their community. It gives them a sense of power and confidence in their ability as individuals to contribute to the community. It is also a sign that there is hope. A community that learns to conserve "luxurious" water, will respect and therefore save water used for vital necessities."


            Is the concept "sustainable" not anti-modern, in a way?


            "Yes, of course, but only in a positive way. Modern, or to be more correct, Postmodern life disconnects actions from their consequences. It is difficult to see how the little drops we save eventually may fill a whole swimming pool. The real danger is that everything seems local, we throw something away and it disappears in the garbage can. But we know that the world is becoming one big garbage dump. That is exactly the reason why one of the questions asked in ecological forums is, "Should we conceal the infrastructures?" Concealment leads to denial. Perhaps if we could show the amount of water that flows when we flush the toilet, we would understand the logic behind using grey water for landscape irrigation."


            Having learned from your project about public open spaces, what kind of activities do you think should take place in public open spaces?

            In the convenient climate we have in Israel - just about everything. That is why appropriate shading devices are absolutely a must in public open spaces. I believe trees that shade us from the sun in the right time are the most appropriate. I am also a fan of open well-ventilated areas. The outside signifies endless freedom, there are no limitations on events and  no need for formal ones. Social events that are spontaneous and informal create good opportunities for a variety of social interactions.


            "In the community garden planned within the framework of the seminar, the residents expressed the need to create an arena for socializing where they can partake in communal activities, plays, holidays, youth group meetings, etc. The residents and the local artists created a pavement that illustrates the symbols of their community, like for instance, leaving their handprints in the concrete. The residents that participated in the seminar contributed much more than just the physical work, and the members of the older generation said the cooperative atmosphere reminded them of the good old days."


            Is there only one open space like that in Beit Shean? What is the municipalitys policy concerning the rest of the town?


            "There are plans to hold more seminars in Beit Shean - the idea is catching on. We provide the basic knowledge and they use it the way they understand it. Local artists also take part in the program; they contribute mostly by painting things. The municipality helped the residents with materials and with the maintenance of the place. One of the positive consequences of this cooperation was that residents regained confidence in the town."


            A common goal is an important element for strengthening group identity. Do you know of any projects oriented towards fulfilling similar environmentalist goals?


            "There are a few successful projects I know of in England, where the residents were involved in the planning, developing and maintenance of environmental programs. In one town where there are was a brick factory,  the residents made personal bricks which they individually decorated. They then used the bricks to build a wall around the public open space in their neighborhood. In this way, the project supported the local economy while strengthening the social ties of the individuals to the community."


            Who is behind TSE?


            "We are three professional woman with complementary backgrounds who believe that planning is for the public and not for a designated few. It doesnt require by-the-book ecological architecture, as long as the end result is ecological.


            Ecological architecture does not always succeed in putting the environment first, and often the result is met with antagonism towards "environmental fanatics." The focus of TSE is to draw the public towards a goal that is hard to achieve through otherwise common methods. We believe that even when planners want to do something for the environment, they do not always know how to go about it. Moreover, for some, political expediency often outweighs environmental considerations."





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