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Community Gardening and Greening in Jerusalem

  • Subject: [cg] Community Gardening and Greening in Jerusalem
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2005 21:37:26 EST

The greening of Jerusalem



The Municipal Gardening Unit is responsible for Jerusalem's approximately 
1,410 parks and gardens. The gardens are established by the municipality, private 
and institutional donors, and developers who create parks as part of projects 
they are constructing. 

Most of us are familiar with Jerusalem's large parks, such as the 
Independence, Liberty Bell, and Sachar parks. Most experts agree, however, that large 
parks, important as they are, are not enough. 

"For our health and well-being, every building in Jerusalem should have a 
green area attached to it," says Naomi Bentzur, director of the Jerusalem 
district of the Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI). 

While Tzur says that there a no international standards, small local parks, 
often called "pocket parks" have proved effective in changing the norms of 
cities, by filling voids created by city neglect. 

"These small parks contribute towards the greening of a neighborhood," she 
explains. "The more we make open spaces into green spaces, the more positive 
affect on the oxygen level. Studies in Tel Aviv have shown that streets with 
plants and tress in Tel Aviv have temperature of 2 degrees centigrade lower in the 
summer than those without." 

According to Tzur, the municipality has only recently recognized the social, 
cultural and environmental importance of these small local spaces. Small 
community gardens, developed in unused and derelict open spaces, can be managed by 
local residents and provide access to air and a country-side ambiance within 
the dense urban environment. 

Tzur believes that, "community gardens enable the residents to feel proud of 
their communities through work that they themselves invest. They can also 
alleviate poverty by allowing residents to grow their own food; they restore 
self-respect among those who are victims of unemployment and are feeling a loss of 

These parks upgrade the neighborhoods esthetically and can even be 
influential in improving the prices of property surrounding them. They cut down the 
ecological footprint that residents leave upon a city by recycling domestic 
organic waste in the form of compost. 

Two years ago there were only two pocket park projects in the city, the Baka 
Community Garden and the senior citizens project adjacent to the Neve Yaakov 
Community Center. 

But all that has changed. Now, according to Benny Sharabi, Community Garden 
Coordinator for SPNI, there is an entire network of nearly two dozen parks 
across the city, with plans for new parks in nearly every neighborhood. 

"Residents want to be involved in improving their environment," Tzur 
explains. "They get help from the SPNI and back up from their community centers, but 
ultimately the residents are the motivating factor," she says. 

According to Tzur, although a neglected plot of land may be zoned for 
building or as a green area in the future, the municipality often claims that it 
currently doesn't have the resources to keep it "green and nice." Such spaces 
quickly become neglected, becoming home to garbage dumps, drug addicts, and other 
illegal activities. 

"If local residents can turn around and establish stewardship, care and 
usage, they can change the face of their neighborhood. They can also cut down on 
solid waste by using organic waste as compost and even grow food," Tzur says. 

This has been done in Baka and in Armon Hanatziv where the muncipality is 
getting involved and sharing out plots to residents in order to grow fruit and ve

Sharabi travels throughout the city, looking for open spaces in neighborhoods 
that are either in a state of neglect or are threatened by construction 
plans, even though they have been planned to remain green. 

Together with the community centers, he then identifies groups of residents 
who could serve as a core group for a particular park. An area adjacent to a 
kindergarten might attract parents into a core group, for example, while one 
close to a senior citizen's club might attract more elderly people. 

"The process involves the community in all the stages of the development of 
the project," Sharabi says. 

Initial meetings are often carried out in private homes, and after the early 
issues are discussed, planning sessions begin, budgets are discussed and group 
members learn about ecological planning and gardening. 

Once a plan and a budget are decided upon, the municipality is approached 
with a request for an organized clean area and a basic garden in the open space 
in question. But in Sharabi's experience, the municipality may argue that they 
have specific plans for the area and expect to spend a lot of money on it in 
say, 20 years time. 

"So we tell them that the work we intend to do can always be upgraded," 
Sharabi says. 

Currently, Sharabi is involved in dozens of projects, aided by a group of 
five 12th grade boys learning to be garden apprentices. Last week, the boys 
completed the first stage of their training when they created "Bustan Brody" on 
Brody Street, next to Hapalmach St, which was established with the cooperation of 
the International Cultural Center for Youth and the local community. This 
pocket park covers what used to be a large neglected area adjacent to a 
supermarket and bank. 

Sharabi is also planning an ecological gardening workshop for the communty. 
"There will be a constant, ongoing involvement of the community in the 
project," he promises. 

At the Hanson Garden, next to the Hanson Leper Hospital in Talbieh, 
volunteers have built a biblical garden and activated four old water cisterns, out of 
use since 1977. This three-and-a-half acre site was once flourishing, but has 
been closed for over 50 years, since the establishment of the Leper Hospital. 
The cisterns from the Hanson Garden water the ecological garden in the adjacent 
Moon Grove. 

In Neve Ya'aov, immigrants are also establishing new parks. A group of 
elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union care for one pocket park, while at 
the edge of the Mir Forest, between Neve Ya'akov and Pisgat Ze'ev, volunteers 
who immigrated from Ethiopia and the FSU have established a Wildflower 

"The tip of the Wildflower Sanctuary is behind a row of houses and was 
covered with junk," says Tzur. "It took a persistent group of immigrants to get the 
Municipality to remove the junk." 

Residents of French Hill have discovered hundreds of species of flora on a 
hillside that was in the process of becoming a building site. In conjunction 
with the contractor of the site, they collected seeds and bulbs and transported 
top soil from French Hill to Neve Yaakov, and now a total of 55 species of 
wildflowers are growing in the Wildflower Sanctuary. 

"These unemployed elderly immigrants might otherwise be depressed, and their 
dignity has been restored by their responsibilities in this project," Tzur 

Another pocket park for seniors will soon be established in East Talpiot, 
with the aid of the Joint Distribution Committee, the Ministry of the Enviroment, 
and the Jerusalem Municipality. Sharabi says that this is the first time that 
these groups have worked together to establish this small, but important 

In a few months, another "pocket park with a difference" will be estabished 
on Stern St. in Kiryat HaYovel by the members of a neighboring senior citizen 
center and the parents of children from two kindergartens, as the core groups. 
In this case a major donor company, as yet unpublished, will provide the 
funding, but the volunteers have been involved in all stages of the planning and 
construction phases. 

Citizens with Down's Syndrome form the core group of the pocket park in the 
Swedish Village for the mentally challenged above Ein Kerem, which offers 
gardening therapy workshops and has become a model for other such ventures. 

In Gilo, SPNI was successful in developing the neglected areas around three 
large apartment buildings, at the same time resolving neighborhood animosity 
that went back six years. 

"To the Gilo residents' credit," Sharabi notes, "everyone decided to set 
their differences aside and work on the project together." 

Sharabi recently gave a presentation to residents in Ma'aleh Adumim and will 
soon present his ideas at the Ethiopian immigrants' center in Mevasseret 

"And this is only the beginning!" he enthuses. 

Immigrants and veterans, elderly and young, the upscale and the poor are all 
taking an interest in establishing pocket parks in their neighborhoods. Why 
have they become so popular in the past few years? 

Says Sharabi, "A sense of community barely exists any longer. People are busy 
with work, cellphones, TV, computers. It is important for us to spend time 
out in the open, close to nature, to feel the earth and the land. 

"Pocket parks are a place to meet people," he continues. "All the barriers go 
down. It is almost unbelievable to see people who otherwise never communicate 
working together in the garden. Religious and secular children play together, 
or Arab and Jew work on a project together, and even secular people from 
different worlds who sit on a park bench together and have a chance to share." 

Sharabi initially focused more on the ecological aspects of the gardens, but 
now says that he has come to the realization "that the first aim of a pocket 
park is a sense of community." 

At present the SPNI is pursuing the development of pocket parks on both sides 
of the city divide. The project is considered so successful, that SPNI has 
been invited to work on similar ideas in divided cities, including Belfast and 

"We are beginning a project with these cities in order to measure the social 
impact of greening," says Tzur. "We feel that enlightened cities that 
encourage pocket parks can, with social and community initiatives, impact on difficult 
political situations internationally. We are just waiting for funding to 
allow us to advance with this international project." 

Although the pocket parks are spreading out, Avi Bentzur, Environmental 
Planner of the Jerusalem Department of the Ministry of the Environment, says that 
there is a dearth of green spaces in both Orthodox and Arab neighborhoods. 

Aware of this, SPNI has begun to pay particular attentions to these areas. 
Recently, a pocket park was established in the ultra orthodox neighborhood of 
Romema by a core group of schoolgirls from grades seven to 12, who volunteered 
to plan and establish the park. The funding was provided by the community 
itself, after a rabbi gave his blessing to the project. 

Scores of mothers and their children visit the park daily, two workshops have 
been established, one for children and one for the mentally challenged, and a 
special course will teach religious women how to create mini-gardens on their 
balconies. In addition, a core group of female senior citizens is working to 
establish a park in another ultra-Orthodox area, Sanhedria Murhevet. Ideas for 
Mea Sha'arim and Beit Israel are currently being developed. 

The city has many parks that are used both by Jewish and Arab residents of 
the city, such as Gan Sacher, Liberty Bell Park and Sultan's Pools Gardens, but 
there are neighborhood parks or pocket parks in east Jerusalem. 

In the eastern part of the city, most of the land is privately owned. This 
presents the Jerusalem Municipality with a problem when it comes to allocating 
spaces for pocket parks, says architect Yael Padan, a volunteer at Bimkom, a 
non-governmental group that works with citizens on planning rights. Private 
ownership means that the muncipality essentially has to take the land from people 
who are not willing to give up their claim to it. Due to political mistrust, 
it has been difficult to assign land in those areas for public use. 
Furthermore, areas defined as green spaces are often used, illegally, for the 
construction of homes. 

SPNI has worked with Dhyan Oren of the All Nations Caf on a project in A-Tur. 
Although Sharabi came to the table with funding for the project, he found it 
very difficult to be heard until he realized he also needed to work with the 
community center there. SPNI is also working with a school in Beit Tsafafa, 
turning a neglected area into an ecological garden. 

While groups such as the SPNI may take credit for the growing awareness of 
the importance of small green zones within the urban complex, the municipality 
has begun to respond with the allocations that are necessary for these projects 
to succeed. 

"The new master plan for Jerusalem," says a spokesperson for the 
Municipality, "will add 4,150 square kilometers of green areas to the city, including 820 
square kilometers in east Jerusalem." 

There is national interest as well. The Ministry of the Environment is 
currently in the midst of the first-ever national investigation of "what a city 
should offer its citizens in terms of green spaces, how they should be developed, 
how close to residences they should be located, and other related issues," 
Bentzur reveals. "We always knew that proper use of open spaces in neighborhoods 
was very important to the daily lives of residents, but now we are computing 
the results of a survey completed in 2004." 

Although the results are still not complete, the survey has already shown 
that while there are many open spaces within the city, many are inaccessible and 
many that do have the potential for development as pocket parks are often 
privately owned. 

"It was only after we started to collect information that I became aware of 
how bad the situation was in some areas," Bentzur admits. 

In the meantime, the Sustainable Jerusalem Coalition, says Tzur, is in the 
process of preparing a "green map" which will show all the green and ecological 
initiatives existent in the city, including recycling bins, public transport 
routes, cycling routes and even businesses that are up- to-the-mark 

Initiatives such as these will help ensure that Jerusalem be-comes green, as 
well as golden.

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

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