At the session held in the historic Knights’ Halls compound, KKL-JNF invited conference participants to a fascinating discussion on the point at which city and forest, construction and open spaces all converge. The session was entitled Between Urbanism and Afforestation – New Life for the Cities. “This is a very important topic and it’s only natural that KKL-JNF should bring it up,” said Chairperson Naomi Tzur.
The opening lecture of the session was delivered by Dr David Maddox
of the USA, who spoke on Branding Green Urbanism. Dr Maddox has created an internet platform where some 350 people worldwide exchange views on green urbanism.
“First of all we have to ask ourselves what kind of cities we want,” said Dr Maddox by way of introduction. “We can describe them as sustainable cities that are durable, accessible to all and good to live in. We expect our cities to meet all these demands.”
He characterized green cities
as follows: “They contain mainly energy-efficient buildings; they promote public transportation and have a good water economy. We don’t always appreciate the importance of real greenery such as parks, public gardens and trees.”
Dr Maddox went on to enumerate the advantages of planting trees in the cities: trees raise property values, reduce surface runoff water, save energy and improve air quality. “We have to find ways to encourage residents to take part in this process so that they can help us to create the cities we all want,” he said. He added that it was important to build a shared vocabulary in order to facilitate debate between people who do not share the same opinions. “Cities are ruled mainly by government and business, but in order to make them better places to live in we have to regard them also as ecological systems of infrastructures and human beings,” he concluded.
“KKL-JNF is active in promoting recreation and leisure as part of the quality of urban life,” said Pinchas Kahana
, the outgoing director of KKL-JNF’s Planning Division, who conducted proceedings during the second half of the session. “We want to encourage activities at the local level and include people who experience the region on a daily basis, while also setting up cooperative initiatives and engaging in public debate with all those concerned.”Anat Gold
, the new Director of KKL-JNF’s Planning Division, presented a new approach that she calls “Life Channels,” which she summarized as follows: “The channels of riverbeds are once more assuming a major role in urban planning. Neglected areas are being rehabilitated and brought back into use, and nature is entering the cities and creating a succession of open spaces. This reclaimed land allows for the development of urban parks and areas dedicated to recreation and leisure activities.”
Gold focused on two examples in the Negev: the Beersheba River
Hebron River. KKL-JNF’s rehabilitation
of the Beersheba River, with the help of its Friends worldwide, has transformed the city’s polluted backyard into a well cared for urban park with lawns, landscaped gardens, promenades, footpaths, cycle trails, an amphitheatre and an artificial lake. “Beersheba River Park has changed the face of the city, and it is more important to Beersheba than Yarkon Park
is to Tel Aviv,” she maintained.
The second example was the community of Meitar, which is surrounded by woodland on all sides and crisscrossed by a network of streams, all of which drain into the Hebron River. KKL-JNF has reclaimed the waterways, built a promenade and brought the neglected sites back to life.
Anat Gold concluded her presentation by saying: “Bringing the abandoned areas back into the city creates a natural environment and provides space for recreational and leisure-time activities. It increases the value of the land, changes urban planning trends and draws people to the city.”
KKL-JNF Community and Forest
Director Moshe Sheller
explained what constitutes a community forest. “It’s a forest situated in close proximity to a community, it is accessible to residents and it normally serves mainly people who live locally. Community afforestation blurs the boundaries between nature and the city, and so creates towns that are pleasant to live in.” According to Sheller, “Community forests transform neglected backyards into green display windows, but they sometimes come under pressure from development and are under constant threat.”
So far KKL-JNF has developed several dozen community forests in a variety of locations throughout the country. “We’ve come to understand that a community forest can’t be managed like anordinary woodland. We work together with the local authorities and the community, and we don’t behave as if we were the sheriffs of the forest,” he explained.
Landscape architect Vardit Tzurnamal
spoke about linear projects as agents for change within the city. She described Netivot’s Nahal Bohu (Bohu River), which is located within KKL-JNF woodland upon which the city is steadily encroaching. KKL-JNF is promoting a master plan designed to attract people to the river and transform it into a lively recreational venue. The proposal includes woodland trails, footpaths, forest sites and bridges across the waterway. In conclusion Tzurnamal mentioned two new projects: the development of parks along Jerusalem’s Begin Highway and a nature trail in Yehud-Monosson that links the center of town to its open outskirts.
, Director of the Highlands in KKL-JNF’s Central Region, spoke on Theory Versus Reality in Community Projects in the Jerusalem Hills. He said that, thanks to civic activity together with the community in the Jerusalem Forest
, a statutory plan had been approved. “The forest is active and it attracts many visitors, but unfortunately the municipality and the community administrations have faded away with time.”
Tzoref provided additional examples: Adullam-France Park
in the Beit Shemesh region, where local moshavim enlisted in the battle against the oil shale plan and won the day; and Mevasseret Forest, which also has a community woodland, though without active local authority involvement.
According to Tzoref, the following challenges have to be addressed if a community forest is to succeed: woodland accessibility, suitable city signposting that points the way to the forest, planning appropriate to residents’ wishes and long-term collaboration with the community.
Pinchas Kahana summed up the session: “Where there is vision, local grassroots activism and an ability to get things done the achievements can be impressive."
After the session was over KKL-JNF set up a publicity booth in the Knights’ Halls’ courtyard, handed out pamphlets and screened films showing a variety of the activities in which the organization is engaged. A significant part of KKL-JNF’s work is closely connected with the topics discussed at the conference: community forests, the establishment of urban parks, the development of settlement in the periphery, open spaces management and sustainable development are all issues with which the organization is closely involved.