An uncommon nature park opened in Jerusalem earlier this year. Israeli environmentalists say the park can serve as a model for other areas because it shows how wildlife can live in a city.
Gazelle Valley Park opened March 30th in western Jerusalem. It is in the middle of an area filled with busy roads and neighborhoods. The park is home to many different kinds of birds and animals, including turtles, toads and mountain gazelles. The gazelles are endangered. Many Israelis considered them an unofficial symbol of their country.
It took a lot of time and effort to set up the new wildlife area. Environmentalists, rights activists and others worked together to block a housing and industrial plan for the valley in the late 1990s. The proposed development threatened not only to destroy the home of the gazelles, but also limited public use of the valley’s green spaces.
In 2008, the mayor of Jerusalem decided the land should be a nature park. Later, the city raised $5 million to help build it.
Amir Balaban works with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
“This is a community urban wildlife site. The park is 50 acres, half of which are designated for the gazelles, and basically, everything beyond this yellow rope is gazelle land. And everything on this side is for people. So this is how we share with nature.”
Mr. Balaban and other activists fought a nearly 20-year long battle to keep businesses and homes from being built on the land.
“Well, the idea, first of all, started off when people around the valley understood the developers are going to take hold of this public open space. With them joined a lot of NGOs that understood that this is a very important battle.”
Michal Regev is a Gazelle Valley neighborhood activist.
“Our first victory was that the committee that had to decide about it said ‘They are right,’ and just rejected the whole (development) program. (And then a) bigger committee said ‘Okay, now you have the mandate to prepare a program that will be an answer to what the public wants.’”
About 100,000 people have visited Gazelle Valley Park since it opened almost four months ago. Raphoel Wolpin of Jerusalem is one of them. On his first visit to the park, he brought his wife and children.
“My first impressions is that it’s good to have something of nature next to urban centers (so that) you don’t have to travel far to see all types of natural phenomena.”
He is happy the activists were able to defeat the builders.
“A lot of times the public loses because of developers that want to make money, and it’s good that sometimes, we win. Sometimes the public wins.”
Mr. Wolpin is an Orthodox Jew. He notes that Jerusalem is home to people of many different religions.
Amir Balaban and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel are working with the country’s government to create parks in other cities. He says officials in other nations should build urban wildlife parks like Gazelle Valley.
“In general, this model can be applied all over the world, whether it's in the Tropics, in the Mediterranean habitats, desert habitats, even (the) Arctic. Just leave some space for nature, make sure it can sustain itself, manage it very gently and let people in so they can enjoy all this beauty.”
I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.
VOA's Michael Lipin reported this story from Jerusalem. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
urban – adj. of or relating to cities and the people who live in them
symbol – n. an object or sign that expresses or represents an idea or quality
site – n. the place where something is or was
designate(d) – v. to mark, show or represent (something)
NGO – n. non-governmental organization
mandate – n. authority, approval or power to take an action
phenomena – n. (plural of “phenomenon”) qualities of someone or something; something that can be observed as a part of a person or thing
habitat – n. the place where a plant or animal normally lives
Tropics – n. the part of the world that is near the Equator
sustain – v. support; to provide what is needed for (something or someone) to exist or continue
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