The guide was prepared ‘out of sensitivity to and an examination of the needs and usage of communities with different needs, demands and patterns of behavior,’ says housing ministry spokesperson.
By Chaim Levinson | May.17, 2013

The Housing Ministry has quietly devised new guidelines under which Arab and Haredi ‏(ultra-Orthodox‏) towns should be planned with significantly less space for parks than other towns.

Under the new guidelines, which were disseminated to professionals about a year ago, Haredi and Arab towns should provide only 10 square meters of open space per person, compared to 15 square meters per person in other towns.

In their introduction to the new standards, the ministry’s chief architect, Carlos Drinberg, and his deputy, Michal Naor Wiernik, wrote that whereas the previous guidelines were uniform throughout the country, “this guide provides an answer to the need to distinguish among different areas from the standpoint of physical conditions, and also from the standpoint of the usage patterns of different user populations.”

The guide was overseen by an interministerial committee that included representatives of the environmental protection, interior and agricultural ministries, the Water Commission, the major cities, the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, as well as various professionals. The actual writing was done by Dr. Tamar Trop, an urban planner, and Prof. Gideon Sarig, a landscape architect, both from the Technion.

In explaining their guidelines for Arab towns, the authors wrote, “This sector has a preference for larger parks and for locating neighborhood parks based on clan structure, but on the other hand, it’s usually hard to find land big enough for parks within the town boundaries.” Therefore, instead of a large number of small neighborhood parks, it would be better to have fewer but larger parks located near public buildings such as schools, clinics or mosques − i.e., in places that are “neutral from the standpoint of political familial affiliation” − plus a large municipal park “on the edge of town or outside it.”

In Haredi towns, in contrast, the guide said that many small neighborhood parks located near residential buildings is better than a few large parks serving a larger area.

Another difference, the guide said, is that parks in Arab towns should devote more space to grass, trees and shrubbery and less to playground equipment. In Bedouin towns, it added, parks should include fruit trees.

Neither Arab nor Haredi towns need parks suitable for dog-walking, the guide noted.

Asked by telephone about the decision to allocate less park space to Arab and Haredi towns, Sarig acknowledged that, put like that, “it doesn’t sound good.”

But he stressed that before writing the guide, he and Trop conducted a detailed survey of different types of towns and discovered that “Haredi towns have almost no parks. They don’t like them. They don’t like too much open space; they don’t like the park culture. You don’t see them in open spaces, picnicking under a shady tree, walking around … They’re in synagogues more than in non-Haredi leisure culture.”

As for Arab towns, he said, private courtyards complement the public parks, requiring fewer of the latter.

A Housing Ministry spokesman said that surveys of Haredi towns revealed little interest in the intermediate level of parks − those that serve a few neighborhoods together. This was primarily “for reasons of modesty,” meaning fear that boys and girls would mingle without supervision. Instead, there was a demand for lots of small neighborhood parks that young children could easily visit on their own or with an older sibling.

In Arab towns, in contrast, there was no demand for small parks. Residents prefer larger areas, he said, in part because these are more suitable for large clan gatherings.

Among the non-Haredi Jewish population, by contrast, there was demand for large parks that resemble real nature, and that was a major reason for the differential in the size allocation.

The guidelines, he continued, are not binding. But it is normal for urban planners to consider the differing needs of different population groups when deciding how best to allocate land to serve these needs: For instance, Haredi towns allocate much more space for schools than do non-Haredi towns, because this is necessary to accommodate their larger families and desire for single-sex schools. The guide is meant to help in this endeavor.

The guide was prepared “out of sensitivity to and an examination of the needs and usage of communities with different needs, demands and patterns of behavior,” he concluded. “It was based on empirical research and various types of surveys, including questionnaires, interviews and more. The allocations defined in the guide stem from an analysis of the usage patterns, demand and needs of the target population, as well as an analysis of the availability of land and its location.”