Creating Ideas for First Peace Park in the Middle East

This month faculty and students from Yale School of Architecture will join their Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli counterparts in creating a vision for the first cross-border Peace Park to be established in the Middle East.

On May 12, the joint teams will visit the location of the proposed park, about six miles south of the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee, at the confluence of the Yarmouk and Jordan Rivers. The park area will include the former Rotenberg hydroelectric power station and the “Three Bridges” Site, a historical crossing point of the River Jordan, where a 2,000-year-old Roman bridge, an Ottoman Railway bridge and a British Mandate road bridge still span the River today.

No person, train or vehicle has crossed the river at this site since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

"Sixty years after the hydroelectric power plant was destroyed in the 1948 war, almost to the day, a historic event designed to help advance a cross-border peace park on both banks of the River Jordan will take place," said Munqeth Mehyar, the Jordanian director of Friends of the Earth Middle East—a unique Jordanian, Israeli, Palestinian organization for peace and the environment—who initiated the park concept.

"The goal of the event is to develop ideas on how to recreate a wetland from the dry lake bed into a bird sanctuary, convert the old power station into a visitor's center, the old workers’ homes into eco-lodges and renovate the bridges so they can be used again," noted Mehyar.

Project director, Yale professor of architecture and urban planning, Alan Plattus, and Andrei Harwell, project manager, will lead a charrette – a four-day design event that will produce an array of ideas and designs as to how the area could be revitalized. The group will include faculty and students selected by the Yale Urban Design Workshop, and architects and students from Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Plattus, who heads the Yale Urban Design Workshop in New Haven, has many years of experience hosting charrettes and guiding disparate groups with a variety of interests toward a consensus on development plans in their communities.

This event follows the completion by Friends of the Earth Middle East of a $110,000 feasibility study of the park.

“The park has the support of the local Jordanian and Israeli authorities as it is designed not only as the first step towards the rehabilitation of the near-dry River Jordan but as a means to generate much needed income for the communities on both sides of the river,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East and 2007 Yale University World Fellow.

The finished project will be a trans-boundary protected area straddling the international border between Israel and Jordan. The cross-border park is based on an existing arrangement that allows Israelis, following the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, to enter an area in Jordan called the “Peace Island” without the need for a visa or passport.

"The proposed park expands the area of special crossing arrangement to include also the Israeli side of the river bank and for Jordanians to cross onto the Israeli side, allowing for the full potential of the site to be utilized,” added Bromberg.

“We are pleased that Yale will take a leadership role in this inspiring endeavor,” said Yale University President Richard C. Levin. “The project reflects Yale's commitment to support sustainable development at every level and to promote creative dialog across cultural and geographical borders."

 

Plattus, speaking on behalf of the participating Yale faculty and students, said: "We are excited to be part of this unprecedented initiative, and to explore the ways in which design can be a positive force not only in environmental renewal and sustainability, but also in the building of collaborative relationships among peoples with a common history and environment exemplified by the Jordan River region."

The charrette itself will be held both on the Peace Island site, and at a nearby site in Jordan. The project design will be presented in Amman and Jerusalem in the days following.

Media are invited to tour the site together with Yale and local architects on May 12.

Transportation will be provided:
08:00 - Bus leaving Tel Aviv (Arlozorov Train Station, near the old El Al platform)
07:45 – Bus leaving Jerusalem (Binyanei Ha’Uma)
Please RSVP with your interest to join the tour, and which bus, to mira@foeme.org, 054-6392937