Ecologist Dr. Eliezer Frankenberg
November 1, 2001
Concrete Creek / Eliezer Frankenberg, Israel Nature and Parks Authority
Restoration and Rehabilitation
As the impact of human activities expands, biological diversity diminishes. Thus, greater efforts are made to reclaim and restore habitats and ecosystems. Although restoration and rehabilitation is a relatively new science, more and more resources are being utilized all over the world towards ecosystem restoration projects. Since nature on one hand and man on the other are the main factors that mold our landscape, existing natural resources depend on human culture and on man’s affinity to nature and the environment. Every development project must be tested to determine whether the natural resources and ecosystems will indeed be protected.
Restoration and rehabilitation of ecosystems, habitats and landscapes is a multidisciplinary task that must take into account aspects of planning, ecology and culture. The link between the ecology and planning disciplines has been recognized in recent years, but the human culture aspect is still insufficiently accounted for in the current approaches. Our goal is to bridge this gap by incorporating the art discipline into the plans for rehabilitation of an area or the restoration of an ecosystem. The Concrete Creek project is designed to apply an interdisciplinary approach and involve the local community, employees and inhabitants of the area, in the rehabilitation process of a damaged ecosystem. The
artist's endeavors to include the contamination generators in the process, thus raising their environmental awareness, is highly significant. This project is a test case or a model for reclamation of creeks that are adjacent to industrial areas. This can be achieved only through the interdisciplinary collaboration: artist-scientist-planner, which is the very goal of the Israeli Forum for Ecological Art.
The term “biological diversity” describes the number and diversity of world organisms and the ecosystems that accommodate them. It is defined in terms of genes, species and ecosystems derived from more than 3,000 million years of evolution. The existence of humankind depends on biological diversity, hence the term is practically equivalent to life on earth. Today there are 1.7 million known species. The exact number remains unknown, however it is estimated between 5 to 100 million.
Species’ extinction is a natural part of the evolutionary process. As a result of human activity, however, species and ecosystems face a higher risk than ever before in documented history. Loss occurs in every ecosystem: rivers, lakes, deserts, temperate forests, mountains, islands, and tropical forests – which are inhabited by 50-90% of the defined species. According to current figures, at the present rate of forest extermination, an estimated 2-8% of the species will be extinct within the next 25 years. These catastrophes are not only environmental, but also have a direct impact on the economic and social development of our world. At least 40% of world economy and 80% of human consumption are derived from biological resources. The richer the variability in life forms, the
greater the chances for medical discoveries, economic development and adaptive responses to new challenges, such as global changes. The diversity of life forms is our insurance policy; our life and environment depend on it.
The Natural Landscape
Israel is very rich in plants and animals in terms of both number and diversity, due to a range of factors:
a. Climate changes in the past 20 million years, and especially the last million.
b. The position of Israel at the center of the old world, functioning as a land bridge connecting the mild northern zones to the dry deserts of the south to the tropical forests of the far south.
c. The great diversity in landforms and landscapes that gave rise to many biotopes.
d. The rich climatic diversity, being the southern border of the Mediterranean and the northern border of the arid zones, with a gradual transition in-between.
e. Local climate conditions, represented by local temperature and precipitation crucial for living organisms.
The Project Area
The project is carried out in a wadi linked to a quarry in the Judean Hills. It is an area where most Mediterranean landscape types are represented. Israel is rich in biological, cultural and landscaping diversities resulting from climate fluctuations, diverse geomorphology and local variations in environmental conditions. However, due to Israel’s long history of settlement and its repercussions, one can no longer talk about “pristine natural landscapes”. The existing landscape nowadays is a compromise between human activity and natural conditions; as a consequence of the local history in each area, diversity is increased even further. In any event, a distinction must be made between human activity in the past and in the present.
Past activity in the area was based on natural conditions, requiring human adaptation to the ecological system while ensuring its continuation. After Israel attained independence, some human activities such as over-grazing, woodcutting and abandoning agricultural lands, were minimized. Rapid regeneration of natural vegetation altered the appearance of the area and rehabilitated the local ecological system. Today’s human activity often transforms the constituents of the ecological system entirely, changing its functions and functioning. This process of change, due to its uniform technical execution, reduces the landscaping, biological and cultural diversities. Unfortunately, it is discernible in the Judean Hills area too. Endemic vegetation and the natural and cultural landscapes were either damaged or destroyed as a result of the elimination of the terrace culture, the construction of unnatural, ‘disharmonious’ roads, as well as large-scale landscape manipulations, such as afforestation covering up and replacing natural assets. Add to that large-scale catastrophes such as fires, and other environmental elements, such as human settlements, dumping grounds, converting land uses and transforming them into residential and industrial areas, and we find ourselves on the road to losing those characteristics that make the area so unique, rendering it increasingly homogeneous.
Conservation and Restoration
The question now arises: how do we preserve the open nature of the Judean Hills in a way which will be beneficial to all its inhabitants, while protecting and maintaining its diverse uses as a functioning, serviceable ecological system. The area has many, at times overlapping, uses, including planted forests, agricultural fields, orchards and groves, pastures, picnic and camping grounds, and the vestiges of ancient and more recent cultures. Ecologically, they function to prevent dust and erosion, to protect and maintain water balance in the soil and air quality, to recycle elements and to create corridors connecting the habitats for the various organisms.
Every area is diverse in its landscape – rock and soil, contours, current lines, natural vegetation – and this natural diversity should be protected in order to maintain its unique character. Since human beings have a fixed concept on the landscape necessary for their various activities – an orderly, ‘well-equipped’ forest with tall trees and small clearings for recreation – all recreation areas are becoming "artificially natural," thus the unique character of the area fades away. We must conceive of a way to bridge the gaps in our expectations from the landscape and to conserve the special ecosystem and landscape of each area.
An integral part of this project was the study and documentation of the effects a quarry and a concrete plant, and all the activities that go with it – such as substance transportation, carrier cleaning, leftover washing and dumping– had on a nearby natural river. The process included documenting the spatial and temporal changes of the river environment resulting from the activity related to the quarry and the concrete plant, and the way in which various river-objects could be used as part of and as a basis for the creative work.
The spread and flow of quarry dust clearly demonstrate the impact on the environment. The concrete and wash residuals along the river, and the stratification of the materials on the riverbed, which create solid layers and coat the stones, and to some extent the local vegetation too, with a concrete blanket, transformed the natural river to a concrete one. Concrete leftovers dumped into the river at various locations cause stratification, change the contour of the river and introduce various substances incongruent with the natural gradient of the river.
The site is an open natural area, a dry riverbed that is supposed to be washed by the winter rains and renew its appearance each year. Its banks are covered with natural vegetation sustaining the wildlife in the area. Such areas are crucial to the conservation of the natural biodiversity and landscapes typifying the country. This diversity is the very essence of people’s sense of belonging to the place, thus implementation of a combined view and conceptions pertaining to the future of such places is extremely important.
Exploitation of natural resources and their environmental impact on the environment can be documented and described in different ways and through various disciplines. The most common modes are those pertaining to health and ecological considerations. In order to illustrate these repercussions and act for their eradication, a novel approach is needed, one which combines aesthetic and emotional points of view and takes into account not only health and ecological considerations but aspects of planning and human sentiments toward the area as well.
The dilemma is whether to let the typical ecosystem be mutated into a concrete channel, thereby institutionalizing man's imprint on nature, or rather find ways to rehabilitate the ecosystem and moderate the effects of natural resource exploitation and industrialization on the river. Rehabilitation can be natural, by making substance outflow higher than its influx. For this purpose, a study of in/out dynamics and balance must be carried out. Another potential solution is active rehabilitation via periodical cleaning of the accumulated substances by physical and mechanical means. This too, necessitates a study of the effects of such activity on the ecosystem.
In a series of observations and excursions in the area with the artist, we monitored the creek’s condition, drew up a plan to clean and restore sections of it, documented the various stages of the process, and examined whether the winter floods help rehabilitate the system. We also examined whether the substance carried to the river becomes an integrated component. Will the mechanical intervention have future repercussions on the system? Should other aspects be tackled on the ecological and landscape levels? (The latter being a direct consequence of the artistic approach to and treatment of the given system.)
Management and rehabilitation of areas must be implemented through a combined approach incorporating ecology, planning and art. Ecology and planning have already been recognized and applied, but the artistic dimension has yet to be introduced and incorporated into the actual conservation management of the ecosystem.