Bahai News - The grass isn't getting greener Friday, November 30, 2001 Kislev 15, 5762 Israel Time: 05:45 (GMT+2)

The grass isn't getting greener

By Esther Zandberg

It is doubtful that visitors to the Bahai Gardens in Haifa have noticed that parts of the spectacular lawns are no more than "fibers manufactured from polyethylene and a blend of polypropylene and processed and woven into a permeable support area." In short, artificial grass.

Quite a few of the participants in the annual conference of the association of landscape architects, which was held two weeks ago at the Center for a Beautiful Israel, in Tel Aviv, found it hard to believe the sample of fresh grass that was exhibited by one of the commercial companies at the conference was synthetic and not botanic.

On traffic islands in Jerusalem, in Haifa and in Petah Tikva, in private gardens and soon on sports fields, too, artificial grass is starting to make its presence felt in Israel. The water crisis is the major reason, though not the only one, for the sharp increase during the past year in the number of companies that import it and in the interest being taken in it by government, public and private bodies. The combination of a craving for grass and the need to economize on water is proving very attractive to a lot of people and institutions.

Others, however, warn against an uncontrolled use of the innovation and of confusing the natural thing with the carpet. The importers of artificial grass of course describe it as "grass with no shortcomings" - green all year round, fireproof, requiring minimum care, installable anywhere, no bald spots, and causes no allergies, nor water trickling into the earth.

They play down the fact that it isn't the green belt it pretends to be. It gets warm, doesn't contribute to cooling its surroundings, doesn't "breathe," doesn't absorb pollution and doesn't decompose. The implications of artificial grass haven't been fully examined by relevant objective groups. According to the veteran landscape architect Yossi Zohar, its ecological qualities are more like asphalt painted green than real grass.

Zohar, who has been studying artificial grass internationally for the past 15 years, is trying to promote its use in training fields in Israel, particularly soccer fields, though not necessarily for water conservation. Artificial grass, says Zohar, was developed in water-rich countries such as Netherlands and was meant originally to provide an answer to shortages of land, not of water.

The arithmetic, Zohar says, is simple - real grass wears out four times as fast as artificial grass, so the synthetic product allows four times as many training hours on the same field, so it's not necessary to build new fields using expensive land that can be used for other purposes. True, artificial grass is expensive - up to NIS 400 a square meter, compared with NIS 20 for a square meter of real grass - but according to Zohar, the calculation should be the cost compared with saving land. So far, though, he says, he hasn't been able to sell the idea.

"In contrast to Holland or Spain, where the land belongs to the owners of the clubs and every meter is dear to them, here the land is free." One of the companies that import artificial grass says it will place the product on the sports field of a Jerusalem community center for the first time next month.

According to the company, FIFA, the European soccer association, is now permitting the use of artificial grass in stadiums and not just training fields, as in the past. Ran Pauker, from Kibbutz Nir Oz, who is considered one of the leading experts in Israel on water-economical vegetation, takes a positive view of artificial grass "in places where natural grass isn't suitable."

Pauker is a member of an interdepartmental government committee to promote water-economical gardening. He took part last month in the first tour of its kind of different types of artificial grass that was organized by one of the importers. Pauker was persuaded that because there are no water-economical plants that can be a substitute for real grass, "in certain cases the artificial solution can be used." He thinks, for example, that it artificial grass can be used on Chen and Rothschild avenues in Tel Aviv, as "under the ficus trees it doesn't become warm and cause an ecological problem."

Like many experts who deal with natural flora, Pauker has reservations about the "more natural than natural" look of artificial grass and would prefer that it looks like itself - artificial. However, that's an issue that belongs in the realm of cultural criticism.

©Copyright 2001, HA'ARETZ (Israel)

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