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
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)