Haifa’s wadis descend from the top of the Carmel ridge to the Mediterranean Sea, forming the city’s green skeleton. Habitat for a variety of animal and plant species that do not normally reside in urban environments, the wadis offer breathtaking views and the serenity of nature just a walking distance from home. Within a few minutes, the scenery and soundscape change – concrete and noise replaced by green and quiet.
When you look at a photo of Haifa’s western slopes, you realize their powerful presence by virtue of being an essential green lung. However, over the years the wadis have become a view from the window – or the backyard where construction waste, garbage and useless objects are dumped.
This situation triggered the Master Plan For Wadis, a collaboration between Haifa Municipality and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The vision was to strengthen the wadis as an urban green skeleton, natural, scenic, inviting and integrated into the city’s life and growth. The year of Covid-19, when one of the few options to leave the house was to a green space nearby, emphasized the need to promote this vision.
The master plan examines Haifa’s wadis as a unique urban system. Its primary goal is to open a new façade to the city by treating wadis as an integral part of the skeleton and urban space, thereby realizing their potential. At the same time, it is essential to protect the wadis as a contiguous environmental and functional system, and a unique landscape unit to be maintained for future generations.
The program’s goals:
- To preserve the natural skeleton of Haifa’s wadis as a unique scenic unit.
- To maintain the continuity of the wadis as public open spaces on an urban and regional level.
- To preserve and restore the wadis’ ecological value as urban nature.
- To provide guidelines for preserving the various wadis, how to use them and possibilities for developing them as an open urban space while maintaining the natural landscape and environment of these local green lungs.
- To improve physical public access to the wadis while adding connections between the wadis to neighborhoods and open areas within them, and creating an array of open spaces for leisure and recreation as well as wildlife crossings.
- To change the wadis’ image by transforming them into a space that the populace will be aware of and enjoy, and help maintain nature and local biodiversity.
- To define policies for managing the wadis as a resource.
What is a wadi? And what is an urban wadi?
A wadi – a dry valley or ravine except for the rainy season – is a landscape unit consisting of three main subunits: ridges, slopes and gorges. These subunits contain within them continuity, variety, visual basin, and overlapping lines. An urban wadi is a landscape unit that also plays a social, urban, ecological and visual role.
In preparing the program three possible alternatives were examined while considering environmental aspects; the physical, landscape and topographical interface; the human connection experience and management: the wadis as an urban park, as an urban reserve or as a neighborhood space.
The first alternative means maximum activity and accessibility. The second alternative means minimal activity and maximal natural landscape preservation, and the third alternative means a neighborhood using an open area as an activity and leisure space. The latter was also chosen as the default alternative – besides maintenance for safety, there is no need for massive development throughout the wadi in order to preserve habitats and biodiversity, rather it is turned into a neighborhood recreational space.
The Program’s Four Leading Principles:
Making the wadis accessible to city residents: For each wadi is planned an accessible and maintained entrance that connects to social, urban and community hubs. Pedestrians will be able to choose between different types of walking trails: routes down the wadis according to degrees of difficulty (ropes and pegs will be installed in challenging sections, obstacles and nuisances removed), hiking trails on the ridge and downhill to gorges according to terrain conditions, and linear mountain and coastal promenades that link wadis, running north-south parallel to the coastline.
Conserving urban scenic nature: Holding back water runoff, its regulation and pooling, (logs as terraces, winter puddles, seasonal water pooling) and preserving the ecological continuum – maintaining a green strip as continuous and wide as possible along the western streams for the passage of large animals; arranging passageways on road crossings; adding bridges or underground passageways to preserve the scenic, ecological and physical continuum; restoring strips of wild vegetation to create ‘scent trails.’
Strengthening the wadis’ presence in daily life: Developing accessible entrance gardens at various levels for leisure, playing or simply sitting; preparing extra open spaces; producing signage and guidance in a uniform design format at the entrance to each wadi and in central urban hubs; developing points of interest with different levels of activity; connecting with the community system. Real change comes from the people themselves in small steps, out of a desire for a better and richer life.
Connection with the municipal system: All of these, of course, require budgets, maintenance and coordination between different bodies, and the municipality intends to appoint a supervisor of maintenance and management. In this context, the large blaze of 2016 was a milestone in understanding the importance of the interface between the wadis and built-up areas, while recognizing the necessity to preserve them and the city alike. Firebreak paths reflect the mutual commitment between man and nature – they protect the residents from fire, while those who use them for outdoor activities trample the weeds with their feet and preserve the firebreak.
The municipal education system can also be integrated into maintaining the wadis. Many schools are located at their openings, and their students can participate in keeping them clean, learn some of their lessons in the open air and study nature right in its bosom.
Come to the wadis
Come to the wadis
Haifa is full of beautiful wadis. We have chosen here a collection of routes that are accessible to all, not only for good walkers.
Wadi HaTishbi offers a walking trail that has been repaired after not being traversed for about 20 years. The route passes between the neighborhoods of Ramat HaTishbi and French Carmel, and connects to Wadi Lotem after descending past a series of pretty waterfalls. The wadi has a rich population of rock hyraxes and golden jackals.
Stella Maris Trail starts with a short walking path on the edge of the Carmel, from where it descends to the sea. An amazing and unique view of the coast that surrounds travelers from almost all sides, a walk between historical and religious points of interest and a descent down stairs hewn into the rock. The trip can be combined with a cable car ride.
Wadi Ovadia provides a trip for fit walkers that starts inside Haifa and ends at Tirat Carmel south of the city. The trail encompasses varying landscapes, special trees, water cisterns, seasonal blooms and large caves.
Wadi Azov offers an exceptional combination of walking between breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea and urban nature unique to Haifa. The wadi is an especially large open public area on the western slopes of the city, covering some 1,500 dunams (370 acres).
The Remez and Ziv wadis are located near two of Haifa’s largest economic and transportation centers (Ziv Center and the Grand Canyon), and between several neighborhoods: Ramot Sapir, Ziv, Ramot Remez, Neve Sha’anan and more. While walking the path the landscape changes from time to time, providing a unique view of the city’s structure and its dialogue with the Carmel.
Wadi Siah and the Khayat Orchard offer one of the best known walking trails in Haifa. The wadi passes between the neighborhoods of Kababir and Carmeliya, and along the trail are two lush springs and an orchard with a set of pools, canals and fruit trees. The trip can be combined with a walk along the Yiftah path on the wadi’s bank.
Wadi Lotem passes alongside the Gan Ha’Em (“Mother’s Garden”) park in the central Carmel. Walking through the wadi illustrates the contrast between the noisy and bustling urban center, and the green and tranquility that characterize the Carmel wadis. The wadi connects central Carmel neighborhoods to coastal neighborhoods.
Wadi Neder is mostly in the Carmel National Park. The route begins in a winding parking lot in front of the university campus, from which walkers descend through Ein Kedem to a pine forest located above Wadi Galim. Wadi Kedem and Wadi Galim later merge and reach Tirat Carmel.
Wadi Ahuza is still recovering from the damage of the 2016 blaze, but has already received municipal safety approval and reopened. After a five-minute walk from the Horev junction and another 10-minute walk down the wadi, the hustle and bustle of the city subside and green surrounds on all sides. A soul-searching route that passes two springs and a part of Haifa’s history.
* Courtesy of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel website, Haifa community.