Construction workers sprayed water to suppress the thick dust rising above the area of Dizengoff Square’s iconic “Fire and Water” fountain – now replaced with rubble and bulldozers – as the Tel Aviv Municipality began demolition efforts on Monday to restructure the landmark public square.
“It looked like garbage before,” said Tsvi Draizen, 65, echoing the sentiments of many area residents who complained of poor maintenance of the square and homeless people living underneath the elevated pedestrian walkway.
“This is going to improve the square and the neighborhood,” he said, hearkening back to the time before the area was elevated to alleviate traffic in 1978.
Dizengoff Square is located at the intersection of five Tel Aviv streets and was inaugurated in 1938. Forty years later, the municipality followed a plan by architect Tsvi Lissar to elevate the area and allow cars to pass underneath the pedestrian area, with bridges connecting the central square to the surrounding sidewalks.
The project, expected to finish in early 2018 and cost NIS 60 million, will restore the square and Ya’acov Agam’s famous Fire and Water fountain to its original ground level location, creating a traffic circle around the plaza.
Major demolition will take place over the next two weeks and traffic disruptions are expected on Dizengoff Street and in the surrounding area.
The square is now surrounded by an approximately three-meter high white barrier wall, complete with small Plexiglas windows that pedestrians can peek through to see a number of bulldozers and helmet-clad construction workers carrying out the demolition.
“In the short term, it will probably be bad for business, but in the long term, it will better,” 37-year-old Assaf Bitton, owner of the specialty coffee shop Nahat located next to the square, told The Jerusalem Post
. “We have regular customers who won’t drink coffee anywhere else, so I don’t think it will affect us too much. But other businesses like bars and clothing stores that depend on foot traffic may be affected.”
Encircling the square is a microcosm of Tel Aviv commerce.
There are a number of restaurants and bars, a supermarket, pharmacy, nail salon and a laundromat, among others. The businesses formed an association to negotiate the renovation with the municipality.
“The municipality worked with the businesses, instead of against us,” said Bitton, whose cafe was able secure essential sidewalk space for outdoor seating during the construction.
Nevertheless, Lissar, who elevated the square, contended that the project is a massive mistake.
“They will find out after the project is finished that the square will be jammed with traffic and pollution,” Lissar told the Post on Monday.
“It will be an isolated traffic island. Nobody will sit in the coffee shops or walk on the sidewalks.”
According to an article self-published by Lissar, images of Dizengoff square in the 1940s and 1950s have created a distorted nostalgia of the square. “‘Restoring the square to its original splendor’ – as ruining its current form is often referred to – would actually mean going back to a traffic island,’” the article said.
Tel Aviv residents that spoke with the Post disagreed with Lissar and are willing to undergo the inevitable traffic jams and loud construction.
“It is useless the way it is,” said Arnon, a diamond dealer in the area.
“So there is some construction,” said 60-year-old Yossi, whose shoe repair store is at the forefront of the blaring demolition effort. “What is the difference between five or ten minutes of traffic? In the end, it will be better.”
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