Tel Aviv’s future aims to emulate... the past

The only growth the city has experienced over the last two decades has been upward. That’s all about to change with a new north Tel Aviv neighborhood.

July 30, 2010 23:13
AN ARTIST’S rendition of the plan for a new 740-acre neighborhood north of the Reading Power Plant.

Tel Aviv 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

American architect and urban designer Frank Lloyd Wright once likened cities to cancerous growths, saying, “To look at the cross-section of any plan of a big city is to look at something like the section of a fibrous tumor.”

Like tumors, cities must constantly grow if they want to flourish.

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Tel Aviv residents may not like the comparison, but as the city looks to the future, it does look like it is about to undergo something similar to a cell’s mitosis. As the city and its residents wrap up the centennial year celebrations, the Tel Aviv Municipality is about to submit for approval its most ambitious plan in recent decades. If approved, the last remaining undeveloped area within the city limits will be transformed from near-empty sand dunes to a 21st-century copy of Tel Aviv’s urban core.

Tel Aviv is Israel’s second-largest city and the heart of the country’s only real metropolis. In recent years, the city has been undergoing widespread renewal and gentrification, but since the middle of the previous century there has been little in the way of lateral expansion.

Since roughly the 1980s, the only growth Tel Aviv has experienced has been upward, in the form of residential high-rises and office towers. That’s all about to change. In the beginning of August, the city’s Engineering Administration Department will submit its urban master plan – Tama 3700 – to the Regional Planning and Construction Committee for approval.

The plan, the result of ten years of extensive work, seeks to capture the successful elements of the inner city and duplicate them in a new, 3000-dunam (740- acre) neighborhood to the north of the Reading Power Plant.

“Fifteen years ago, the city had a plan in place for the northward expansion of the city along the coast, but it never made it to fruition. Then, ten years ago, the plan was dropped and we began working on Tama 3700,” said architect Francine Davidi from the city’s Northern Planning Department.

“THE ORIGINAL idea was the brainchild of then-city engineer Dani Kaizer and was adopted wholeheartedly by current city engineer Hezi Berkovitch. Instead of designing a new suburban neighborhood like Ramat Aviv or Yad Eliyahu, places that are referred to as ‘bedroom communities,’ we wanted the new northern neighborhood to be a geographical and cultural extension of the city center.”

Davidi explained that the planned neighborhood was one of three northern neighborhoods envisioned.

The other two are waiting for the evacuation of the power plant and the Sde Dov regional airport before the start of advanced planning.

The design of the new neighborhood was put in the hands of architect Ofer Kolker of Kolker, Kolker and Epstein, a mid-sized architectural firm working out of Jerusalem.

Kolker, who helped design some of the capital’s most architecturally advanced buildings, including the new award-winning Foreign Ministry building and the yet-to-be-built, state-of-the-art Cinema City megaplex, has put in thousands of work hours on the plan and hopes to see it come to fruition some time in the next ten years.

So far the plan has gone through three major rounds of development. The first was initial planning and design, where the existing situation was analyzed and the rough concepts adopted. The second stage was creating the planning vision, choosing guiding principles and examining various proposals. The third stage was passing the plan through the Local Planning Committee and various national sub-committees, in preparation for submitting the complete plan to the approval of the District Committee.

“I have few complaints about the planning process.

True, it took nearly five years to pass it through the various committees, but I think that. with the support of the city, we did well. The plan we are presenting next month is nearly the same as the original plan we began working on ten years ago. Some particular ideas fell to the sidelines, but overall the concept has been retained,” said Kolker.

“The expansion of the city northward will enable the addition of 100,000 new housing units to Tel Aviv and help strengthen its role as the nation’s central hub of business, entertainment and leisure,” said Kolker. “The northern expansion will create an uninterrupted coastal throughway stretching from Bat Yam in the south to Herzliya to the north.

“A successful city must provide a good mixture of residential areas, employment opportunities, entertainment, commerce and leisure. Our goal was to create an environment that will enable a high quality of living within a sustainable setting,” said Kolker.

Kolker explained that the biggest asset to the plan is the beachfront.

“The beach is Tel Aviv’s trademark and its single biggest drawing point. We have done everything to make the beach the heart of the plan and, as much as possible, to maintain it in its natural state. National planning ordinances determine that there be no construction within set distances from the shoreline.

“In our plan we have kept a minimum distance of 100-140 meters between the beach and the closest buildings. This allows us to take advantage of the beach’s pull and enable beachside living, but at the same time make sure that the beach remains in public hands and accessible to everyone,” said Kolker.

The backbone of the Tama 3700 plan is a grid of six boulevards going from east to west, connected to three main north-south throughways.

Of the three north-south roads, one is the already existing and much-traveled Derech Namir; the others are planned extensions of two of Tel Aviv’s most central and familiar streets, Ibn Gvirol and Hayarkon.

“Ibn Gvirol will be the major urban road and Hayarkon will be an access road for the beaches and entertainment centers,” said Kolker.

In the south, the new neighborhood will be bordered by Rehov Tsvi Propes, which extends eastward to the neighborhoods of Ramat Aviv Gimel and Neot Afeka and connects to the Ayalon Freeway. In the north, it will be bordered by Rehov Yunitzman, which links the neighborhood to Highway 2 going north to Haifa and Highway 5, stretching east and connecting it to the rest of the region.

“The neighborhood will be at the meeting point of some of Israel’s major highways, making it easily accessible for both residents and visitors,” said Kolker.

The main boulevard of the planned neighborhood will be a new road, which already carries the name “Derech Hanofesh” (Vacation Way).

“What’s special about Derech Hanofesh is that it will be flanked by an 80-meter-wide green zone,” said Kolker. “What we have planned for this street is Israel’s first linear park. The road connects to parklands east of the city, providing cyclists and pedestrians with a convenient exit from the city directly into the surrounding parks in Glilot and Hakfar Hayarok.

We plan to have bridges stretching over Ibn Gvirol and Namir streets, providing park-goers with uninterrupted routes all along the way.”

A major feature of the plan is a large park located on the cliffs overlooking the sea. At the moment the cliffs are barren, but according to the plan they will undergo massive development, turning them into an easily accessible recreation destination.

The Cliffs Park will combine with the coastal park that stretches across the shoreline and include underground parking, various amenities and a boardwalk, with steps leading down from the cliffs to the beach beneath them. As part of the early planning process, the city has committed to maintaining the existing eco-systems that the cliffs provide intact, while developing the areas around them.

In-between the three main east-west boulevards there will be three additional smaller boulevards completing the neighborhood’s main traffic ways.

“Tel Aviv residents and everybody who comes to the city love the old boulevards that criss-cross the city. Just like people come to places like Rothschild Boulevard or Ben-Gurion Boulevard today, to hang out and see and be seen, they will come to the boulevards in the new neighborhood because of the leisure and entertainment opportunities they will offer. The grid pattern makes for easy orientation and navigation for anybody who comes to the new part of the city,” said Kolker.

According to the plan, each of the six boulevards ends in the west, in what Kolker calls “a balcony to the sea.”

“Today, the only street in Tel Aviv that ends with an open vista to the beach is Rehov Frishman. In our plan, people will be able to walk all the way across the neighborhood on any of the boulevards and continue directly down to the beach.“ AN OPEN view to the sea was also an important consideration in the height limitations for buildings in the neighborhood. Kolker said he wanted to avoid a situation where there would be “a wall of towers” on the coastline, blocking everyone’s view like there is in other parts of Tel Aviv. Together with the municipality, he set restrictions on the number of floors that buildings could contain.

“Instead of the tall buildings being erected on the front line facing the sea, in our plan the tall buildings will be erected on the east-west boulevards, allowing an open view from all angles,” said Kolker.

Consideration for others, however, is not the only thing limiting the height of Tama 3700’s buildings.

The neighborhood’s proximity to Sde Dov Airport also influenced how high people could build.

“Airport requirements imposed on us something I call a ’virtual sky,’” said Kolker. “The takeoff and landing patterns of aircraft using the airport require safety buffers that limit how tall the buildings can be.”

A three-dimensional map shows clearly how the flight routes affect the building restrictions, with buildings in the south substantially lower than those in the north.

While the airport imposes limitations, it also provides for opportunity. According to project manager Lior Dushnitsky, the proximity to the airport means that the southern part of the neighborhood, near Rehov Propes, does not have the same noise limitations as the rest of the neighborhoods.

“We used that in our design. The southern tip of the area is zoned for a new urban entertainment district that will allow late-night music,” Dushnitsky noted.

Dushnitsky’s vision is that the new neighborhood will be full of just such utilitarian thinking.

According to him, the grid of throughways and boulevards represents not only easy orientation and convenient traffic patterns that will increase the residents’ quality of life, but also a smart network of commerce and industry that will make it worthwhile for business owners to open up shop in the new neighborhood.

The plan calls for all the buildings on the main boulevards to include space for commercial purposes.

The ground floor of each of the buildings facing the street will be reserved for things like stores, offices and restaurants.

“This network should assure business owners and developers that they will able to make good on their investments. In effect, we’re offering them assurances akin to economic maturity,” said Dushnitsky. “By [our] designing the city in this way, they can see for themselves the advantages they are likely to enjoy from investing in the neighborhood.”

WHILE THE planners have no control over who will erect the residential buildings in the new neighborhood – the buildings will all be designed and constructed by private owners – they do have a say in the general layout of the buildings and the way they will be connected along the streets.

“This plan doesn’t go into the resolution of the individual building, but the layout philosophy is one that we borrowed from Tel Aviv’s past,” said Kolker.

When the neighborhood’s designers chose a model for the residential layout of the new city section, they looked to emulate the design of one of the city’s original planners, Sir Patrick Geddes.

The Geddes Plan, as Tel Aviv’s first master plan was known, was designed in the late 1920s by the Scottish urban designer who was hired by the British Mandate ruling at the time to plan the city’s early development.

Much of the structure of Tel Aviv as we know it today is owed to the work of this innovative architect, who also designed cities in India and elsewhere throughout the British colonies.

Geddes’s aim was to design spaces that would enable the development of small communities based on the notion of the city block, while still maintaining a connection to the city as a whole.

An ideal city block in Geddes’s plan would be a square made up of four multistory buildings with one side facing the main street and the other facing a public space at the center of the block. The public space would be used to house small gardens or public buildings like schools, kindergartens, synagogues, sports and recreation facilities or healthcare clinics.

This basic layout can still be seen in parts of Tel Aviv today, even though many of the public-designated areas have been turned into parking lots or commercial centers.

“The block structure allows people to enjoy both easy and comfortable access to the vibrant city outside and, at the same time, the quiet and privacy that the inner public spaces provide,” said Kolker.

Another feature borrowed from Geddes is the model of the garden city. Geddes himself took the idea from British architect Sir Ebenezer Howard, who put the concept to work in the UK. It was later emulated in Holland and the US. The basic idea of the Garden City was to combine city life with the favorable features of life in the country, enabling residents to enjoy things like green parks and open spaces while living in a metropolitan setting.

“Tama 3700 is designed according to the same principles,” said Kolker. “The plan leaves plenty of open space for parks, the central ones being the Beach Park and the linear park along Derech Hanofesh – but with green areas all along the other main boulevards, and also in the neighborhood’s abundant public buildings and shared block gardens.”

GREEN LIVING was one of the major elements included in the Tama 3700 plan, and it is apparent both in the urban design and the requirements the municipality places on the future investors.

“Throughout the entire process we worked in cooperation and consultation with environmental organizations in order to make the plan as eco-friendly as possible,” said Davidi.

One example that Davidi pointed out was the use of solar energy for street lighting; another was the use of the same streetlights to function as small receptors and transmitters of cellular signals – replacing the need to install large cellular antennas throughout the neighborhood.

Another green element included in the design is the possibility of installing a pneumatic garbage disposal network in which, like the sewage system, all housing units would be connected to a central garbage collection system.

The plan also includes the option of an environmentally friendly public transportation system to the neighborhood, in the form of the Green Line of the Tel Aviv Metropolitan light rail system, which is planned to be built along Ibn Gvirol Street. However Kolker, who also had a hand in designing the yet to be constructed Red line, said he is not holding his breath.

Dushnitzky expressed hope that the private investors who took part in the construction of the new neighborhood would join the municipality in its eco-friendly attitude and construct their buildings to be as sustainable as possible.

“Green building is obviously more expensive, but we believe that it is an expense that will return the investment.

The added value that sustainable building offers will attract desirable residents who understand the importance of green living. Offering those prospective customers the option of living in a green building that is also part of a green neighborhood creates a motivation for investors to continue the trend, promoted by the city,” said Dushnitzky.

ONE OF the main criticisms Tel Aviv suffers from today is the lack of affordable housing. The prevalent argument is that housing costs in Tel Aviv are so high that it has become impossible for young couples to buy a home there. The plan’s designers, aware of the criticism, concede that the new neighborhood will likely also see high purchase prices.

“The standard unit size is roughly 120 square meters. This is large by any account, and will attract residents who are necessarily well off,” said Kolker.

“However, we do not envision the neighborhood turning into a ‘ghost town,’ in which apartments are purchased by wealthy foreign investors and lived in only while they are in Israel on vacation. We fully anticipate all the units to be occupied once they are built.”

n order to ward off criticism and comply with national regulations, 25 percent of the units in the new neighborhood will be kept aside for affordable housing.

According to Davidi, the city will build 350 units designated for affordable housing. All the investors will be required to set aside space for smaller apartments going to weaker populations. Altogether, there should be roughly 2,000 affordable housing units under Tama 3700.

In order to draw in investors from the tourism sector, the new plan also enables combined hotel and residential buildings. According to the plan, hotel investors will enjoy the right to build roughly 30% of their buildings as private apartment units, thus lowering their risk and allowing for easier financing.

Once the plan is submitted to the Regional Planning and Housing Committee, it will go through a period in which the public can submit opposition to it. Kolker said that while the public had been invited to weigh in on the planning already in its earlier stages, he was sure the plan would meet with a fair share of resistance.

“What I anticipate is a tug of war between the opposing interests – of environmentalists, on one side and landowners on the other. While the former will call for reduced interference in the natural equilibrium, the latter will try to push for even more development and the easing of bureaucratic restrictions,” said Kolker.

“As a designer, once the plan is submitted, I lose control over it and it moves into the hands of the state authorities. I can only hope that the state maintains the [proper] balance of interests, and that the plan will go forward and be built without too much delay.”

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