Urban centers can’t support Israel’s booming population, Barkat says

“If everyone goes to the center, the center will collapse,” Nir Barkat said.

July 10, 2019 11:02
2 minute read.
Former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat

Former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. (photo credit: Courtesy)

"Things fall apart, the center cannot hold," was the message former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat delivered at a conference on urban renewal, calling for investment in Israel’s periphery to save the state from a burgeoning housing crisis.

The conference, held at Bar-Ilan University on Monday, was organized in collaboration with the National Association for Urban Renewal and the Association of Builders in Israel.

Israel’s birth rate is the highest among OECD countries, according to the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, and by 2050, its population is expected to nearly double, from 9 million to 17.6 million people.

“If everyone goes to the center, the center will collapse,” Barkat said.

The government is currently seeking to respond to the increasing demand for housing by building new developments, especially in the country’s urban centers. In February 2017, it set a target of building 1.5 million new housing units by 2040, with more than two-thirds of them set to be located in Tel Aviv and other major centers.

“This is a strategic mistake for Israel,” Barkat said.

Drawing on his experience as Jerusalem’s mayor and his work with Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter, the newly-elected Likud MK encouraged the holistic development of Israel’s peripheral cities, rather than a single-minded focus on residential development. 

“How do you make a city attractive?” Barkat asked. “How do you make it attract the attention of young people, so they want to come live there? Is it only through apartments? Clearly not,” he said, calling for economic investments in peripheral cities that will promote their industries and services to make them competitive with the center.

“Instead of chasing the desires of the center, we need to produce demand in the periphery,” he said.

Following Barkat’s keynote address, current mayors like Tzvika Brot of Bat Yam and Ran Kunik of Givatayim engaged with business developers like Ron Avidan, CEO of residential development company Azorim. The leaders attending the conference, officially titled “Urban Renewal Creates a Common Future,” discussed ways to promote development in other parts of the country.

A specific focus was placed on revitalizing old neighborhoods, rather than constructing new ones.

Haim Feiglin, vice president of the Association of Builders of the Land of Israel and CEO of the construction company Tzemach Hammerman, criticized the Planning Administration’s decision to cancel National Outline Plan 38 by May 2020. The plan was originally established to fortify buildings constructed before 1980 in need of seismic retrofitting, but has become an important legal tool in urban renewal programs.

“The development of communities within old neighborhoods is critical,” Barkat said. “Building new neighborhoods represents exactly the opposite of what we need to do.”

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