bauhaus bldg 298.88.
(photo credit: Carmela Tomer)
The tent protesters encamped on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard have only to
look up if they wish to see a major cause of the country’s housing crisis, one
that has so far been virtually ignored.
If they raise their eyes to the
iconic, white-washed Bauhaus structures that line the Boulevard, they will find
that they need only look two, three or four stories high.
And that is
exactly the problem. Tel Aviv is a low-built, sprawling metropolis. One can
forgive the original builders for this planning error. The founders of Ahuzat
Bayit, the first Tel Aviv neighborhood, which included Rothschild Boulevard,
laid out their original street plan for 60 families in 1909. Little did they
dream that within a century their neighborhood would lie at the center of a
conurbation housing over three million people.
But the failures of later
generations of urban planners are much less excusable.
Over the past 20
years, there has been a proliferation of suburban dormitory communities based
around single-family villas. These developments, and the commuters they
generate, have contributed significantly to traffic congestion in the Gush Dan
With a density of 7,700 people per square kilometer, Tel Aviv is
far behind international urban magnets such as Paris, which has an urban density
of 25,000 people per square kilometer, or Manhattan, where urban density is more
than 35,000 per square kilometer.
And Tel Aviv is Israel’s densest big
city. In the Gush Dan region as a whole, there are only 2,100 people per square
Such low urban density leads to major problems. First, it is a
prime reason behind the dearth of affordable housing in the Tel Aviv area.
Residential units within easy reach of Tel Aviv are too few and too
Second, it renders the city very hard to serve with adequate
public transit, and makes people heavily dependent on private
This car dependency, in turn, feeds a slew of other problems.
It makes people waste hours each day in traffic jams(a recent study showed that
people who commute daily into Tel Aviv spend the equivalent of five weeks out of
every year sitting in their cars).
It worsens social inequality: If the
automobile is the only effective way to get around, then that puts many job and
recreation opportunities beyond the reach of those who cannot afford the NIS
3,000-plus per month needed to keep a car on the road.
And private car
dependency perpetuates the national dependency on foreign oil imports.
a country as small as Israel, it is madness to build towns and cities more
sprawling than most in the Western world. As we are fond of telling people,
Israel is roughly the size of New Jersey. It seems that we have taken that
comparison a little too literally. If we continue building suburbs as if this
were New Jersey, we will pave over our remaining open spaces and reduce the
country to gridlock.
THERE IS a better way. Indeed, there are
In cities like Paris, Barcelona and New York, high urban density
engenders a critical mass of economic and cultural innovation.
Urbanism movement in the US has developed mixed-use models for urban
regeneration based on creating walkable downtown areas that bring workplaces,
recreation and shopping within reach of all residents.
China and South Korea are responding to their population growth and urbanization
by developing eco-cities that combine high-density building, innovative public
transit and efficient use of resources with beautiful parks and open
Israel has both the need and the know-how to become a world
leader in developing and implementing such sustainable city
Doing so will help solve its acute housing, transportation and
energy challenges, ensure a better quality of life for its urban residents, and
position the country at the forefront of a major 21st-century
The Trajtenberg Committee, charged with addressing the housing
protests, should endorse a plan for implementing sustainable city solutions on a
large scale in the Gush Dan area over the next five years, creating high-density
urban development, vastly improved public transit and mixeduse, walkable
neighborhoods. This is the most effective and holistic step that can be taken to
meet the housing protesters’ demands. It is the solution that lies, literally,
in front of the protesters’ eyes.
The writer is an economist working in
Israel’s renewable energy industry. He also serves as an economic adviser to the