Rethink urban planning to build wisely, save open spaces, group says

International conference to take a new look at urban planning

Israel has reached a tipping point where, if plans for higher-density cities are not created within the next two to five years, cities throughout the country will face financial problems in social and municipal services and there will be a loss of open agricultural lands, Irit Solzi, chairwoman of the board and founder of the Movement for Israeli Urbanism said Monday. The State of Israel currently has 7.3 million people and is predicted to naturally grow to 11.5 million by 2030, Solzi said. It is currently listed as the ninth-densest country in the world - between India and Belgium - with the highest densities found in the central cities of Bnei Brak, Bat Yam and Givatayim, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Although Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have the highest number of residents, the statistics showed that the cities are only about half as dense as Bnei Brak and Bat Yam. "After 60 years of spreading out all over the country, it is now the time to think about it in a different way and to see how to make our cities better, and how to keep our land and agriculture open," Solzi told The Jerusalem Post ahead of its third annual International Conference on New Urbanism. The conference will be held on Wednesday and Thursday in Bat Yam, Israel's second-densest city, and will feature speakers from around the world holding lectures and workshops with Israeli representatives. According to the MIU's overview, it plans to discuss methods for increasing density through urban planning and the design of streets, squares, transportation, open spaces and public buildings. It will also discuss the means of overcoming challenges due to mixed-land usage, as well as social and economic diversity. The MIU strives to improve the quality of urban life in Israel and actively promotes the development of a sustainable and humane urban environment in Israel. "Israel is on the edge of a catastrophe regarding the density of our cities," said Moni Mordechai, media adviser for the MIU. "We have to plan out cities differently. We have to think about it before it is too late, and the convention is going to deal with the various angles of how to do it right." Deependra Prashad, director of India's International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism, will speak at the convention about the current situation in India, which has a similar ratio of people to land as Israel. "The workshops will bring all of the options from people of cities and towns around the world, and see how we can do it in Israel," Solzi said.