TA's sustainability conference slammed as 'unsustainable'

MK Henin: Tel Aviv continues to develop new roads, parking lots for private cars. The municipality is really led by economic interests.

hadash mk dov henin 248 (photo credit: Knesset Web site)
hadash mk dov henin 248
(photo credit: Knesset Web site)
The fireworks have started flaring early for Tel Aviv's 100th birthday. Critics of an urban sustainability conference taking place as part of next month's celebrations claim the conference is excluding the public and lacks support from a municipality that is "led by economic interests." The centennial conference, to be held next Wednesday and Thursday at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, is set to feature extensive debates about the city's future development as an expanding metropolis and will be attended by industry experts and mayors from around the world. Two hundred seats are available for the general public, at a 250 NIS fee. Dr. Eran Neuman, a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University's Azrieli School of Architecture and academic adviser to the conference, explained on Monday: "The aim is to discuss Tel Aviv as a leading city in sustainable issues. We believe Tel Aviv as a cultural and economic center of Israel can provide some new insights into the topic. Since it's the centennial, it's a time of self-confidence for the city to think about ways to develop." The event will also host an international student competition featuring pupils from 12 universities around the world who have been short-listed for their "futuristic and fresh" ideas on "Tel Aviv in 2059." The proposals will be on display in the center's plaza for one week. A public debate about urban sustainability would seem to be timely. The Tel Aviv branch of The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel recently reported that "Israel is now in the midst of an environmental crisis, with air pollution causing an asthma epidemic, rivers carrying raw sewage out to sea and suburban sprawl paving over open spaces." But although the conference will examine these development issues, it won't address the bigger picture, argued urban planner Justin Kliger. "I don't think Israeli professionals are equipped with the capacity to ingest what it is to build, design or run a sustainable modern city. Because the field is not important here and the city claims to have a budget shortfall, people do things haphazardly and don't think about the long-term. It's very much about now," Kliger said. Hadash MK Dov Henin, who sits on the Knesset committees for Tel Aviv, social-environmental issues and the advancement of public transportation, said that while he welcomed the discussion of Tel Aviv's development issues, the municipality was acting in "complete contradiction to sustainability." "While the budget for Tel Aviv-Jaffa was passed a week ago, this budget doesn't allow for any money to be spent on increasing and supporting public transportation in the city. However, Tel Aviv continues to develop new roads and parking lots for private cars. The leadership of the municipality is really being led by economic interests," he said. Henin also criticized the running of the centennial conference, saying the NIS 250 charged for entry excluded Tel Aviv residents. "This is contrary to every idea of sustainability. The majority of Tel Aviv and Jaffa residents are prohibited from joining the debate. Sustainability begins with consulting the people with democratic debate. Whatever happens in this conference is closed to the public and it will not really help the processes we need in Tel Aviv," he said. Eytan Schwartz, a spokesman for the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, said in response on Wednesday: "Tel Aviv-Jaffa from its inception has been in the foreground of urban development in this region. The mayor [Ron Hulda'i] quotes how the founders were told, 'You're crazy, you can't build anything, this is all sand.' "A hundred years later, they managed to build the most creative, energetic, liberal, tolerant, cultural center in the Middle East. The conference is a combination of Israeli top-of-the-line experts and various keynote speakers from around the world and it has every intention of being a thought-provoking conference." "And the reason we're charging money for the conference is the same reason The Jerusalem Post charges money when I want to get it at the newsstand. Because it costs money to get the fine content, just like that which you provide to your readers," he said.