City Lines (Extract)

The gaps between Tel Aviv north and south are cultural, political, economic and historical

03az88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Extract from an article in Issue 3, May 25, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. The old, worn-out Bialik School stands on 49 Ha'aliya Street in south Tel Aviv. The barred, shuttered windows look as though they haven't been opened for many days. Crowds of people wait for the bus on the crumbling sidewalk in front of the school. At recess, kids of all ages in jeans and sneakers, old backpacks hanging off their shoulders, mill about the fenced-in, bare schoolyard, their conversations drowned out by passing cars and the incessant, impatient honking of the drivers waiting at the nearby traffic light. Meanwhile, a few miles away on 19 Mendele Street in the affluent north of the city, groups of kids play in the courtyard of the Tel Nordau Elementary School. The fenced-in area includes a mini-amphitheater and well-designed picnic tables and benches. These kids too, wear jeans, sports shoes and backpacks, but theirs have designer logos. Chatter and laughter fill the green, well-tended, quiet neighborhood. At a crosswalk, two children "on patrol" hold up stop signs to let the pupils cross - even though few cars traverse this tree-lined street - under the watchful eyes of protective adults. One city, two schools - one in the south, the other in the north. Two groups of kids growing up in two different realities. Not far from the Bialik School, Levinsky Street runs east-west from Tel Aviv's mammoth, labyrinthine and dingy central bus station into the neighborhood of Florentin. Close to the station the road is four lanes wide, lined with small appliance stores, kiosks, lottery booths, falafel joints and greasy-spoon restaurants and a couple of bicycle shops. Old women push carts offering used clothing for sale. Slightly further west, the street narrows to one lane and becomes a fruit, vegetable and spice market. The scent of the spices wafts through the busy street and elderly men crowd the sidewalk, pushing carts filled with fresh produce or rummaging through garbage cans in search of recyclable bottles and cans to claim the measly deposit. Several miles to the north, chic Basel Street runs east-west from Ibn Gvirol Street to Dizengoff Street. This area is largely residential, with three-story apartment buildings surrounded by large, well-pruned trees. Continuing westward, the sidewalks widen and the street gives way to a busy upscale shopping district. Smartly dressed businesspeople scan their laptops at sidewalk cafes, drinking espresso and chattering into their cellphones. Elegant thirty-something women strut past in pairs, intently window-shopping from behind large sunglasses. Only one car at a time can pass, slowly, along the narrow street, creating an interaction between the drivers and the dapper pedestrians. One city, two streets - one in the south, the other in the north. Two groups of people living different routines in different cultures. These differences, cultural, political and economic as well as geographical, clearly visible on the city's surface, are deeply rooted in the historical and institutional approaches to the southern and northern sections of Tel Aviv. For Tel Avivians, the north-south divide is largely demarcated according to the old border between Tel Aviv and the Arab city of Jaffa. Until 1948, the neighborhoods that now make up south Tel Aviv were part of the municipality of Jaffa; after Israel's independence, they were incorporated into Tel Aviv, and in 1949 Jaffa itself officially became part of the municipality of "Tel Aviv-Jaffa." However, 60 years after they were formally united, the economic and social contrasts between northern Tel Aviv and Jaffa and the south are as blatant as ever. And during the Tel Aviv centennial, it is mostly the northerners who are celebrating. "In Tel Aviv there is a very clear line dividing north from south and municipal resources are divided unequally along this line," municipal councillor Yael Ben-Yefet, a representative of the "City for All" party, part of the opposition in the council, complains to The Jerusalem Report. In the municipal elections held in November 2008, "City for All" won five seats on the 31-member city council, which is elected for four years. The party recently conducted a study on gaps between north and south Tel Aviv in preparation for the upcoming vote on the 2009 municipal budget. The study, which focused on educational allocations, reveals that the municipality has invested and continues to invest unequally in north and south Tel Aviv. "The budgeting divide begins in education and continues into culture and many other areas of municipal financing," contends Ben-Yefet. According to the five-year study (2004-9) the annual budgets for construction and repair of preschools allocated 1,287 shekels ($342) per child in northern Tel Aviv, eight times more than the 152 shekels ($38) per child budgeted for their southern counterparts. The "City for All" study also points to disproportionate overcrowding in preschools for Arab children in Jaffa with an average of 43 children per class. The overall average for other municipality preschools is 29 children per class. Nevertheless, according to the study, only four new preschools were built in the city in the last two years, all in north Tel Aviv. The Tel Aviv Municipality disputes these findings, claiming that the numbers of children per classroom are approximately the same throughout the city. Furthermore, municipal spokeswoman Almog Cohen tells The Jerusalem Report that the educational funding for Jaffa, south and east Tel Aviv is four times greater than the funding for north Tel Aviv. "Data from the Central Bureau for Statistics show that the Tel Aviv municipality is second in Israel in terms of investment in education," Cohen says, "and this is because of the extra emphasis that the municipality places on education in the southern part of the city." But Ben-Yefet argues that the manner in which the city deals with the north-south divide "points to a lack of desire to deal with the core causes of the inequalities." The municipality, she says, prefers "Band-Aid solutions" to the troubles of the south Tel Aviv neighborhoods over real reduction of severe disparities. Rather than attempting to strengthen the disadvantaged communities of the south, she contends, "the municipality's approach is to use advantaged populations as a way to raise the overall average. Thus, instead of investing heavily in overhauling schools in south Tel Aviv, the city provides buses to transport south Tel Aviv kids to schools in the north." According to Ben-Yefet, this takes the responsibility for remedying the situation away from the system and places it on the shoulders of the children and results in even more investment in the infrastructure of the north. "When children are bused to schools far away from their own neighborhoods, school ends and they want to go home to eat," she says. "So either they go home and miss all of the after-school activities that the other children can come back for, or they buy something to eat, which is most likely cheap and not nutritious." Spokeswoman Cohen asserts that the data regarding development of educational institutions in north and south Tel Aviv reflect the demographic process occurring in Tel Aviv, in which young families are migrating to Tel Aviv and choosing Tel Aviv's central and northern neighborhoods. "In order to service the city's new families," she explains, "the municipality invests and builds new preschools wherever there is a shortage. If the population growth were occurring in the south, then the development budget would be directed at building preschools in the south. At the same time, the existing needs in Jaffa and south Tel Aviv are fully addressed, so that the need for new preschool classes in the south is only marginal. The emphasis placed on education in south Tel Aviv is evident through the provision of extra tutoring hours, study centers, hot meals, a lengthened school day and transportation." Cohen notes that in recognition of these programs, designed to raise achievement, reduce gaps and cater to gifted and special-needs populations, the Tel Aviv Municipality was awarded the Ministry of Education's national educational prize in 2008. But the municipality's flagship educational projects for 2009 include the building of three new schools, all in north Tel Aviv, at a total cost of 17 million shekels ($4.2m.) over five years. And other data provide additional insight into the gaps between the educational systems. According to the Central Bureau for Statistics, results from high-school matriculation exams in 2002 (the last year for which data are available) show enormous gaps in the rate of matriculation in north and south Tel Aviv, with 79.4 percent of students matriculating in the higher socio-economic neighborhoods, located almost exclusively in the north, contrasted with only 45.4 percent of students matriculating in the lower socio-economic neighborhoods, located primarily in the south. Gaps exist in other areas of life, too. A 2006 study by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel found that for every three parks in north Tel Aviv there is only one park in south Tel Aviv. The study also reveals vastly greater levels of environmental damage in south Tel Aviv. The study showed that noise levels are 50 percent higher in the south than in the north and that air pollution in the south is three times higher than in the north. The municipality's work plan for the coming year seems to continue these trends. In the 2009 municipal budget, the five flagship cultural projects - renovation of the Cinematheque, Gordon swimming pool, Beit Lessin Theater, Habimah Theater and Tel Aviv Museum, totaling some 237.3 million shekels (over $59m.) - are all located in the northern part of the city. Ben-Yefet argues that "this kind of slanted investment" leaves the south even farther behind. Under a special category for Jaffa, the municipality does have several flagship projects planned, including the renovation of the Jaffa port and the promenade. In total, these projects will invest 157 million shekels ($39m.) in Jaffa over five years. However, these projects benefit the upscale, gentrified areas of Jaffa while the other parts of the ancient town remain neglected. Extract from an article in Issue 3, May 25, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.