A green year

Five new environmentally friendly projects in Tel Aviv focus on sustainability.

Fishpond at Rabin Square 521 (photo credit: Yoni Cohen)
Fishpond at Rabin Square 521
(photo credit: Yoni Cohen)
Tel Aviv has a lot to be thankful for. When the city celebrated its 100th birthday a couple of years ago residents were spoiled with a number of new developments and interesting projects that changed the face of the city. Even though the official celebrations finished some time ago, the city is still benefiting from new projects that continue to improve the lives of residents and tourists alike.
Tel Aviv, not wanting to be left behind by the green revolution in urban renewal and development taking place across the world, has made an effort to keep many of the new developments environmentally friendly with a focus on sustainability. Looking back at the past year, planners in Tel Aviv can be proud of the commitment they have made to a sustainable future.
Tel-O-Fun bike rental
One such new project that really takes the green theme to a whole new level is the “Tel-O-Fun” bike rental scheme, which is administered by the city’s Economic Development Authority. Since its launch in April, the program has seen hundreds of bright green bikes installed at various stations across the city. The initiative allows residents to hire bikes for as long as they need them from one of the many stations and return them to a different station at their final destination.
At its launch, city residents paid NIS 240 for an annual subscription, with non-residents paying NIS 280. There are currently over 100 stations in operation that cover the central areas of Tel Aviv, with more planned for the future as part of the next stage.
The project is very user friendly, with the first half hour free, and the second and third half hours costing NIS 5 each. The price increases incrementally after that, but as Tel Aviv being a relatively small city there is no real need for users to hire a bike for much more than an hour as they are simply able to “park” the bike at the most convenient location and not have to worry about it because once a bike is returned to an official station it is no longer their responsibility.
Although the project has been a relative success, it has not been without its problems. A number of technical difficulties in both releasing and returning the bicycles to the specially designed stations led to a number of complaints by subscribers who sometimes became frustrated by being stranded without a bike.
“I love the bike rental system and I use it all the time, but it gets on my nerves sometimes when I just can’t release the bike from the station,” subscriber Rachel Manor says. “It really is so convenient for me though,” she explains. “I don’t have to worry about anyone stealing the bikes and the best thing is that I can arrive somewhere on a bike, return it to the station and then when I’m ready to leave ... I also have the option of walking back or taking a taxi without having to worry about taking the bike home.”
Green offices
Even the city’s skyscrapers are going green. Tel Aviv’s first green high-rise, the Azouri EcoTower, was inaugurated this year featuring recycled water and renewable energy. The project also features an LED lighting system and intelligent waste separation function to help the environment. It currently has seven functioning floors that feature wide-open spaces and floor-to-ceiling windows to maximize energy efficiency.
Once fully completed, the 21-story building is expected to save occupants considerably on their electricity and water bills.
The development, by Azouri Brothers Building and Development, will see solar panels positioned on the roof to provide electricity, as well as a small solar water heater.
The Azouri brothers enlisted the help of British green building consultant Guy Battle and Israeli architect Keren Yedvub to design the project, which features a number of cutting-edge environmental systems such as a condensed recycled cardboard material from Germany for exterior coatings and a continuously filtered fresh-air system and onlinemonitored climate control. Even the floors are made from certified wood from sustainable forests.
A new stage for Habimah
Hatarbut Square, outside Habimah Theater, the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art and The Mann Auditorium, was unveiled this year after a multimillion-shekel face-lift. Although it now provides a beautiful open space for the public to use, the project suffered budgetary setbacks which were heightened by the controversy surrounding the renovations of the adjacent buildings.
Having been blocked off for a considerable amount of time, the square was opened up to the public allowing them to walk from Rabin Square along Chen Boulevard directly to Rothschild Boulevard.
The square is well designed and respects the buildings surrounding it. A large sculpture consisting of three connected circles stands on the edge closest to Rothschild, with its design making people think that it will at some point topple over on them. On the other side of the square, the clean black lines of an infinity pool give a modern and sleek look to the whole development.
In the middle of the square is a seating area consisting of a large rectangle made up of wooden steps surrounding a patchwork of flowers and plants of different shapes, sizes and colors. The environmentally friendly design is enhanced by the use of wood. People can be found morning, noon and night sitting on these steps while appreciating the carefully crafted flora. A number of other seating areas have also been erected, the most unusual being a circular bench at the bottom of a tree, which is raised from ground level and can only be reached by walking up a few steps. Tables with backgammon and chess boards on them are also available.
In a bid to make the development more environmentally friendly, it was decided that the extensive parking facilities that service the cultural centers would be completely hidden underground with the access points being incorporated into the design. The elevators, escalators and stairs that lead to the parking lot all have a very modern design that instead of sticking out amid the plant life are part of the landscape.
Jaffa station up and running
While many of the new projects in Tel Aviv are geared mainly to residents, Hatahana (The Station) complex between Neveh Tzedek and Jaffa is just as popular among tourists.
The old Jaffa railway station, which served as a transport hub on the first railroad in the Middle East, has been transformed into an upscale mix of shops and restaurants. The project, which was fully completed at the beginning of the year, was made possible by a joint venture between the Tel Aviv Municipality, city-owned urban planning company Ezra V’bitzaron, and private investors the Vitania Group and Florentine A.M. Assets.
The old station was left derelict for over 60 years until a total of 22 historic buildings, including the station itself, were painstakingly renovated and brought back to their former glory.
“Each and every building was restored by a team of experts who followed guidelines set out by the municipality,” an Ezra V’bitzaron spokesman says.
Materials identical to the original ones had to be used and this demanded years of research by the planners, according to the spokesman.
The complex’s charm lies in the pieces of the past that still remain. An old railway coach can be found on the tracks right next to where the platform used to be and the old buildings still maintain their original form. “It was very important to change as little as possible and maintain the character of the place,” the spokesman says.
After being open for a year, the site is full day and night with tourists and locals enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. Some of the more popular attractions include the outdoor Vicky Christina bar, which uses the shade of an ancient ficus tree to create a Barcelona theme, and Shushka Shvili, which enjoys a wonderful view from the roof of an old Arab building. The antique, fashion, jewelry and art shops all housed in historic buildings cater to the higher end of the market.
Fish in Rabin Square
After months of being cordoned off to the public, a new pool area in Rabin Square has been unveiled that includes a new fountain, seating areas and a fishpond.
The main focus of the renovated area is the large pool in which a tiered fountain provides passersby with a chance to catch the sunlight glistening on the gently falling water. In keeping with the ecological theme of the design, the pool is filled with fish and interesting plants, and wood was used for the seating area that surrounds the water.
“Constructing a water element which is pleasant and soothing in the heart of the city’s main square was just one of the inspirations for the project,” explains Avi Levy, architectural planner of the pool and fountain.
Levy, who works for the municipality’s urban enhancement department, supervised and coordinated the work. He says that a mini ecosystem has been created that combines the spirit of time with a variety of vegetation, fish, and shaded, wooden seating areas.
The project, which was finished in December, included a number of stages: installing water filtration systems, filling the pool with natural vegetation and designing the fountain element. The whole corner was renovated with paving, landscaping, irrigation and furniture.
“’Ecological’ is a popular word, but it is important to really put it into context,” Levy says. “For the first two years the pool will receive the help of mechanical filters to maintain water quality – the aim being eventually to shut off the electricity filters and rely on the vegetation alone to perform the task.”
The new project, which is just a small part of a larger renovation at Rabin Square, was welcomed by residents.
“Now we have a central square we can be proud of,” says Liat Gefen, a local resident who takes her young son to the square regularly. “Before the renovation was completed, I never really came here even though I live close by. There was nowhere to sit. It was an empty space.”
THE YEAR 5771 was certainly a good one for Tel Aviv, but 5772 promises to be even better. Renovation works at Rabin Square, which have already begun, will see the paving stones replaced, as well as the larger fountain in the northern part of the square receiving a face-lift.
And as part of a larger project, Malchei Yisrael Street, which runs alongside the square, will become a full boulevard with a cycle lane in the middle going from Atarim Square at the beach all the way to No. 1 Rothschild Boulevard.
“In the next two years, the square and the area surrounding it will receive a dramatic face-lift,” says Shmulik Katzelnik, director of the city’s urban enhancement department. “The people of the city won’t recognize it. We are undertaking this huge project to improve facilities for residents and visitors alike.”
Work is also under way to create a cycle path along the boardwalk which will stretch from Gordon Pool and Atarim Square to Charles Clore Park, near the Dolphinarium. The new project, which stretches a total of 2 km., will cost approximately NIS 15 million to develop, according to the municipality. When this section is complete, it will provide an uninterrupted cycle path from the Tel Aviv Port in the north to Jaffa in the south.
In terms of culture, residents and tourists can also look forward to the completion of works at the Habimah Theater and the Cinematheque.