Save Tel Aviv's Kikar Hamedina

Rejuvenation of "first Hebrew city" can be undone by pricy blunders like one designed for Kikar Hamedina.

kikar medina 88 (photo credit: )
kikar medina 88
(photo credit: )
One of north-central Tel Aviv's last remaining open spaces, the sprawling Kikar Hamedina circle, surrounded by boutique shops and posh apartment buildings, is under threat. The municipal planning commission has decided to fill the area in the middle of the loop with three huge apartment towers, each 40-floors and at least 153 meters tall. Only the land's owners, their representatives and eager contractors support the approved blueprints. The residents of the upscale, older edifices enveloping the lucrative real estate - situated on a ring road around the space - along with Tel Avivians from nearby neighborhoods and visitors who window-shop in Kikar Hamedina's chic emporiums, have been unanimously emphatic in their opposition. But public opinion appears to be of no consequence. The city is intent on pushing forward, though the project's monster proportions are out of scale with the pleasant streets that enclose it. If construction goes ahead, it will bar airflow, mar views, create unprecedented congestion, tie up traffic and altogether constitute a massive eyesore. It will also add to the overcrowding in the central Coastal Plain, undesirable from any point of view, not least from national security considerations. Veteran Tel Aviv residents complain that the despoliation of Kikar Hamedina looms as the greatest aesthetic sin since the inconsiderate wall of hotels arose along the beach in the 1960s. The hotels irremediably cut the city off from its natural sea view. But at least they helped make Tel Aviv a world-class tourist destination. The three towers would be imposed incongruously in the midst of classic mid-20th century architecture. THAT EVEN the influential and well-connected citizenry of Kikar Hamedina can't seem to prevent a construction travesty bodes ill for Israelis in other urban and suburban locations. Their quality of life, evidently, matters little to the decision-makers. The unwanted Kikar Hamedina real estate project is all the more noteworthy because it needn't have turned out this way. The land inside and around the circle was purchased for peanuts back in the 1940s from the defunct Shikkun Amami Company. Twenty years later, construction there was approved, but only the modest-scale buildings in the outer ring were actually erected. And in the mid-1970s, then-mayor Shlomo Lahat opted to change the inner circle's designation and turned it into a park. In 1984, however, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the land's owners who had accused the city of robbing them. Since then the area has been unoccupied and a popular site for social protesters. The municipality could have renewed its struggle for eminent domain. Alternatively, it could have allowed only low-slung construction, which would make the lots considerably less lucrative but more compatible with the neighborhood. Going to the opposite extreme and imposing some of Israel's highest structures where they don't belong only continues Tel Aviv's sad practice of violating its own history and damaging its environment. The shame of it is that, unlike the deteriorating Tel Aviv of three decades ago that sought green lungs, the city now enjoys a veritable renaissance. The sons and daughters of baby boomers who escaped en masse to the suburbs are now returning and making the city of their grandparents Israel's most trendy location. The rejuvenation of the "first Hebrew city" is a welcome trend but it can be thoughtlessly undone by gigantic, pricy blunders, like the one designed for Kikar Hamedina. The influx has also made Tel Aviv a city where apartments are mostly rented rather than purchased (Israelis traditionally own the homes they live in). The downside to Tel Aviv's real estate boom is that rentals are priced sky-high, making them unaffordable for post-army young people who want to enjoy the city. If the Kikar Hamedina plan goes ahead, the Tel Aviv Municipality will have no one to blame but its official self. Approval to build rests exclusively with the city and does not require endorsement by regional planning commissions. Residents and green organizations have vowed to fight city hall and take their case as high up the ladder of litigation as need be. For the sake of all Israelis, equally subject to bureaucratic imperiousness and outright greed, we wish them success in reversing a regrettable decision.