Indefensible space: Tel Aviv's 'new' central bus station must be destroyed

It is high time for Tel Aviv Municipality together with the Transportation Ministry to meet its responsibilities to the area’s residents, tackling this complex planning problem head-on.

Tel Aviv bus station 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy )
Tel Aviv bus station 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Completely overlooked in the reporting on the need to find a humane solution to the problem of Israel’s illegal migrants is the question of why hundreds of them chose to reside in south Tel Aviv. It certainly wasn’t by chance. They came here because this is the city’s and perhaps the country’s weakest point. Tel Aviv’s “new” Central Bus Station made it so.
Here is a prime example of how a poorly designed largescale building project can have devastating effects on whole neighborhoods and beyond, even to the national level.
Among the largest in the world, this gargantuan bus terminal, a violent intervention in the urban fabric, was designed by architect Ram Karmi (who, incredibly, years later received the Israel Prize for Architecture) with criminal disregard for its neighbors. Its enormous volume is totally unrelated to its surroundings. Bridges to the station hover over its main entrance. Bus ramps leading to boarding platforms almost touch adjacent apartment buildings. Of the gross insensitivity of the terminal’s road engineers there is no need to further elaborate.
Following its opening ceremony, which was attended by prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and mayor of Tel Aviv Shlomo Lahat in August 1993, the entire surrounding area, namely the Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood, soon deteriorated, its population exchanged. Taken over by migrant workers, most of them illegal, drug addicts, prostitutes and the homeless, it quickly became a highcrime area.
The building today is in a terrible state of disrepair.
Inside the terminal, clear orientation, a basic requirement of any major transportation center, is entirely lacking. Its pedestrian circulation system is a labyrinth served by 29 escalators and 13 elevators, which forces masses of passengers through a multi-level shopping mall comprising over 1,000 shops and restaurants.
Sharp turns, blind corners and dead ends, favor the clandestine goals of criminals. Having no perceived zones of territorial influence and a great many entrances, securing the terminal is all but impossible. If ever there was a case of a building’s spatial layout favoring criminal activity, this is it.
Architects who have studied the structure’s plans to determine if all or part of its huge 230,000 sq.m. bulk can be saved found such alternatives inadvisable. The giant terminal must one day be torn down in its entirety.
Identifying alternative sites capable of accessing city and inter-city bus routes is of course no simple matter.
Only if the structure is torn down can south Tel Aviv be given a new heart, consisting mainly of a well thought-out public open space system sorely lacking in the area today, then extending and completing the existing urban fabric – land use, roads and buildings, sensitively and appropriately healing this terrible wound.
While there are a host of short-term tactics for confronting the area’s urgent crime problem, such as intensifying tenant surveillance, increasing the sense of security felt by the residents, refurbishing existing buildings, new lighting and the like, in the final analysis any attempt at solving the area’s crime problem without destroying this monstrous building, which can accurately be compared to a cancerous growth, is doomed to failure.
It is high time for Tel Aviv Municipality together with the Transportation Ministry to meet its responsibilities to the area’s residents, tackling this complex planning problem head-on.
Important planning and building projects such as this need in the future to go through a newly developed process of approval by expert and impartial architects and urban designers having no financial interests of their own, distanced from politicians and their easily influenced bureaucrats.
The author is an architect and town planner based in Jerusalem.