Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv. Photo by Yael Engelhart
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Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliahu neighborhood has long been mentioned as the next big thing. Now, it seems like those forecasts are finally coming true.

Tel Aviv’s other up-and-coming neighborhood, Florentin, is crowded and lacks land for construction. Yad Eliahu, in comparison, has the planning infrastructure to help a renewal take place. The neighborhood was originally planned to be relatively uncrowded, so there’s still plenty of space for more development, and doing so properly shouldn’t put undue strain on the existing infrastructure.

The neighborhood was planned by the Tel Aviv municipality and its once-engineer Jacob Ben Sira between 1929 and 1950. Up until five years ago, the city’s preferred method of improving that area was through urban renewal projects, but now the municipality believes these initiatives paralyzed the area due the speculation they caused.

“We saw the area was paralyzed, so we decided to draft a policy paper for the area,” said architect and urban planner Udi Carmely, who is head of Tel Aviv’s team for planning the eastern side of the city. “The main goal was to create clear planning guidelines so that residents and developers would know what could be built where. It’s about urban renewal with a social twist, and we want to leave the current population in place while allowing new people to move in.”

The city is seeking to avoid the tall apartment towers that often are built as part of urban renewal projects, since middle-class residents have trouble paying the expenses that living in these kinds of towers entail.

“We intend to appeal to young couples who are looking for a place to raise their children,” said Carmely. “These people look first and foremost at the public schools, and in Yad Eliahu that infrastructure is sturdy.”

The plan calls for different kinds of construction in different areas. Significant construction is approved for loud LaGuardia Street, while building is to be more limited in the neighborhood’s more quiet areas. In some places, no additional construction is allowed.

Charming spaces

The municipality’s plan for Yad Eliahu has no statutory standing, and currently only plays a declarative role, but it is expected to become part of Tel Aviv’s master plan. Meanwhile, the market apparently has accepted it with open arms. Two months ago, a plan allowing for increasing the population density was approved, letting developers add six to eight stories to buildings in the neighborhood.

“The land in the neighborhood hasn’t been well utilized,” said attorney Mira Bornstein, of the Hartavi-Bornstein-Basson & Co. Law Offices. Bornstein specializes in urban renewal projects, and was born in the Yad Eliahu neighborhood. “Among the tenement buildings are lots that in theory should be green. When you take into account the open areas near the central transportation arteries, you can see that Yad Eliahu has great development potential.”

Bornstein is representing the residents of three different complexes in east Tel Aviv as they go through the hearing process and pick a contractor in order to have their buildings go through urban renewal programs. One of these projects is on the corner of LaGuardia and Hama’apilim streets. At one of the sites, the 128 tenement-home apartments are to be replaced with office blocks and apartment towers. The plan is currently waiting for the District Planning and Building Committee’s approval.

She disagrees with the city’s intent to limit apartment towers in the neighborhood. “The municipality doesn’t want to permit high construction in order to maintain the neighborhood’s character. These are nice intentions, but they’ll make it difficult to upgrade the neighborhood. Most of the apartments here are small, and in order to turn 50-square-meter apartments into 100-square-meter ones, you need financial leverage,” she said.

Bornstein says she’s noticed interest in the neighborhood growing over the past few months. “It takes time for people to catch on, because the developers, planners and residents need to understand that there are options other than classic urban renewal. Yad Eliahu has some charming spaces − it was planned in the same style as Ramat Aviv Alef.”

City hall has already spruced up boulevards, renewed the sports center and developed Galit Park. It has also invested in renewing the neighborhood’s green space.

Not a gold mine

Even though Tel Aviv’s eastern neighborhoods are quite expansive, housing some 80,000 people, they have nearly no commerce. Residents go to Ramat Gan or western Tel Aviv to do their shopping. Thus, one of the city’s projects is bringing some commerce east of Ayalon and improving the street life and urban fabric.

The municipality’s many plans for Yad Eliahu also have their critics, who argue that increasing the construction density will damage the neighborhood’s nature. If Yad Eliahu becomes more dense, it will lose its distinction, wrote architect Eran Tamir-Tawil on his blog. “Given the success of the plan to increase the density of central Tel Aviv in stages, which was carried out with a mind to preserving the area’s nature, questions arise from the massive construction proposed for Yad Eliahu,” he wrote.

Will the development help preserve the neighborhood’s bloc style, which characterizes so many Israeli urban centers? Architect Itai Horwitz, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 15 years, says that change has felt imminent for some time now. The current round of plans may be just another stage in this process, even if the change isn’t immediate.

“The municipal engineering department is approaching the matter seriously and properly, so more things are happening. The city isn’t treating the neighborhood like a gold mine, but rather as a living, established place that doesn’t need to be entirely overhauled,” he said.