Neve Tzedek - Dan Keinan
Tel Aviv’s historic Neveh Tzedek quarter with the Neveh Tzedek residential tower rising in the middle. Activists would like to stymie the approval of more high-rise Photo by Dan Keinan
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Is the Tel Aviv Municipality neglecting its southern neighborhoods in favor of luxury high-rises; and is it abandoning public transportation in favor of construction of a major road through the area? Or is it attempting to resuscitate the south through urban planning based on the success of such initiatives in the heart of the city?

These are some of the questions that the planning committees involved in creating Tel Aviv's new master plan are facing as the plan moves into the phase of proposing alternatives.

In recent weeks, activists and alternative planners in the southern neighborhoods of Neveh Tzedek and Florentin are working to introduce changes in the municipality's plan. For the most part, they want to reassess the plan to build a number of high rises around Neveh Tzedek and a plan for Shlavim Road as a major thoroughfare, which, the city says, will link Neve Tzedek and Florentin to the center of town.

Three towers have already been built, four have been approved, and six more are in the approval pipeline. Activists say the city is promoting plans that are good for the developers but do not take their environmental impact into consideration. Public spaces have been taken over in areas where open space and schools are already sorely lacking, says urban planner Gidi Lerman. "These towers will create another barrier to the southern neighborhoods, especially Florentin," he adds.

Residents say the major traffic artery, Shlavim Road, is being planned as an extension of the Ayalon Freeway and will not be a local urban road. The areas bordering on it are planned for commercial premises, not residences. "No city in the world plans such traffic arteries through it," Lerman charges.

"We want Shlavim Road to be reduced in size and planned as an urban street with public transportation," says Omer Cohen, a planner with an organization working to bring green spaces, public transportation and contiguity between south and north Tel Aviv.

"The whole area should be planned mainly as residential, with plans for attainable housing," Cohen adds.

But the deputy head of planning at the Tel Aviv Municipality, Orli Erel, says the master plan has been carefully considered. "One may disagree with the worldview behind the plan, but one cannot say it doesn't exist," she notes.

The municipality's worldview has determined that the continuation of the commercial premises on Rothschild Boulevard will be high-rise construction combining residents and places of employment. Access to the area will be mainly by means of the future light-rail system.

"Neveh Tzedek is like a unique village, but it is inconceivable that its residents will stop the development of the city," Erel says.

"Plans for the area will not penetrate the neighborhood and do not call for the removal of any residents," she notes, adding that because much of the area is privately owned, the city is permitting high-rise construction in exchange for the release of other private areas for the use of the public.

"These areas will be used, among other things, for the construction of schools where there really is a serious shortage," Erel adds.

As for Shlavim Road, Erel says it will be like Ibn Gvirol Street to the north - a broad but urban thoroughfare.

Erel insists that the new road will have residential as well as commercial areas, contrary to the fears of neighborhood activists and alternative planners in the south.

"We want to continue Tel Aviv's successful urban character southward," she says, adding that the road "will be an urban street, not one non-residents use to cross the city."