One of the ways Tel Aviv's leaders like to define their city is as Israel's economic engine. But when will the first Hebrew city, which is celebrating its 100th birthday, also be Israel's environmental or ecological engine? Or, more importantly for its residents, when will it be able to give them a quality of life as good as the quality of its restaurants and cultural life?
Compared to many cities it would like to resemble, Tel Aviv's environmental situation is disgraceful. Environmentally speaking, Tel Aviv is not a bubble but rather a mirror of Israel's reality.
The only river that always flows through the city, the Yarkon, is still polluted, and the other river, the Ayalon, is a sewage ditch. Some of the beaches are still blocked off, or are occupied by the ruins of the Dolphinarium and Atarim Square.
Tel Aviv suffers from a dearth of green space, which is especially severe in the southern neighborhoods. Even though the municipality has reported an increase in recycling, the absolute figures are still small. The air and noise pollution from traffic threaten residents' health.
Of course, some of these problems are not under the sole control of the Tel Aviv municipality. The river pollution comes from other cities, and the air pollution is due to transportation and industry that crosses municipal borders. There are also quite a few activities that the municipality encourages, such as the establishment of bicycle lanes, and cleaning soil polluted by factories.
Nevertheless, Tel Aviv's residents and visitors must ask themselves to what extent the municipality could improve the environmental situation and the quality of life. The answer is that strong municipalities with a vision should, and could, change quite a bit.
The Tel Aviv municipality can increase the amount of green space in the city, even when this involves canceling building plans, instead of patting itself on the back for upgrading a few narrow strips like Rothschild Boulevard and Yarkon Park. It can take a variety of steps to address air pollution. On a symbolic level, it would be worthwhile to start with the exhaust-emitting garbage trucks. The municipality promised to address this, but failed to keep the promise.
Above all, a municipality like Tel Aviv can stop its endless quarreling with the Transportation Ministry and its representatives over where and how the light rail will run in the city, and work with them to set up the rail system and express buses. Instead, the municipality is busy approving additional plans for parking lots, fearing that otherwise businesses will move elsewhere and the economic engine will begin faltering.
In short, let's see the municipality fulfill what it committed itself to in its seminal 4-year-old "Vision of the City." It wrote: "The municipality will influence representatives of the central government to develop diverse, friendly and efficient means of transportation that can serve as a reasonable alternative to private vehicles. The municipality will work with neighboring municipalities to reduce environmental hazards including air pollution and noise."
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