Hanging Garden Over Tel Aviv Highway: A Tale of Two Cities

A proposal to enclose Tel Aviv's Route 20 and create a park on top looks good on paper, but would simply perpetuate the disconnect between the two sides of the city.

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On the surface, last week's decision to enclose Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway (Route 20) and build a park on top of it is good news. It’s easy to be seduced by the Tel Aviv Municipality’s rhetoric, whereby the project “will change the heart of the Gush Dan metropolis by means of creating a new and open public space.”

City hall is promising a “leisure-time hub,” “green spaces” and “bike and walking paths.” Yet behind the big promises lies the fundamental, ongoing mistake of metropolitan planners: Yes to huge spaces; no to the creation of urban continuity. Enclosing the Ayalon Highway offers a one-time, historic opportunity to regulate urban continuity between the western and eastern parts of the city. The greater the municipality’s enthusiasm, the greater the disappointment.

The plan concocted by the Lerman architecture firm and municipal engineers looks very beautiful. But this beauty only exists on paper. The decision to devote the strategic area above the Ayalon Highway to a park is wrong in principle. The endless lawns will indeed be green, but it’s doubtful they’ll be green in essence – environmentally correct for the long term and future generations.

This park does not provide an answer to the small number of links between the city’s developed west and its developing east side. The plan will only perpetuate the disconnect between the two banks of the Ayalon River, which has been exacerbated by Begin Road. That busy thoroughfare, which could have been a bustling and successful urban street, with increased and lively mixed use, has become a kind of second Ayalon Highway that announces the city’s split even before you reach Route 20 itself. Instead of offering a countermove to unite the two banks – a step that would affect not only the eastern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv but also Ramat Gan and Givatayim further east – the planners have chosen to perpetuate the rift.

Proper planning would develop the urban street network that spreads out on either side of the Ayalon. Instead of the city suddenly ending at the highway, it would be possible to create a continuum that would increase the urban space. Urban planning in the enclosed area could have connected the two sides of Tel Aviv, a step with more far-reaching implications than the addition of lawns and sports centers.

Supporters of the idea will say that the plan enables easy movement between the two sides of the city for cyclists and pedestrians. However, our main connectivity problem is inadequate, circuitous and inefficient public transportation. Can anyone name a fast and efficient bus line between the heart of Tel Aviv and its eastern neighborhoods?

Strengthening the connection between east and west depends on streets that invite inhabitants to move along them. There is a reason Dizengoff Street is much busier than Hayarkon Park. If they create urban blocks that provide pedestrian comfort and convenient public transportation, it will emerge that the distances between east and west are not so big. Suburban-oriented neighborhoods will connect directly to the urban space and enjoy access to the urban centers and cultural attractions.

The municipality is promising that “by creating an extensive green park in the beating heart of the largest urban area in Israel, a solution will be found for the shortage of public lands in the city center and enable the joining together of urban fabrics.” The truth is that the urban fabrics will not be stitched together, but rather be separated by huge lawns that only perpetuate the division of the metropolis. It’s not too late to propose a new plan.