For Many Tel Aviv Residents, High-rise Construction Is Ruining the City

Objectors decry lack of central policy; municipality says high-rise essential due to demand.

The Tel Aviv municipality is marking the city's centennial this week with a major conference on urban sustainability, focusing on local long-term, eco-friendly planning. However, many local residents and environmental groups say the city is moving ahead with several residential high-rise projects that will damage certain neighborhoods.

On Monday the Tel Aviv District Planning and Construction Committee is to discuss a 27-story (130-meter-high) residential tower that will be built instead of a structure adjacent to the Beit Lessin Theater on the corner of Dizengoff and Frishman Streets. The committee will hear the objections of area residents who fear the streets will become clogged due to the construction of a three-story, 280-space parking garage in the basement of the planned building. Another concern is over the possible impact on the climate of such a structure, which will block out the sun and affect the winds.

"This means a total change in the quality of life of the residents of the small, quiet streets nearby," says Ehud Gavrieli, a local resident.

Anat Barkai-Nevo, of the Tel Aviv office of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), says the tower near Beit Lessin is only one example among many.

In the area north of the gentrified Neveh Tzedek quarter of south Tel Aviv, at least four high-rises are planned in addition to the one that already exists.

A controversial tower is also to go up on the site of Assouta Medical Center in north Tel Aviv, and a number of towers are slated for the city's posh Kikar Hamedina neighborhood. In all cases residents have lodged objections, distributed leaflets and held protests.

The residents' objection to the project near Beit Lessin, as formulated by attorney Joseph Fruchtman, decries the lack of a policy for the construction of high-rises "that defines the areas where they will be built and where they will be prohibited ... There are no principles protecting the interrelationship between high-rise construction projects and the existing [urban] fabric."

The SPNI supports the construction of multistory buildings - among other reasons, to protect open spaces. But it frequently finds itself opposing high-rise construction in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem because of its impact on the existing city fabric.

Says Barkai-Nevo: "They're going to build a kind of Manhattan here and nobody has asked the people who live here whether that's the way they want the city to develop. These high-rises are mainly for the wealthy and they push out members of the middle class, on which urban life is based."

SPNI says it would not oppose multiple-story construction in areas like the Ayalon Freeway or along parts of Allenby Street, which would not harm the existing city.

Meanwhile, the organization favors freezing high-rise projects until an overall, long-term policy is created.

The Tel Aviv municipality said on Sunday that high-rise construction is essential due to demand for residential housing and is not being done for profitability. The municipality also noted that anyone who lives in the city has to know that residential and business towers are going to be built, but that the city is aware of the need for regulation so as not to harm the urban fabric. The city concedes that it does approve high-rise construction in areas slated for conservation, but some projects were approved before conservation policy was instituted.

In the case of the multiple-story building slated for Assouta's property, which borders on an area slated for conservation, the city says it ordered a reduction of the number of floors from 35 to 20. It also notes that only eight percent of the projects it approves involves high-rise construction.