Over the last decade, Tel Aviv has positioned itself as a global city – in a “club” with cities such as New York, Berlin, London and Sydney – and like other global cities, Israel's main metropolis and cultural hub has felt the shockwaves of Covid-19. The lockdowns and economic crisis have taken a toll on almost all aspects of Tel Aviv's urban fabric, affecting communities and individuals from all walks of life. Fortunately for the “Nonstop City,” the Tel Aviv Foundation, chaired by the Mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo Ron Huldai, has their back.
Since it was founded in 1977, the Tel Aviv Foundation has created public-philanthropy partnerships – initiating and building more than 800 projects around the city and touching the lives of all Tel Avivians. After tirelessly working to improve the quality of life for the city’s residents for over 40 years, it is not surprising that the Foundation stepped up to the plate as soon as the first coronavirus lockdown was imposed in Israel last March. Literally overnight, the Mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo’s Emergency Relief Fund was set up in order to support Tel Aviv’s most vulnerable communities during these difficult times.
“We have a social responsibility. The goal of the Emergency Fund is to support eight communities we identified as requiring urgent assistance, many of whom we almost never had to support before,” explains Dr. Hila Oren, CEO of the Tel Aviv Foundation. “This effort is in line with Mayor Huldai’s vision for Tel Aviv, placing the resident in the center of the city.”
Generosity and solidarity during the pandemic
The communities supported by the Emergency Fund are: Holocaust survivors and the elderly, welfare families and the homeless, asylum seekers and work immigrants, Yafo’s Arab community, small business owners, women suffering from domestic violence and prostitution, artists and the creative community, and at-risk youth. Donors can earmark their contribution to a specific community of their choice. The City of Tel Aviv-Yafo matches all donations to the Fund – evidence of Mayor Huldai’s solid backing of this initiative and his commitment to all of the city’s residents. So far, a total of approximately 15 million shekels has been raised, of which half came from donors and the other half was matched by the Municipality.
Giving to the Emergency Fund is a very effective way of ensuring that one’s contribution will be immediately put to use and will reach vulnerable people in need. Dr. Oren notes that Tel Avivians have been displaying a veritable outpouring of generosity and solidarity during the pandemic. “It was amazing – 43% of the donors to the Emergency Fund are first-time donors to the Foundation. Many local residents contributed the 750-shekel coronavirus grant they received from the government.” Alongside individual donors, plenty of large businesses, especially high-tech companies, have also donated generously to the Fund.
The Tel Aviv Foundation focuses on five fields of activity: Establishing and improving community, culture, education, sports and welfare centers and institutions; developing and supporting educational and welfare programs; supporting the city's next generation through academic scholarships; developing and executing innovative financial tools for the benefit of the city; and initiating and managing micro-philanthropy funds – supporting different causes throughout the city.
Abating loneliness and hunger
Two of the main routes the Emergency Fund provided relief is through food security programs and by providing means of communication. “During Covid-19, when everyone stays home, communicating has become a basic need. Loneliness is horrible. We distributed tablets to the elderly so that they could stay in touch with friends and family, as well as computers to school children who needed to study remotely,” says Oren, adding that, “Through the professional and developed infrastructure of the Municipality, we know exactly who needs what. Our team works closely with municipal professionals in each community throughout the city, and we constantly update our information.”
One of the groups receiving support during the pandemic consists of children from welfare families who usually receive a hot meal at school. With the education system closed for so many months, they no longer had access to regular nutritious meals. “We know who these children are and with the contribution of our supporters and partners we immediately stepped in to make sure they receive hot meals at home,” Dr. Oren assures.
Prior to Covid-19, the Municipality’s main connection to the city’s approximately 10,500 residents employed in the entertainment and cultural industry was to hire them to perform at events. However, when the pandemic shut down the entire art and entertainment sector, most of these people found themselves without a source of income. The Tel Aviv Foundation partnered with the Municipal Culture and Arts Wing in deciding to help by offering emergency grants to employees of cultural institutions as well as to independent artists.
43 years of impacting Tel Aviv
Chaired by the Mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo, the Tel Aviv Foundation was launched in 1977 and tasked to raise the quality of life in Tel Aviv through education, culture, welfare, environment and innovation. At the time, the Foundation was established as a way to raise resources to transform the first Hebrew city for the benefit of its residents. The founders of the Foundation and subsequent Mayors of Tel Aviv-Yafo envisioned a vibrant, thriving and pluralistic city filled with cultural, educational and economic opportunities for people across Israel.
The Tel Aviv Foundation’s main focus in the early days was to fund and execute development projects. These included playgrounds, parks and community centers throughout the city, as well as such landmarks as the Suzanne Dellal Center in Neve Tzedek, the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and the Charles Clore Park along the beach. Its early accomplishments also included the Café Europa initiative, which offers Holocaust survivors a safe place to meet, exchange stories, and take part in social activities. Still today, the Foundation remains involved in developing the cityscape. Recent projects include the construction of the Sylvan Adams Velodrome, the first Olympic indoor cycling arena in the Middle East, a new cultural complex that will include a new home for the Batsheva Dance Company, and a complete renovation of the Beit Tami community center in the heart of Tel Aviv.
All funds raised by the Tel Aviv Foundation are designated for specific projects and boosted by the City’s unique matching funds program. This dollar-for-dollar partnership ensures accountability, promotes cooperation between donor and recipient, and strengthens the bond between Israel and the Diaspora. Contributions to the American Committee for the Tel Aviv Foundation are fully tax deductible.
Thanks to its extensive experience serving the large and diverse population of Tel Aviv-Yafo, the Tel Aviv Foundation is happy to share its knowledge with other cities in Israel and around the world in a transparent manner. To that end, the Tel Aviv Foundation founded the Israeli Urban Foundations Forum, attended by foundations from 15 cities across the country. Moreover, it collaborates with municipalities in some of the most important cities in the world, such as New York, London, Barcelona, Frankfurt and Christchurch, New Zealand.
Emergency relief during Covid-19
The Mayor’s Emergency Relief Fund has raised nearly NIS 15 million so far. These funds were put to immediate use to provide emergency support to the Tel Aviv community, including:
- Food aid to 8,000 welfare families, 1,000 senior citizens and Holocaust survivors, and 1,700 people in Jaffa’s Arab community
- 635 computers and tablets to children in need
- 719 activity kits to Holocaust survivors to ease loneliness
- 270 special grants totaling NIS 700,000 for artists and employees of cultural institutions with no income during Covid-19
- Large quantities of food, toys, tablets and other supplies and grants to the community of foreign workers in south Tel Aviv
- Support for 1,200 small and medium-sized businesses through the Buy Local Today/City Coin Initiative.
From Urban Planning to Social Planning
Covid-19 taught us that planning public urban spaces should take into account behavioral factors such as the desire to be outside the house, to host and get invited over, and to spend time with friends outdoors.
In the last decade, many areas have embraced the principle of cooperatives, including urban, commercial and work spaces. In the field of transportation, shared scooters, bikes and other vehicles have become widespread. And now Covid19 has refined the principle of cooperatives in the public sphere as well. Open urban spaces, city squares and sidewalks have become an integral part of city life – upgraded from an element of pure spatial planning to one with social significance. Today, in the age of Covid-19, a landscape architect sees not only the need for leisure, but also the need for space for work meetings, social gatherings, relieving loneliness for the elderly, and more.
As a result, public space planning expanded its scope to include not only elements of leisure, recreation and sports, but also behavioral factors. Planning public spaces designed to relieve loneliness, serve as a venue for working, host family reunions, or simply as a place to drink coffee must also include the proper street furniture to facilitate such activities.
Importance of green lungs
Just as Covid-19 has accelerated digitization and remote work procedures, so it has sped up urban space planning by at least two decades. In Tel Aviv, projects that were previously handled on an individual basis – such as removing fences around the Gordon swimming pool, placing chairs near the ecological pond in Rabin Square, and opening municipal gardens – are already becoming part of an orderly urban planning policy.
Beit Tami, a community center on Sheinkin St., for example, is currently undergoing renovation and upgrading. The renovated facility was originally planned as a traditional public space for leisure and relaxation, but now it is being treated as an integral part of providing much-needed public meeting spaces with a social value – and the renovation has been modified accordingly.
The crisis that Covid-19 has created is also a great opportunity – for more sane, more humane planning; one that sanctifies the common public spaces and celebrates the principle of cooperatives. Maintaining a two-meter distance between people requires the design of larger public gardens with new and adapted benches and creative seating solutions.
As a result of the new planning trend that is emerging, the importance of green lungs within the urban fabric is also beginning to take on more importance. Many cities in Israel have become overcrowded, and municipal parks have become a scarce resource. Now it is apparent to all that we need more greenery in public spaces, more community gardens. At the end of the day and at the end of every epidemic, man is a social creature.
PPS - Public pocket spaces
Public space makes it possible to reduce social gaps and make resources accessible also to those who cannot afford their own yard. One of today's emerging trends is to provide city residents with PPS – public pocket spaces, small areas that help relieve loneliness and are suitable for working and studying. Since it is not inconceivable that the trend of remote work and study will continue even after the pandemic disappears, the heads of local authorities ought to turn the spotlight and resources towards vulnerable populations. They should provide street furniture that accommodates disabled and elderly people, as well as toddlers, and promote a free, reliable infrastructure of collaborative Wifi and lighting in public spaces – necessary tools for students and micro-business owners to study and work outdoors. These will also increase the residents' sense of personal safety and reduce the effects of delinquency and crime in the urban domain.
All that is required is for decision makers, mayors, urban planners and landscape architects to change their way of thinking. It is time to abandon the old conventions and adopt a new and fresh planning approach – and move from urban planning to social planning.
For more information about the Tel Aviv Foundation and to donate to the Mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo’s Emergency Relief Fund, visit telavivfoundation.org