I Never Thought Tel Aviv Could Become Any More of a Mess

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Tel Avivians ride in a busy street next to a construction site, last month.
Tel Avivians ride in a busy street next to a construction site, last month.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
yossi klein
Yossi Klein

A.D., from Tel Aviv, is 10 years old. She will spend her teen years among open ditches, closed roads and horrid traffic jams. But once she finishes her army service, in around 10 years, she’ll be able to ride the subway. I hope that senior citizen R.H., who is now 76 (may he live a long life!) will also be able to use the subway to meet his great-grandchildren. Until then, young A.D. will have to pass excavations, circumvent mountains of garbage and wait endlessly for the bus (R.H., meanwhile, has reserved parking at City Hall).

We clearly need a subway. Life among the digging is clearly a small sacrifice for the glorious future of our adorable children and amazing grandchildren. What wouldn’t we do for them? It’s not easy. The city has gone crazy. Other global cities didn’t lose their minds like this. When they built the Underground in London or the subway in New York, they didn’t go crazy. They built it line by line, not all at once, and no one went out of his mind from digging and traffic jams. Here, chaos reigns. Bus service is a mess and cars are forced into narrow alleys, where they stand while the drivers honk like madmen. Bins of trash accumulate, while at the same time buildings go up, bike lanes are paved and sewage lines are extended.

One cannot blame the municipality. It’s doing its thing with compulsive consistency. Calm down, it says, everything’s normal. We’ll dig, and you’ll behave as if we aren’t. We’ll charge you property taxes and give you tickets, garbage trucks will set out for their morning rounds and that weird vehicle that sprays will drive slowly next to the filthy sidewalks and shower water on them, as if it were cologne on the sidewalks of Zurich.

Construction work on the Red Line of the future Tel Aviv light rail on Yehuda Halevi street, central Tel Aviv.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The municipality is working, but the city is broken – it’s lost control. That’s what happens when you take a 100-year-old and try to turn it into an attractive young woman overnight. You do implants, eyebrows, a kidney transplant and open-heart surgery all at once. She won’t be able to tolerate it; she’ll lose control of her functions.

What do city-dwellers need? Firstly, to orient themselves. Disorientation in a place kills a sense of belonging, and not belonging leads to indifference about what’s happening around you. I don’t know how to get from place to place here. Even Waze blanches in embarrassment when it leads me down an alley with no exit.

Now they’re demolishing in order to build. The urge to demolish is a well-known Tel Avivian illness. Tel Aviv never knew how to preserve its heritage; they demolish the Habima Theater and build a monster, and destroy Dizengoff Square only to restore it as it was. A city more than a hundred years old, which has barely been through a war or an earthquake, has no visual symbol and no monument identified with it. There is nothing to put on postcards sent from it.

Construction workers are busy at building the red line of the future Tel Aviv light rail in Jaffa, southern Tel Aviv.Credit: Avshalom Halutz

When you don’t preserve, you destroy. Destruction creates chaos, and chaos begets filth. Each garbage pile invites more garbage to be placed upon it. Public filth neutralizes one’s internal restraint, that instinctive brake that prevents you from throwing a banana peel onto the sidewalk because it’s convenient. We litter, not the municipality. Senior citizen R.H. is not to blame; he isn’t putting garbage in the recycling bin. If everything’s already so filthy, the thrower thinks, another bag of garbage won’t make a difference. Someone throws a leaking garbage bag on a neat pile of flattened cartons. Another person comes, thinks that it’s okay, and adds their bag. The third person already understands that “This is where we throw the garbage,” and thus establishes another glorious garbage pile, on which dogs pee.

We bring our attitude toward public spaces from our homes. It’s easier to put a bag of garbage on the street and not place it in one of the building’s stinking garbage rooms, because what’ll they do to me? Nothing. After all, I’m not alone, everyone does it.

The rumor spreads quickly that it is now permitted to litter. Now I can really do whatever I want, says the scooter rider, who in any case does as he pleases – races down the sidewalk, flies against traffic and mows down helpless people at crosswalks. Should we not expect him to be the one to throw his trash where it suits him?

I hope that I will at least merit a ride on the subway. It would be something of a comfort, since I certainly won’t get to see the summary arguments in the trial of Benjamin Netanyahu in my lifetime.

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