Instead of Building Upward, Israelis Build Outwards, Report Says, Pointing to Policy Failure

Current urban development not sustainable, Environment Ministry says.

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The new law was meant to speed up residential construction by streamlining the planning process.
The Environmental Protection Ministry report calls for buildings of between eight and 12 floors.Credit: David Bachar

The government’s official policy supporting more dense urban construction has proved a failure – the past two decades having seen a clear preference for low-density construction of single-family homes, according to a new report by the Environmental Protection Ministry. The report, on a strategy for sustainable urban planning, will be presented on Wednesday during a conference in Acre on urban development.

According to the figures, which the ministry obtained from the Central Bureau of Statistics, from 1995 to 2014, single-family homes constituted some 70 percent of new construction. Together with semi-detached homes, such construction constituted 86 percent of all new construction.

These figures show that the official policy of the National Planning and Building Council, which in the 1980s determined that various master plans should favor dense construction over single-family homes, has not been adhered to.

Large neighborhoods of single-family homes mean difficulty in providing public transportation, which is one factor leading to more use of private cars in Israel, a decline in public transportation and increased traffic jams. According to the report, in 2030, every passenger in a car will have to spend 60 minutes more on the road every day because of traffic tie-ups.

The Environmental Protection Ministry’s new plan is meant to help cities provide not only most of the solutions for housing and employment, but also for quality of life. Such solutions include better use of land both by building more densely, and mixing residential and commercial areas. The plan envisions building high-rises of between eight and 12 floors, which it calls a “humane scale,” compared to taller high-rises that serve mainly the wealthy who can bear the maintenance costs of such structures.

The ministry proposes leaving unbuilt 15–25 percent of the land in every construction lot, which would allow rainwater to penetrate the ground. Another proposal is to oblige cities to plant 10 trees for every one that is cut down for construction. Municipal tax breaks for small businesses and for people purchasing apartments in high-density areas are also part of the plan, as is a plan to impose higher taxes on commercial premises that are built further away from residential neighborhoods.

The plan also sets goals and indexes by which to determine whether policies to strengthen cities are working. One of these goals is that by 2030 some 80 percent of workers in center-city locations will travel to work on public transportation. Another is that every city resident will have a contiguous green area within three minutes’ walk from their home.

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