Dystopian Vision

98% of Israelis Will Live in Giant Apartment Towers by 2050, Report Finds

Study by an institute for national policy predicts that by 2050 nearly all Israelis will also be doing everything else underground because the population will double

Apartment towers in Tel Aviv.
Eyal Toueg

The Israel of 2050 will be a land of apartment towers, with nearly all other activity from shopping to manufacturing to road travel taking place underground. In the entire country, there will be no more than 700,000 dunams (175,000 acres) of open space.

This dystopian vision of Israel just 33 years from now is contained a report released this week by The Forum for Population, Environment and Society, “Zafuf” in Israel. The research team behind the report says Israelis will need to be living in towers and doing everything else underground because there will be more than twice as many people living in the country.

“In the Israel of 2050, 18 million will be living in the country and 98% of them will live in giant towers,” the team predicts. “The few villages that are left will be artificial ones, products of preservation policies.”

The report was drafted by Prof. Rachelle Alterman of the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, Prof. Dan Ben-David, Iris Hann, the CEO of The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, and Prof. Shlomo Bekhor.

Dan Perry, a former head of Israel’s Israel Nature and Parks Authority and a contributor to the study, said a doubling of buildings and infrastructure will make Israel’s landscape almost unrecognizable.

“This multiplication, with all the infrastructure and roads, will result in a single concrete carpet stretching [along Israel’s coast] from Ashkelon to Nahariya, with metastases to the north and south, which have direct implications for population growth,” he writes.

He said intelligent, long-term planning can mitigate the damage but not eliminate it. “Even with ideal planning, which is light years from the planning under way today, the expected damage [to the environment] will be severe,” he warned.

Perry faulted the government’s current policies, in particularly the rush to build new homes to stem the sharp rise in housing prices, which hasn’t acted to deter low-rise housing or exploit all the land in urban areas. He said open land was being developed at a rate of 7,000 dunams annually, a pace that will leave Israel with between 600,000 and 700,000 dunams by the time Israel marks its 100th anniversary in 2048.

Some countries have already adapted to life in apartment towers, but Israelis will have a much harder time.

“Towers aren’t appropriate for the way Israeli families are structured,” it said. “While people in Singapore, Hong Kong and other developed, populous countries enjoy a high quality of life living in towers, their birth rate is completely different than that of Israel. Our families have an average of 3.1 children while in Singapore the rate is 0.9. It’s a crowded country, but it’s a different kind of crowding. It’s very hard to maintain a proper family life in a tower.”

The study warns that tower-living deters residents from forming strong community ties, either with fellow residents in the tower or between towers. There will also be the problem of maintaining the towers both inside and outside because of the high cost.

Perry said that even though Singapore itself is extraordinarily crowded, with an average of 8,000 people per square kilometer versus Israel’s 400, Singapore is a city. It draws on open land available in neighboring Malaysia for food, water and leisure activities — something Israel can’t do.

Prof. Bekhor of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology said another important difference between Israel and the most crowded Asian countries is living space. Israeli families on average enjoy 150 square meters of living space, compared with just 30 in Japan.

He expressed doubt that Israelis would be willing to adapt the lifestyle of Singaporeans or Japanese. Israel’s government is not in a position to force the change either, he said.

“Singaporean society is significantly different from Israeli society and Singapore’s government isn’t democratic. To buy a car there you have to overcome all kinds of restrictions,” Bekhor explained. “In these conditions, it’s much easier to manage transportation in a crowded society, but the price is a loss of personal freedom.”

The report was drafted by Prof. Rachelle Alterman of the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, Prof. Dan Ben-David, Iris Hann, the CEO of The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, and Prof. Shlomo Bekhor.

It was presented this week at the annual conference of Zafuf, an Israeli organization dedicated to expanding cooperation among researchers working on population issues and to raising awareness of growing problems. It is led by Prof. Alon Tal of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Eyal Rotenberg of the Weizmann Institute.

Correction (November 21, 2018): An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the name of the organization behind the report and has since been corrected. It was published by the Zafuf: The Israel Forum for Population, Environment and Society. In addition, the article incorrectly stated that the team was led by Prof. Rachelle Alterman and has since been amended.