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Tel Aviv, Epitome of the Israeli Inability to Plan Ahead

yossi klein
Yossi Klein
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Illustration: a cyclist looks at the light train construction works in Tel Aviv.
Credit: Eran Wolkowski
yossi klein
Yossi Klein

Tel Aviv is more than 100 years old, and doesn’t have a single public building that has survived intact all those years. Everything is crumbling, destroyed or rebuilt, and renovated.

The 77-year-old Habima building has been renovated at least four times. The old central bus station was built 80 years ago and then moved to a new spot, and might be moved again. Atarim Square is to be demolished after 47 tormented years.

The question is how this square passed muster with all the planning committees, the experts and the investors, none of whom were able to predict its sad end. One look at the shabby 30-year-old buildings in the southern part of the city explains how baseless the theory is that the Israelites built the pyramids 3,000 years ago.

Buildings that are 200 years old or more have survived all over the world. Around here, they collapse when they’re 70. Between faulty planning and cheap materials, it’s no wonder.

Who is responsible? Ephraim Kishon blamed the Jewish genius. He wrote that instead of two screws, we make do with one, because a Hebrew screw is worth as much as two non-Hebrew ones. So it should come as no surprise that everything is wobbling, the foundations need to be reinforced or the building demolished and built.

Demolishing and rebuilding cost money. A reasonable person cautiously considers the cost, but not when he is managing the public purse. In that case a frugal tightwad becomes a spendthrift adventurer. After all, no minister has ever been fired for wasting money. When there is no personal responsibility, no attentive media and no serious gatekeepers, you wake up one morning and discover that they’re excavating (excuse the inconvenience, thank you for your patience).

When it comes to public buildings, the purse opens easily, planning is poor, execution is wretched and the ending entirely foreseeable. A reasonable person doesn’t understand how the planner who approved and budgeted the project didn’t foresee the predictable fate of the central bus station or Atarim Square.

One gets the chills seeing the person who was once the IDF chief of staff believing the lies of a prime minister from whom a reasonable person would not buy a single word, or a sophisticated and intelligent Mossad chief who didn’t think that he would see his flight attendant friend on TV recounting his indiscretions.

How can we understand the psychology behind this national inability to see ahead, to ignore the implications of sitting stoically on one’s rear end when initiative is required. In this country, you set a worthy goal, then immediately become impatient, anxious to shorten procedures, ready to ignore obstacle and move ahead, and pooh-pooh the costs.

A serious candidate to join the national march of folly is the aspiration to turn Tel Aviv into the bicycle capital of the Middle East and at the very same time build a subway. A subway will indeed be built, and so will a network of efficient and supervised bicycle paths, but at what cost? Who will pay?

It’s hard to imagine that anyone thought about the implications of building bicycle paths while excavating for the subway. “Transportation and parking, paths and roads, must be planned simultaneously,” said Roi Alkabetz, who holds the Tel Aviv municipality’s construction portfolio.

But it’s hard for me to believe that the planners of the bike paths and the excavators of the subway have ever met. If they had, the question would certainly have come up as to how to deal with thousands of children who storm the narrow sidewalks next to deep pits and frightening pedestrians (more than 1,000 bicycle injuries were treated this year and Ichilov Medical Center).

So, it’s true, the municipality conducts classes on cycling rules and traffic lights. Can the results of this education be seen on the sidewalk between Ichilov and Dizengoff? I don’t recommend checking it out.

The day will come when a reasonable person will look out his or her window at the chaos in the street, hear the bulldozers, and then sit down and write the following email to the municipality: “Unfortunately, because of my inability to avail myself of your services, I am compelled not to pay my city taxes this year. Excuse the inconvenience and thank you for trying.”

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