Herzliya: For the Young at Heart - Not the Young

Some 21% of Herzliya's residents are aged 45-59 and 14% are 65 and over - far higher than the national average. The high cost of housing is one of the driving forces behind the youth exodus.

The city named after the Zionist visionary would make him smile. Herzliya ranked second among Israel's 15 biggest cities for quality of life, according to a survey conducted by TheMarker, Ha'ir and the Ofir Buchnik accounting firm. The education system in Herzliya is excellent, the municipality invests in infrastructure and public projects, and the city's coffers are full.

On the other hand, the economic gaps among city residents are painfully conspicuous, as Herzliya has become a city for the rich. As housing prices soar, young couples are moving to towns in surrounding areas, causing the average age in the city to spike.

Bonus points

One thing that sets Herzliya apart from the other cities surveyed is the constant upkeep of infrastructure. Over the past four years, the main thoroughfare, Sokolov St., has been revamped and the Herzliya B quarter has received a face lift, as have Ilanot St. in the Gan Rashel neighborhood; many new public gardens have been planted and the roads in the industrial zone have been improved to reduce traffic.

Still, all these public works projects, especially the construction on Sokolov St., drew considerable criticism due to the inconvenience caused to local residents in the course of the construction work. Even today, after new roundabouts and sidewalks were paved and trees planted, Sokolov St. is still far from fulfilling the hopes of residents and business owners. The buildings still look neglected, the stores have difficulty attracting shoppers and the residents are having a hard time adjusting to the new traffic arrangements.

Road safety has been a major concern at Herzliya city hall, and over the past few years dozens of roundabouts have been built to reduce speeds on city roads. Intersections have been made safer and hundreds of rumble strips have been added to the streets. There are slightly fewer traffic accidents in Herzliya than elsewhere (2.2 accidents per 1,000 residents per year, compared to an average of 2.6 for 2004-2006 in the cities surveyed).

Excellent fiscal management earned Herzliya second place in this parameter. The city finished 2006 with a surplus of NIS 15.5 million, following several years of budget surpluses, for an accumulated surplus of NIS 38.3 million.

Herzliya municipality knows not only how to save money, but also how to spend it: In 2004-2006, an average of NIS 5,790 per resident was invested in the city, almost NIS 1,000 more than the average in all the cities surveyed.

Herzliya achieved its financial strength both from residential taxes and from the success of the city's industrial zone, which over the past decade has become the most popular in Israel, and the big companies headquartered there pay high municipal taxes. The thousands of workers who come to Herzliya every day also contribute to the city's small businesses, particularly restaurants and coffee shops.

Investing in education: The Herzliya municipality provides over 46% of the local schools' budgets, 10% more than the average for all the cities surveyed. The city and the parents actually invest the most per student in any of the 15 cities - NIS 5,017. Eligibility for matriculation among Herzliya's 12th grade students was also 10% higher than the average for all the cities surveyed (70.8% compared to 60.5% during 2003-2006). The transfer of the high school for engineering from Tel Aviv University to Herzliya last year continues to be a controversial issue in the city's education system. On the one hand, the city felt this prestigious non-regional school would upgrade the municipal education system, would attract outstanding students and encourage local students to excel in the new study tracks. On the other hand, principals at the local high schools claimed the budget-rich high school would harm their status and attract many local students rather than students from outside the city. City hall tried to solve this complaint by limiting the number of local students at the school to 40 per year.

Green spaces

Herzliya tops the city index for environmental standards, scoring a perfect 10. Recycling in this city is 18%, compared to an average of 13% in all the cities surveyed, although still lower than the legislated minimum of 25%. The quality of Herzliya's water is also excellent, with no irregularities whatsoever in the water samples recorded. City hall's transparency regarding information provided to the public concerning the environment also earned the highest score.

Even so, air pollution in Herzliya is relatively high, according to the mobile monitoring unit sent to the city in January 2006 and regional monitoring stations. Experts from the Israel Union for Environmental Defense reported that Herzliya's air contains high concentrations of fine breathable particles and nitrous oxides, mainly from motor vehicles and industry. Still, the municipality notes that over the years, these levels have not exceeded permissible levels.

Despite the air pollution, Herzliya received a commendation from the union for the city's efforts to develop green spaces throughout the city. For over nine years, city hall battled land owners and developers who wanted to build apartments on land designated for the municipal park, which has a planned area of some 700 dunams and will be the largest in the Sharon region. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in the city's favor, and a few months ago the first stage of the park was inaugurated.

Residents of Herzliya number among the wealthiest of the surveyed cities. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Herzliyans rank in the 8th socioeconomic echelon out of 10. In 2003-2005, average monthly salaries were NIS 8,211, or about NIS 1,500 above the average of all the cities surveyed. But social inequality in this city is also very high, relative to the other cities, and this clearly visible.

The west side of the city boasts some of the most expensive homes in the country, while streets on the east side are crumbling and neglected. On one side, you have the upscale Herzliya Pituah, where Israel's wealthiest enjoy the proximity to the sea and well-developed infrastructure, and on the other side, you have seven working-class neighborhoods, including Yad Hatisha, Neve Yisrael and Neve Amal. In between is the city center, with its established middle class. For years, the municipality apparently preferred to focus on the development of the "attractive" parts of the city, such as the marina; meanwhile, any investments made in the eastern neighborhoods were minor.

Housing for the wealthy

Apartment prices in Herzliya, which were already higher than in other locales, have skyrocketed 58% since 2006, while the average for the other cities surveyed was 39.3%. Such high prices make the city far less accessible: The average price of a 100-square meter apartment in Herzliya is NIS 1.2 million, and a person earning the average wage would have to work 12.4 years to buy one. The yield on renting such an apartment would be below average, at 4.4%, compared to an average of 4.7% elsewhere.

Accordingly, 71% of the Herzliya residents surveyed by the Geocartographia Institute feel that housing prices are too high for them. The housing prices probably contributed to the emigration from the city: In 2004-2006 immigration was negative 0.75%. In the other cities surveyed, the average was 0.17%. Most of the Herzliya emigrees are young couples who moved to neighboring cities, where the housing is more affordable.

Even though there was more new residential construction in Herzliya than in other cities (0.77 square meters per resident, compared to an average of 0.66 square meters), real estate agents explain that real estate prices in Herzliya are affected by the construction of luxury towers, which have pushed apartment prices even higher in the past year. Real estate experts say that there are actually sufficient land reserves in the city for residential construction, but due to specific problems, such as the airport which prevents the expansion of the Gan Rashal neighborhood, or the probability of soil pollution in an area formerly used by Israel Military Industries, there is a shortage of land on which to build new housing.

Herzliya's population is older than that of the other cities in the Sharon region: Just 18% of the residents are under 14 years old, compared to a national average of 27.5%. At the other end of the age spectrum, almost 21% of Herzliya's residents are aged 45-59, compared to 16% throughout the country. There are also more people aged 65 and over - about 14%, compared to a national average of about 10%. One factor that contributes to this age disparity is the high cost of housing. In response to this problem, the city is promoting the Galil Yam project, which was approved earlier this month after a legal battle. Now 4,000 housing units will be built, with about 20% designed for young couples. Still, this project may be insufficient to solve the problem of young people leaving the city, as it is a single project whose construction will only begin in 2011.

The Herzliya Pituah industrial zone, with its many high-tech companies, restaurants and entertainment spots, attracts visitors from other parts of the country who come there to work during the day or enjoy the night life in the evenings. This popularity causes long, intolerable traffic jams that start in the city center, mainly on Rav Kook and Habrigada Hayehudit streets.

Local residents have difficulty exiting these streets to the main roads leading north, south or to the western part of the city.

Beachfront restaurants: In 2006 the municipality decided to close down two veteran beachfront restaurants: Dabush at Acadia Beach and Nine Beach at Zevulun Beach, and issue tenders for the new management of the beaches. As welcome as this municipal decision was, two years have passed since then and the Acadia Beach tender has not been implemented.

Since the closure of the Nine Beach, three restaurants have come and gone. Recently the Cafe Cafe chain won the Zevulun beach tender and opened Nine Beach - Cafe Cafe.