The Mayor Promised a Sea Breeze

If one takes a more comprehensive look at what the Tel Aviv municipality is planning, both on and adjacent to the coastline, there is a feeling of suffocation from too much construction, and it is almost impossible to feel the sea breeze the mayor promised.

Tel Aviv residents occasionally receive a letter from Mayor Ron Huldai in which he boasts of the city's accomplishments and describes his vision. In one of his recent letters, Huldai referred to the city's beaches, and promised "to develop the coastline, while carefully preserving an open view to the sea and the flow of air to the city."

Indeed, the Tel Aviv Municipality invests great efforts in developing the beaches, and has even taken several steps recently that are likely to finally enable free passage for pedestrians along the coast in places like the Reading power station and the mounds of garbage created over the years on Jaffa's beaches.

But if one takes a more comprehensive look at what the municipality is planning, both on and adjacent to the coastline, there is a feeling of suffocation from too much construction, and it is almost impossible to feel the sea breeze the mayor promised. The view of the sea that was promised has become impossible in the face of the towers and walls of construction the municipality is energetically initiating.

On the beaches north of the Yarkon River, the municipality is promoting a large-scale construction program in an area that even the environmental groups, led by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, agreed could be exploited for the building of residential neighborhoods. The environmental compensation for the loss of the beautiful sand dunes in this area today is supposed to be a beach park with an esplanade.

But the municipality supports a narrow and disappointing version of the park, which would leave little space for pedestrians. In some places, the construction would reach the cliff overlooking the sea. And in the area of the luxury Sea and Sun residences, which crudely intrude onto the beach, another public building is planned.

On the coastline to the south, there are cafes that have expanded their hold on the beach over the years at the expense of the area available to beachgoers. The municipality is not taking action to restore these cafes to their proper dimensions, but is rather seeking to preserve the status quo. It is very nice to have a place to drink coffee and contently gaze at the waves, but only after ensuring that a wide and spacious strip of beach exists.

In its handling of barriers that have become hazards, including the Dolphinarium, the municipality is also maintaining an approach that would open the beach along the waterline but damage what remains further from the water. The municipality agreed to give the builders of the Dolphinarium extensive building rights in order to clear the area and thus enable passage for pedestrians. The result is that the Dolphinarium complex will be demolished and pedestrians will be able to access the waterline, but two large residential and hotel towers will be built further from the water. These large buildings will partially block one of the only routes to the sea that remain open in Tel Aviv. This is after a row of hotels and office buildings were built south of this area.

In light of the great consideration the municipality has shown for the beach cafes and its broad generosity toward developers, it is difficult to understand the tough position it is taking toward the Gordon swimming pool patrons, who are fighting for the pool's continued existence. The municipality is insistently demanding that the pool be demolished, arguing that it is the principal barrier to the continuity of the pedestrian esplanade. The municipality is also prepared in this case to promise generous building rights to those who lease this area, in exchange for evacuating the area before the end of the lease period.

But until now, no comprehensive and clear plan has been presented to explain why it is necessary to remove the pool, which does not pose a hazard like the Dolphinarium. On the contrary, the pool is an important center of activity for many residents, and it makes an important contribution to the well-being and health of elderly people who have visited the pool for decades, as well as young people.

According to the building plans for this site, there are supposed to be pedestrian passages on both sides of the pool, but there is a parking lot on one side and a government warehouse on the other side with restricted access. The municipality has so far taken no action to open these passages and it is focusing its efforts on drying up and closing the pool. After the neglect the Tel Aviv Municipality managed to create on the beaches for so many years, one might have expected it to thoroughly check the alternatives for developing the esplanade without hurrying to destroy a swimming pool that has remained active for so many years.