My husband and I have been thinking about going somewhere with the kids for a night. My 10-year-old’s suggestion: “I heard the tents on Rothschild are empty.”
Yes, the middle-class tent protests in Tel Aviv, about the high costs of property, have been interrupted and possibly abandoned in light of the terror attacks last week in southern Israel. It’s also a bad time of year with the kids on vacation and the beginning of school next week.
But the issues remain up for discussion. Haaretz reported on the first session of the Trajtenberg committee on socio-economic reform, where policy experts and members of the public can present their ideas—1100 people have sent in proposals. Everything is on the table including tax rates, education, and value-added tax.
This comment on housing caught my attention:
Dror Gershon of Merhav, an organization promoting urban renewal, said the country’s planning policy is “outdated, appropriate for Israel of the 1960s, when we had only two million people.” [MiI: We have over seven million now.] This policy favors small towns and population dispersal rather than big urban centers with high-rise building and leaves people dependent on private cars – which 50 percent of Israelis don’t have, he argued.
But correcting this problem requires no extra funds; it only requires changing the national master plan to favor high-rise building, he continued. “European cities have 30,000 residents per square kilometer,” he said. “Tel Aviv has 7,000 per square kilometer; the most crowded city is Bat Yam with 15,000; and the other cities have 3,000 residents per square kilometer.”
I’ve never understood why Israel allows so many private or semi-private homes, especially in the center of the country. Land and open space are our most precious natural resource, yet we allow developers to gobble them up. It seems odd for the government to release building rights so stingily, yet allow sprawling housing (relatively speaking, that is). Even here in Petach Tikva, an urban area near Tel Aviv with soaring prices, whole neighborhoods of semi-detached houses are being built.
I understand people’s preference for private homes, and I don’t blame anyone for taking advantage of the possibility. But encouraging low-rise building is terrible policy. It requires more roads and infrastructure, increases the amount of traffic and pollution, and puts more of a strain on public transit. The protesters have been complaining that they can’t find affordable housing near their jobs. Building up instead of out would help fix this problem. And it would help preserve some of our green spaces.
On a related note, a reader told me about an initiative to make cities less auto-centric: Complete Streets.
Now, in communities across the country, a movement is growing to complete the streets. States, cities and towns are asking their planners and engineers to build road networks that are safer, more livable, and welcoming to everyone.
Instituting a complete streets policy ensures that transportation planners and engineers consistently design and operate the entire roadway with all users in mind – including bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
Finally Lenore of Free Range Kids suggests asking whether our local streets pass the “popsicle test.”
In a recent post on his firm’s excellent blog, PlacesShakers and NewsMakers, Scott Doyon reminds us of the “popsicle test” of a well-designed neighborhood: If an 8-year-old kid can safely go somewhere to buy a popsicle, and get back home before it melts, chances are it’s a neighborhood that works. Note that there’s no planning jargon in there: nothing explicitly about mixed uses, or connected streets, or sidewalks, or traffic calming, or enough density to put eyes on the street. But, if you think about it, it’s all there.
Most Israeli neighborhoods meet the popsicle test, boasting a local makolet for picking up fresh rolls and milk daily. Our crosswalks have islands or lights or both, making them fairly safe for kids. Would building more high-rises mean that streets and neighborhoods will become less friendly for children and other pedestrians? I think that good urban design can go a long way.