Tel Aviv’s skyline in 2025

Mar 21st, 2011 | By | Category: master plan

How the city’s new master plan will transform its skyline forever.

Since the late nineties, Tel Aviv’s skyline has undergone a radical change. Once a low-strung panorama of flat roofs, dominated by the ubiquitous solar water heater, in recent years office and residential towers have been popping up seemingly at random. The proliferation of towers has created a disjointed skyline, disturbed the urban fabric in historical areas and antagonized entire neighborhoods.

Perhaps in light of this recent history, the new city master plan makes a concerted effort to regulate the controversial topic of tall building construction – defining for the first time where new skyscrapers will be allowed, and where existing skylines will be preserved. At the same time, the plan would grant an official (and likely irreversible) stamp of approval for new skyscrapers in certain sensitive and controversial areas, in some cases ignoring the vociferous opposition of neighborhood groups.

Here, then, is a brief rundown of the changes proposed in the master plan, published as a public service (due to the fact that the municipality, whose duty it is to publicize things like these, has thus far neglected to do so):

In the city center (west of Ibn Gvirol Street, the area known as the “White City”) the skyline will be more or less preserved as is. Most new buildings will be allowed to rise to 6 ½ stories: including a commercial floor, 5 stories of apartments and an extra half floor on the roof (which will presumably become penthouse apartments). That said, plans for skyscrapers that have already been granted official approval in the area (there are still a handful that haven’t begun construction yet) will still be built.

Also, despite the widespread recognition that designating the city’s beachfront for hotel towers was a mistake, the plan nevertheless designates almost the entire beachfront for hotels in 25 story towers.

In other historical neighborhoods – notably much of Jaffa, Florentine, Neve Tzedek, “Old” Ramat Aviv and Maoz Aviv – new buildings will not be allowed to rise higher than the surrounding built environment.

East of Ibn Gvirol Street, residential tower construction will be encouraged in numerous areas (see map – the darker the color, the higher the buildings), as well as on Einstein Street, near Tel Aviv University.

One of the plan’s central principles is to strengthen Tel Aviv as the business capital of Israel. In practice, this will mean lots of new office buildings (office space in the city will more than double under the master plan), with entire forests of corporate skyscrapers sprouting on both sides on the Ayalon Highway. This, in fact, is one of the less controversial elements of the plan, as a broad consensus exists among green organizations, neighborhood groups and even the municipal opposition that building skyscrapers in this particular area makes sense.

Further south, however, the plan proposes additional skyscrapers in more controversial areas.

One of these is along the old Ottoman railway (which once travelled between Old Jaffa and Jerusalem), between Neveh Tzedek and Florentine. The plan designates the entire corridor for buildings of up to 40 stories – a move which would create a wall of cement and glass between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, and which has been fought for years by area activists.

The first project built in the complex, Neve Tzedek Tower, has been widely condemned for its disproportional size and its design, which turns its back on the street and the surrounding neighborhoods. The head of the municipal planning committee, Doron Sapir (who also happens to bear a large share of the responsibility for the tower’s approval) even pronounced it a “planning mistake.” If that is the case, it is unclear why the municipality insists on continuing to promote more such mistakes alongside it.

Nearby Shlavim Street, which passes between Jaffa and south Tel Aviv, will be designated as a corridor of tall office buildings (up to 25 stories). The plan calls for the street to be widened such that it would funnel traffic from the city’s southern entrance to its center, with the road widening even more at intersections.

Area residents who, during public participation hearings, were presented with two possible alternative for the area, both variations on the highway + office towers theme (one with a bit more highway, one with a few more towers) expressed their sincere demand for a community-based alternative for south Tel Aviv and Jaffa – one which would invest in the community, and not just in infrastructure. While this demand was recorded in the municipality’s reports, municipal planners have shown no indication that they will take it seriously, and seem bent on ignoring it.

In fighting against plans for skyscrapers, residents of Tel Aviv neighborhoods oppose powerful forces: developers and architects (who have a clear economic interest in encouraging the phenomenon), municipal officials (hungry for the extra tax money tall buildings provide) and a deeply-rooted fondness for development and “progress” in their various forms. At the same time, various myths have been put into the service of skyscraper development, such as the myth that skyscraper neighborhoods are necessarily denser than low- and mid-rise areas (they’re not) and the unspoken assumption that anyone can afford to live in them (only the very rich can).

And what of sustainability? Tel Aviv’s first LEED-certified office building is already under construction, and a new, super-innovative Israeli green building standard is about to come into force. Everyone, including developers, seems to be thinking about green architecture these days, and the country’s Environmental Protection Minister is even considering incentivizing green construction.

With so much happening in the field, the new master plan would be an excellent opportunity to position Tel Aviv on the forefront of green architecture in Israel. And indeed, according to municipal planners, the plan will include some form of green building guidelines. But what kind, exactly – and will the city’s guidelines be consistent with the new national green building standard? Like so many other things in the master plan, this remains an open question.

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Got questions? Ideas? Opinions on the city’s future? Tell the Tel Aviv Municipality what you think about the master plan: email the planning team at mitar@mail.tel-aviv.gov.il, contact a city council member or leave a comment on the municipality’s Facebook page.

Originally published in Hebrew on Mishmar Hamoatza’s blog on March 15, 2011. Map and rendering courtesy of Tel Aviv Municipality.

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