Can Tel Aviv Be Sustainable?


"Does Tel Aviv need more arteries or a blood-transfusion?," asks Tel Aviv-based David Pearlman from the Heschel Center. Pearlman addressed a crowd of about 50 American and Canadian young adults on a summer trip to Israel today. For 10 days, the youth- some of them environmental stewards in the making, others who thought it could be a neat way to see the country, are here to learn about Israel's environmental woes and achievements. It was called the Earth, Wind, Water and Fire tour and sponsored by North American philanthropists hoping to increase awareness to environmental issues in Israel.Yesterday when the trip kicked off, they were already racing around the beach picking up trash and cans in a nation-wide effort to "Save the Dolphins." Recycled material that they are carting around with them in their bus will be traded in at a recycling company who will donate money to assist dolphin research. Dolphins, says accompanying eco-tour guide, Eva from Israel's version of the Sierra Club the SPNI, think plastic bags are jellyfish.

Today the group got a two-hour whirlwind tour of central Tel Aviv and the busy boulevard of Rothschild, where the cornerstone of Tel Aviv was laid in 1909. Rather than introduce the North Americans to the practically nonexistent recycling programs in the city, or scare them away by giving stats on the alarming amount of air pollution, Pearlman, from Australia or South Africa based on his accent, gave an environmental tour where the group asked themselves questions and talked aloud trying to answer them.

The day-trip was called "What makes a city sustainable?"

Like the more daring Israel-based green group who plays with civil disobedience once and while, Green Action, Heschel's enviro teachings are intricately intertwined with social issues- which are ones that no one can ignore in this densely populated country.

Here is some food for thought about Tel Aviv:

Did you know that Tel Aviv is the only city in the world where a Starbucks opened and then closed? Pearlman showed us the spot.

Is it fair that Tel Aviv's city council lets builders develop skyscrapers in exchange for greening a tiny plot of land and erecting a sculpture?

Did you know that Tel Aviv was the first city in the world where builders lifted an entire house (now Sotheby's auction house) on Shadal Street, and suspended it, while they dug out underground parking lots as part of a development deal to preserve an historical building in exchange for development rights? (As Pearlman is relating this factoid a truck drives by coughing out a plume of black smoke).

Did you know Tel Avivian's refer to the noisy and polluted Rothschild Boulevard as Tel Aviv's Central Park?

Did you know Tel Aviv is built on a sand dune and that the city is shifting over time?

Did you know there are bike lanes in Tel Aviv but hardly anyone sees them because there are no signs?

In 1911, an argument raged whether to open shop-fronts below the houses on Herzl Street. Now it's a busy street where breathing's difficult. What are pedestrians' rights and can they be protected, Pearlman asks.

What's the connection between money and the environment in Tel Aviv?

What's the difference between ecological economics and environmental economics in Tel Aviv?

Is it okay that public billboards for cultural events in Tel Aviv are leased by big companies like Pfizer who plaster their own adverts in lieu of goings-on. (Green Action last week filed a class action lawsuit against billboards along the highways around Tel Aviv, Green Action director Avi Levi tells TreeHugger).

Is it okay that cultural events in public spaces are sponsored by huge conglomerates like Nestle and local Israel food giant Elite? Is the privatization of public spaces okay?

Should Tel Aviv adopt the Bus Rapid Transit systems of Brazil or Colombia? Should there be an underground or light-rail train instead?

Lots of questions. Answers anyone?

"Tel Aviv is a clash of vision and reality,"
Pearlman concludes.