Itai Ilanai, Yedioth Ahronoth
So, how crowded will it be? Well, very. By 2048 the population of Israel will double itself. Israel’s population density is expected to be beyond bearable: 800 residents per square kilometer. How do we deal with traffic? Where will we all live? And how come we won’t have our own living room?
In the Tzoran community, not far from Netanya, a new and promising career for young people is becoming a reality; a career that lets you get off work before 8 AM. This new profession, which is expected to become very popular in upcoming years, is known as a “traffic babysitter.”
“The babysitter arrives at 6 AM, wakes up the kids, makes sandwiches for them, and takes them to school. While all of this is happening we, the parents, are stuck in traffic,” explains Tzoran resident Braun Salman. “And why? Because Tzoran is basically under siege. To get out of town in the morning, we need to sit through 45 minutes of traffic just to get to Highway 4, where the rest of the country is stuck on the way to work.”
Some 10,000 people live in the picturesque town of Tzoran in the eastern Sharon area, which was founded in 1992 to offer a better quality of life for the neighboring regions. However, ultimately, this high quality of life has become restricted to the confines of one’s private vehicle. “It has gotten completely out of hand,” complains Braun Salman, who spends at least four hours on the road every day.
Over the past few months, Tzoran and residents of other nearby towns have been attending a series of demonstrations, in an attempt to bring about a solution for the transportation problems in their region. In all likelihood – if nothing changes – you will be joining them soon. On Ayalon North, the average speed at rush hour is 12 km/h, and the last five kilometers between Hayarkon and Morasha Junctions takes more than 30 minutes (for the sake of comparison, in the olympics, it takes less than 13 minutes to run the same distance). It is therefore evident that heavy traffic and congestion has become a national problem. Now imagine the traffic you go through on your way to work and double it.
Strengthening Israel’s Peripheral Regions
The ever-worsening traffic is just one symptom of central Israel’s ever-growing population density – as are the soaring housing prices. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2048 Israel will house approximately 17 million people, exactly twice the number of people who live in Israel today. Israel is already one of the 30 most crowded nations in the world, and this is true even when we disregard the millions of Palestinians who live among us between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Assuming we will not gain any more territory in the near future, and assuming, hopefully, that natural disasters or nuclear bombs will not annihilate a substantial part of Israel’s population, on Israel’s 100th birthday, the population density will reach a daunting 800 people per square kilometer. In central Israel, the number will be much higher.
The question is, what can we do right now, before the year 2048’s Independence Day, apart from already looking for a free spot for the traditional Independence Day barbecue. The OR Movement (for the development of the Negev and Galilee) is not waiting for the human tsunami that is expected to overflow the country and has decided to start preparing for the future right now. “We are currently writing the next chapter of Altneuland,” says OR Movement CEO, Roni Flamer.
The OR Movement was founded by four childhood friends from Petah Tikva who looked around and realized that Israel’s future is looking very grim – long before the words “housing” and “crisis” became inseparable. Since its establishment in 2002, the OR Movement established 8 new towns in Israel’s peripheral regions, and bolstered dozens of other existing villages and towns with new, young, and strong residents. “We believe that development and relocation bring about a stronger economy, culture, and commerce. The idea was to bring the people in, and everything else would follow,” says Flamer. Two years ago, however, OR looked around and discovered that while the emphasis they place is on Israel’s peripheral regions, most of the country is still flocking to the center. “We realize that we have a problem,” says Flamer.
Recent analyses predict a bleak future. These analyses indicate that by 2048 humble cities such as Rehovot, Ramla, and Hadera will absorb all of the neighboring towns and will transform into monstrous metropolises with millions of people. For example, the Petah Tikva District, which currently houses 700,000 people, will have 1.6 million people in 2048 (with that in mind, we offer our blessings to anyone passing through Geha Junction). The populations of Ramla, Rehovot and Sharon Districts will also double themselves. It is no coincidence that all of these cities are located in central Israel. If the current trend continues, there will be 13 million Israelis between Nazareth and Kiryat Gat in 2048, with only 4 million people expected to live in the Negev and Galilee regions. In other words, 75% of the population will live on 25% of the land.
And if this is not enough, all of these millions of people are also expected to work at the same place. According to OR, approximately half of Israel’s workplaces will be located in Gush Dan region and central Israel in 2048, as is the case today. Flamer is convinced that “the entire country will depend on a single economic center, a dependence that will result in societal gaps and an overall deterioration of Israel’s quality of life.” People who already belong to Israel’s lower socioeconomic echelons will be driven into Israel’s peripheral regions, resulting in a “second” Israel, in which Arab Israelis and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews are a clear majority, and in which the average income is profoundly lower than it is in central Israel. “In central Israel, we will see a developed, but highly crowded country, while everywhere else we’ll see a third world country,” he warns.
OR’s solution, the new chapter of their Altneuland, is the continuation of their current agenda: sending more people from the Center to the Negev and the Galilee, in large numbers. The OR Movement’s Israel 2048 Project includes a plan to prevent the Center’s overcrowding and Israel’s de facto subdivision into two separate entities. Its goal is to turn the Negev and Galilee into economic engines of growth that will attract strong population groups. According to this vision, on Israel’s 100th anniversary, the Negev will have 3.5 million people and the Galilee will have 4.5 million people.
In such a country, we could visit the Disneyland of Dimona, a city of 200,000 inhabitants (current trends suggest that the city will house only 70,000 Israelis) on our way to the international Riviera in Eilat. Before we do so, we will pass by the Bedouin High-Tech Center of Rahat-Tel Sheva-Hura, with the next stop on our way south being the future city that will be built in the Negev, not far from Mitzpeh Ramon, and which will be founded upon the aerospace industry.
In Search for a Better Quality of Life
In addition to Flamer’s and OR Movement’s Ben Gurion-esque vision, according to which wealth and prosperity will become defining features of the Negev, other ideas stand out as well. “We need to make all of Israel similar to Central Israel,” says Professor David Pasig, a futurologist from Bar Ilan University. “What I’m talking about here is a ‘city state’.”
In Pasig’s vision, in 2048 most of Israel will become a type of Hong Kong, Singapore or Manhattan: a large and densely-populated urban center, a forest of skyscrapers, with traffic mainly being based on highly developed public transportation that takes place mostly underground. “Population density is not a bad thing,” he says, surprisingly. “The greater the density, the higher the employment rate. If you do the right thing and transform Israel into a smart city-state, using new technologies and a better understanding of transportation, then this city-state will become a beacon of success.”
But even if the city-state built on the ruins of the Gush Dan is able to offer employment to everyone, how will it be possible for us to provide housing to the millions of Israelis who will live in such a dense and overcrowded area? “By 2048 more than 1.2 million new housing units will be built in Israel, an increase of 50% relative to today’s number of apartments. It’s insane,” says Ronnie Daniel, the professional director of the Israeli Green Construction Council. “The entire country will become absurdly overcrowded. We need to know how to give a good quality of life to all these people.”
For this purpose, the Council, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, founded the Israel 2048 competition, in an attempt to encourage professionals from a variety of disciplines to find solutions for Israel’s built-up landscape on its 100th anniversary, with thinking outside the box being the main focus of the competition. Some of the solutions include a dramatic change in the way we perceive our most intimate living spaces.
According to Hila Beinish, the CEO of the Israeli Green Construction Council, with Israeli cities becoming more and more crowded, there will be no choice but to develop the concept of communal living, and to apply that principle inside Israeli homes. “The apartments themselves will become smaller, and communal spaces will become larger,” says Beinish. “Since more and more people around the world have access to the Internet, and one can basically do everything remotely, it is more than possible that in the future will be a small workplace in each apartment building, which will save dwellers the daily trip to the office. In the evening, if you feel like entertaining guests, it will be possible to invite your guests to one of the building’s living rooms on the “hosting floor,” using a computer system that serves the entire building. The “hosting floor” will include a kitchen and perhaps even catering services. Vegetables, for example, will be available in the many gardens that Israelis will grow on their roofs, as part of Israel’s future development of urban agriculture.”
Who needs a car?
As part of the state-sponsored attempt to solve the housing crisis in central Israel, more and more agricultural spaces have been converted in recent years into a new type of crop: towers. Anyone who has spent any time in Israel recently has certainly noticed that the architectural emphasis of the 2000s is placed on tower-based neighborhoods, which have sprouted all over the outskirts of Israeli cities. These neighborhoods have been built in accordance with strict planning standards, which emphasize the need to prevent density and traffic congestion: towers are relatively far away from each other, the roads that connect them are wide and the distances between each intersection are substantial, thus enabling a better flow of traffic.
According to experts, however, this achieves the exact opposite. According to architect Dror Gershon, the CEO of “Merkhav – Israel’s Urban Movement,” recent studies show that despite the emphasis on towers, tower-based neighborhoods exhibit poor population dispersion and poor rates of land utilization.
Except that the biggest problem with these neighborhoods has to do with traffic. “These neighborhoods force dwellers to own two cars in order to maintain a normative household,” explains Dr. Yoav Lehrman, an associate with the Planet Urban Planning company. “In these neighborhoods, the main entrance to the building is the parking lot, and if you don’t have a dog, it’s most likely that you’ll never actually take a walk in your own neighborhood.”
The solution is that in 2048 more and more people will live in neighborhoods in which owning a private vehicle is not obligatory. How do we do this? “We need to grow inward, not outward,” says Gershon.
The neighborhoods of the future, then, are much denser, and they herald a return to the old urban landscape that meets all of the city dweller’s needs – from employment and shopping to recreation and culture – and all within walking distance. Take Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood for example. “Florentine is a crowded neighborhood that fails to meet any current architectural standard,” says Lehrman. “And yet it is a highly sought-after neighborhood in which a small and old apartment costs four times as much as a new three-bedroom apartment in Rosh HaAyin. And why? Because people can live in the neighborhood without having to use a private vehicle for everything. The problem is that the current system does not know how to approve construction projects of this kind today, and this will have to change. And soon. Otherwise, it’s going to get worse and worse.”
First published on August 8, 2018, 7:52 PM.