POSTCARD: Israeli Urbanism in Tel Aviv


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Israel. Urbanism. Probably not two words you often see together. Tel Aviv was little more than some sand dunes along the sea a little more than a 100 years ago. Today the metro area of Tel Aviv is home to 47% of Israel's population. A brash, modern metropolis has sprung up. Progressive urbanism has arrived. The city offers more than a few interesting spots to enjoy the Mediterranean climate.

Public access waterfront.

But the distant Mediterranean nation offers a slew of interesting urban ideas, some in progress here, others not though we wish they were for our sake here in Philadelphia. Unlike Philly, which will be launching bike share this spring, Tel Aviv has hosted bike share for nearly 4 years. Locations along the coast and within the city were plentiful. A variety of languages within the automated rental kiosk meant that your Hebrew-illiterate correspondent found no trouble navigating the English menus to rent a bike. Clear explanations of pricing helped to and the free for 30 minutes rule meant many of my trips were free. 

Musicians find fertile ground along the port.

Tel Aviv also figured out a long time ago that its coastline was one of its greatest assets. As we slowly but surely redevelop our beleagured waterfront, Tel Aviv offered a vision of the future. Wide beach with recreational equipment, playgrounds, shelter and shading, public showers, clean sea water, landscaping, protected bike lanes and bike traffic signals felt like something akin to Dutch urbanism with a decidedly non-Dutch climate. Israelis also didn't shy from density along their waterfront. High-rises dotted the coastline. Visions of a denser riverfront danced in my head as I enjoyed cycling in an environment free from cars whizzing past me on a shared roadway at over 50 mph. 

Protected Bike Lane Hyperlapse - Tel Aviv

Uber gave me a choice between a traditional taxi or an Uber XL with enough room for 15 people. Sheruts, a sort of shared taxi with regular routes, supplemented a bus system not burdened with social stigma. Wide, generous pedestrian-only streets dominated much of the old urban core of Tel Aviv. Streets were given over to commerce not cars. Even the dingy and slighly confusing Central Bus Terminal seemed better than our Greyhound/Peter Pan mess on Filbert or the outdoor waiting game behind 30th Street Station.

Old Jaffa Port Hyperlapse

Street life and outdoor cafes were bumping until well past 2 am, even in the middle of the Mediterranean winter. Here in Philly some spineless politician or RCO would cave to NIMBYs who want all the advantages of living in a city but don't want noise or vibrancy. 

Rankin Abergel plays some beautiful music Jaffa's Public Space

And yet for all the advances, many of the familiar issues we experience as Americans are present in Israel. Parking was anything but easy. Most didn't seem to expect it to be. The garages I did see were ugly urban eyesores like the practically collapsing one that houses Little Pete's. Israel is also no stranger to identity politics or fundamentalist religion. Yet all of that didn't seem to matter when it came to urban planning. Tel Aviv seemed to cleave more tightly to a European sense of urbanity than an American one. Despite the relative newness of the city Tel Aviv offered something very authentic and vibrant, something I hope Philly can emulate with more thoughtful leadership.

Fishing in the clear, clean water.

Old Jaffa, predating Tel Aviv by several millennia.

Miles of clean beach.

Protected Bike Lanes for miles.

Two-way. Clearly marked and separated from pedestrians.

Bike share bike. Awesome since 2011.

Bike Traffic Lights

Go eastward young person on bike.

Pedestrian only bliss, with the occasional cyclist.

Graffiti love.

TLV's answer to the Italian Market when closed. Notice there are NO CARS.

Italian Market in TLV? Yes, but without the CARS.

Morris Columns are a bit messy but they provide a needed public forum.

Good ol' Freddie on a Morris Column.

Interactive art along the Rothschild, the city's beating heart.

Submerged garden/play area

Raised up play area.

Bike share station. One of many.


Some fun street art.


Did we find an Isaiah Zagar in Tel Aviv?


Love the ceramic kitten. Isaiah Zagar echoes in Tel Aviv.

Sunset over a beach spanning the entire city.

Last Updated: Friday, 13 February 2015 @ 08.38
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Written By: 
geoff's picture Geoff Kees Thompson Founder + Urban Planner Website: About the Author:

Other than time away from Philly studying his masters in Urban Planning in the Netherlands, Geoff has lived here since 2005. He founded This Old City to advocate for better public space as a means to economic development, improved public health, lower crime and a more environmentally sustainable future. He currently sits on the Executive Board of SOSNA and is the head volunteer gardener for Saint Mark's Church at 1625 Locust Street.


He is also Chair of The 5th Square PAC, an organization committed to voter education and the funding of progressive urbanist candidates for Philadelphia's future. 


Follow This Old City on Twitter @thisoldcity and Facebook or Geoff individually @geoffkees

Follow The 5th Square on Twitter @5thsq and Facebook