Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tel Aviv

I spent a few days in Tel Aviv last week, and decided to look at the city with new eyes and see what impression I formed.

My normal view of the city is that it is noisy, polluted, crowded, and stressful. The traffic noise is certainly constant, day and night, justifying the slogan "The city that never sleeps" in a sense they probably did not intend. Central Tel Aviv is also polluted, and the climate there seems more humid than here in Haifa, at least at this time of year.

A city has two main components: the physical and the human. I spent much of my time there walking around, looking at buildings and watching people. Both aspects are interesting to observe.

Central Tel Aviv is famous for its Bauhaus International Style buildings, giving it the nickname "the White City", and earning it the status of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Some of these buildings are currently being restored. I like this style, and there are some similar buildings in Haifa, though probably not so many and not in such a concentrated area. I also observed the work to rebuild Habima theatre. The new design seems to echo the original, and I hope the building will fit in well with its surroundings and with people's memories of the original, a local landmark.

Tel Aviv is built on a grid pattern, to some extent, with many roads either parallel at right angles to the sea. There are many tall hotels along the seafront, which blocks both the view of the sea and the sea breeze, though sometimes pedestrians suddenly get a breath of sea air in the middle of all the traffic and noise. Haifa has avoided this problem, with one major exception, by not allowing large buildings along the seafront. Haifa has the additional advantage of not being flat like Tel Aviv, so sea views are available far inland, from the slopes of Mount Carmel.

The people of Tel Aviv are a varied and generally tolerant population. Young people from all over the country move to Tel Aviv to study, work, or to find somewhere they can fit in. The population seems densely packed together, compared with Haifa where there are tree-filled gaps between various residential areas, usually in the valleys between the various peaks of the Carmel. Walking along a major shopping street on Friday around lunchtime showed me that the people can be relaxed, though the constant traffic remained as tense as ever. Many people were walking dogs of all shapes and sizes. There were many cyclists, something I have become unaccustomed to here in hilly Haifa. In some places bicycle lanes have been marked out on the pavement (sidewalk), and pedestrians usually respect these lanes and leave them clear, except where there is no other option due to parked cars or cafe tables blocking the pedestrian areas.

I saw some of the better aspects of Tel Aviv, along with the problems I remember from when I lived there for a year (1995, I think). I will try to appreciate these positive aspects in the future, though on balance the experience made me happy to live where I do in Haifa.

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