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Urban Renewal the Israeli Way


Urban renewal of the Israeli way has been debated by Israeli local planning authorities for several decades now. This topic is not only hot in Israel but all over the world. What to do with old neighborhoods? Should they be knocked down and rebuilt? Should the buildings be renovated? What happens to the old population? Do they stay or just move away?

In this article, I will write about the different forms of urban renewal prevalent in Israel today.

Tama 38

Israel has known earthquakes in the past. Approximately every 100 years there is a major earthquake. The last major earthquake in Israel was in 1927 which caused heavy damage in Jerusalem, Jericho, Ramle, Tiberias, and Nablus. Another major earthquake occurred in 1995 in the Gulf of Aqaba. The recent deadly earthquakes in Turkey were felt in Israel as well.

The question is not whether there will be another earthquake in Israel but when there will be another earthquake in Israel. And the bigger question is: will the buildings hold up? In 1980 the Israeli standards authority updated its rules for the construction of large buildings to include instructions for the construction of buildings that will withstand earthquakes. So, what happens with buildings built before 1980?

That is where Tama 38 comes in. Tama 38 is a nationwide plan implemented by local planning commissions to strengthen buildings built before 1980 so that they will withstand an earthquake.

How TAMA 38 Works

The way it is done is the owners of the apartments in a building hire a construction company to strengthen the building. All the expenses and taxes are paid by the construction company. In return for this, the construction company is allowed to add floors to the building and sell those new apartments. The owners of the original apartments get upgraded, modernized apartments.

Today all new apartments are built with security rooms built of reinforced concrete and metal window shutters. These security rooms serve as a bedroom while replacing the fallout bomb shelters of the older buildings. In Tama 38 projects, building security rooms on the sides of buildings is one way of strengthening a building.

Today all new buildings allot parking spaces to apartments. These spaces are usually built under the buildings. Under Tama 38, an area is dug out under buildings, the foundations are strengthened and the apartment owners get a parking space where before they had none.

The Downside of Tama 38

The downside of Tama 38 is that they are really only economically viable in cities where the price of apartments is high. People purchasing apartments from construction companies in the newer part of the building very often cannot get mortgages. Adding the number of apartments to buildings in an already crowded neighborhood causes traffic problems and puts pressure on municipal services such as schools, kindergartens, nursery schools, medical clinics, and so forth.

The option to do a Tama 38 project is coming to a close in a few months.

Pinui Binui or Binui Pinui

The Hebrew word “Pinui” means to evacuate. The Hebrew word “Binui” means to build. The “Pinui Binui” project allows the owners of apartments in a building to hire a contractor who will demolish the existing building and build in its place a new building. Here too, the apartment owners do not pay the cost of this, and the construction company pays for their removal to a rented apartment until the construction of the new apartment building is complete. The apartment owners get a new apartment (very often with an added room, parking space, storage unit or porch) and the construction company gets to sell the new apartments it creates in the building.

The other project called “Binui Pinui” is when the construction company first constructs a new building before demolishing the old one. This is possible when the old building sits on a large plot of land with room for another building or when there is another empty plot of land nearby. As soon as the new building is completed the apartment owners move to their new apartments and the old building is demolished and another built in its place. The construction company gets to sell the new apartments.

Preservation of Historical Districts and Neighborhoods

In Israel, as in many countries in the world, the old city centers and “downtowns” have gotten old and decayed. These neighborhoods are special because they usually have important historical buildings in their midst and important historical and social events took place there. If you tear down these neighborhoods you erase the local and national heritage of a place.

In Israel, as in many places in the world, historic preservation deals with buildings and monuments. This is why you can find a preserved historical building that seems out of place or out of context with its surroundings. In many places in the world, the preservation of whole neighborhoods has become prevalent. The preservation of historic districts or conservation areas became town planning tools used by the local town planning authorities to upgrade their city centers and old neighborhoods.

What does this mean? The historic neighborhood’s boundaries are defined. Within these neighborhood boundaries, some buildings were given landmark status as historic buildings and buildings that were not. An owner of a building that does not have landmark status that wishes to renovate his building, tear it down or add to it, must follow the instructions of the local preservation commission. Depending on the rules set in place by the local town plan, this commission can set rules for the types of windows, the color of houses, architectural elements, and the materials and design of new additions.

Urban Renewal vs Historic Buildings

The idea behind this is to preserve the history, heritage, and spirit of place of the neighborhood. The history of the neighborhood and its buildings is researched. The local inhabitants are interviewed. Decisions are made as to what to do with empty plots between homes and buildings.

In Israel, there is another element that needs to be discussed and decisions made about. How to strengthen these buildings against earthquakes? Should floors be added to these buildings? Should parking lots be dug out under the buildings? How will all this affect the look of the historical buildings, the infrastructure, and the spirit of the place?

In Tel Aviv a new town plan was passed in 2015 called Tel Aviv town plan 5000. This town plan has marked certain historical neighborhoods for special treatment and preservation. Similar preservation town plans are being prepared in other cities as well that will earmark certain neighborhoods for preservation. However, it remains to be seen if the preservation of buildings on the one hand, and the strengthening of buildings against earthquakes, on the other hand, will be able to live side by side.

Nicole Levin

Nicole Levin Law Offices

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