Gerard Heumann


Promenade des Anglais. (Wikimedia Commons)
Promenade des Anglais. (Wikimedia Commons)

Israel’s precious, priceless and tiny Mediterranean coastline extends for just 195 kilometers along the Mediterranean Sea from Rosh Hanikra to the north of Gaza, its sloping shoreline filled with sand, historical sites and a rich biodiversity. Unfortunately, man-made development – ports, breakwaters, marinas, power and desalination plants and coal jetties have had impacts along with natural causes causing erosion and collapse in some areas. Preserving and maintaining this rare natural resource, protecting it against rising sea levels and flooding, must be our first priority.

But what of Israel’s present seaside urban development? To say that the poorly designed private residential towers that have been built on the first line to the sea in many Israeli cities by powerful and wealthy entrepreneurs are not in the public interest, would be an understatement. As Israel has become more and more privatized the all-important public and social aspect of our lives that is gradually vanishing must be restored.

How might we develop our Mediterranean coastline in this period of rapid urban development far more responsibly? The main points:

Connectivity – connect and integrate the coastline with its urban context to serve community needs, balancing public and private interests, public space prioritized, responding sensitively to the uniqueness of each site.

Getting there should be made interesting, key sea views protected, gateways to the coastline a possibility. Visual signals such as a palm tree seen from a distance, would make walkways and beaches a pleasant surprise once you reach them.

Public transport access is of course important, parking sensitively handled, vacant “sleeping” cars never situated on the seafront. Large asphalt expanses adjacent to the beach, such as those in Rishon Letzion, avoided.

Walkability – the public pedestrian network ought to be clearly defined with a varied spatial sequence, enhanced by a landscape architecture whose visual language is consistent, articulating joints between access roads, bikeways and walkways, walkways and beaches. Sea views might sometimes be framed, sometimes hidden. Airy pergolas would provide shade with graceful seating facing the sea, open air sculpture along walkways, their termination points active and alive.

Parallel to the coastline – buildings of human scale and mixed-use with restaurants, some on a hotel’s upper floor terraces overlooking the sea, cafes, and shops at street level, apartments only on their upper floors.

Demonstrate consideration for those landlocked behind. Buildings might be positioned perpendicular to the coastline or staggered, the tallest buildings behind, with possible combinations of these strategies. Old and new buildings placed side by side, the first line to the sea broken up by well-designed public squares.

The residential towers that have been built seaside in Rishon Letzion, Tel-Aviv and Bat Yam must be understood as entirely inappropriate. Israel’s seven marinas for wealthy yacht owners, (another has been approved for Nahariya), permanently block public access to the coast. Future generations need beaches, not yachts. The unrelenting pressures of developers, most often with the full support of mayors, must be strongly rejected by our Ministry of Environmental Protection. Greed has no place here.

In this era of intense urban development impacting our lives and endangering our future, the importance of the arts of architecture and landscape architecture cannot be exaggerated. Learning from successful world-class examples such as the Promenade Des Englais in Nice, France whose excellent design translates into 1.5 billion tourist dollars a year, a good way to begin. Building responsibly along Israel’s Mediterranean coastline, vital to both the ecosystem and citizens requires of our national and public planning authorities to be well-informed, selecting committed architects, landscape architects and urban designers of high talent to carry out the work.

About the Author
Gerard Heumann is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.
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