Public Gardens and Spaces in Tel Aviv

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Visits, Miscellaneous

The city of Tel Aviv is 102 years old. It gave birth when immigrants from Europe came pouring into Israel. Due to the overcrowded conditions in the ancient Mediterranean city of Jaffa, in April 1909, a few dozen families decided to build a suburb. At the time, there were only a couple of streets in Tel Aviv, along with piles of deep sand and some citrus groves. The Tel Aviv population grew quickly; Meir Dizengoff, the head of the local council, realized that he needed to design a well thought out plan for the expansion of Tel Aviv.

He hired Sir Patrick Geddes, a Scottish urban planner, biologist, and philosopher, along with a plethora of other talents.

“This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent on the leaves. By leaves we live. Some people have strange ideas that they live by money. They think energy is generated by the circulation of coins. Whereas the world is mainly a vast leaf colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass: and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests.”
Patrick Geddes

Gedde’s plan was to make Tel Aviv a garden city with tree lined pedestrian boulevards and a separation between main and residential streets. His design included shared public spaces; squares and parks on major boulevards and in residential areas.

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A shaded, eucalyptus allee that leads from one end of Gan Meir Park to the other

 

Today Tel Aviv is a thriving, international, fast paced city. The major boulevards consist of long and wide allees, with playgrounds and sitting areas on either side of the pedestrian and bike walkways. The ancient ficus trees that thrive there surrounded by cement are a testament to their hardiness under such stressful conditions. Over the past several years, the public park/boulevards have gone through major renovations; these areas have become informal hangouts for children, older adults, dog walkers, bike riders, and folks just hanging out.

The oldest planned garden (from what residents have told me) in the city is Gan Meir. It is a large public park surrounded on each side by quiet residential streets right off of the main commercial areas. It would be easy to pass by without even knowing it was a park unless your were on the look out. The bones of the park are shady allees of eucalyptus trees with a square in the middle and a smattering of older deciduous and evergreen trees on the perimeter. When I visited, a group of young adults were sitting on the ground strumming on their guitars. At one end of the park is a large pergola which I’ve been told is part of the original plan with a lily pond next to it. Behind the pond is a playground. The rest of the park, on either sides of the allees, are separate garden areas, bisected with walkways and sitting areas.

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A bare pergola close to an entryway surrounded by concrete.

 

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Benches abutting playground

 

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Side garden area with a backdrop of lush cypresses

 

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Lily filled man made pond…any water element in Tel Aviv is a luxury

I would guess that when the park was originally built that there was some type of planting design; if so, it’s no longer apparent. There are a smattering of older trees and bushes, some palm trees in sunnier areas, plenty of bare soil, with other bedraggled plants. It is a park whose heyday is long gone. The center square is no longer grass (or groundcover); just dirt.

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I’ve been told that the municipality of Tel Aviv has the resources to transform this city into a true sustainable ‘garden city’ (which is their 10 year plan). The transformation of the major allees into well executed public spaces should set precedent for the rest of the city. Rather than wasting money on filling public areas with a smattering of annuals that need to be replanted each season, they should be filled with ornamental grasses and drought resistant perennials that can offer texture and color throughout the year. Plant material shouldn’t be thrown together and planted in mid-strips on large streets or on the banks of the Mediterranean boardwalk with no sense of design; rather a well respected garden designer and urban planner should be hired to create a master plan for the city’s public areas.

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A garden area with little emphasis placed on vegetation

The decision makers of Tel Aviv only have to look at Jerusalem to be inspired. Its plant material, design, and layout of green areas is a model that Tel Aviv would be smart to follow. Alot of the credit goes to Naomi Tsur, The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Environment, whose vision, persistence and knowledge is transforming Jerusalem into a more sustainable and magnificent, green urban environment.

Photos below are of Jerusalem

April 21, 2011-Jerusalem...day before Good Friday 104

April 21, 2011-Jerusalem...day before Good Friday 103

April 21, 2011-Jerusalem...day before Good Friday 102

April 21, 2011-Jerusalem...day before Good Friday 108

If New York was able to transform Bryant Park, a run down, crime ridden, hangout for drug dealers, into one of the crown jewels of mid-town NYC, where folks throng to throughout the day (have you been there during lunch hours?),  there is absolutely no reason why Tel Aviv can’t do the same. If you want to be a first class international, green city, then you’ve got to make it happen. It’s up to the mayor to shake things up in his government and get some visionaries into power who will help transform Tel Aviv’s green spaces into models for 21st century sustainable urban living,

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Bryant Park in November…beautifully designed deciduous gardens
Fran Sorin
The 10th Anniversary Edition of Fran's classic book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, has recently been published. Updated with a new foreword by the renowned author, Larry Dossey, M.D., it has dozens of endorsements from renowned spiritual, gardening, and personal development authors and experts in their fields. A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology and One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, Fran is a renowned gardening expert, passionate gardener, deep ecologist, inspirational speaker, ordained interfaith minister, soul tending coach, and CBS Radio news contributor. See less Google+ | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest
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Cathy June 27, 2011, 5:34 pm

Both cities are on our list of places to visit in the next several years. I hope that those with the ability to effect change in Tel Aviv either come to the same conclusions you did or better yet, read this post and heed your advice!

As the capital city, it should be number one in beauty as well. Let’s hope they re-establish this as a true priority.

Great post… it was nice to get a glimpse of both gardens.

Cathy,
Thanks for your comments. Both cities are worth visiting. I’ve never met any one who wasn’t in awe of Jerusalem. Besides the history of the place and the thickness of its conflict (and yet….what a diverse group of people living there), the magnitude of its beauty, both topographically, the amount of green it has, and its level of well thought out and executed designs in public spaces and gardens, is top rate.

Yet, Tel Aviv is the place to live; I believe it is rated the 7th most livable place in the world recently by a national publication (Business Week, National Geographic?….I think I saw it in the NY Times). It sits on the Mediterranean, is buzzing 24 hours a day and is cosmopolitan. As a matter of fact, some Tel Avivians (like New Yorkers), think that their city is the center of the universe.

In fairness to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem’s temperatures tend to be 10-15F cooler without the level of humidity in Tel Aviv. I did find a wholesaler halfway between TA and Jerusalem who happened to get his degree in horticulture at NYBG and eventually moved back to Israel. He has brought in a large number of perennial grasses; he is a member of PPA and goes to the U.S. at least once a year for their annual conference. He even gave me some seeds for a beautiful black grass that John Greenlee had originally given to him. He has plenty of miscanthus, panicum, carex, pennisetum….in other words, enough for the municipality of Tel Aviv to make some significant changes….

The point being…..there is no need for Tel Avivians to live as they do. I think they either only know what surrounds them OR this type of beauty is just not a priority…unlike England whose entire culture is steeped in gardening.

I really believe that Naomi Tsur, the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, is the individual who is going to lead the green movement in Israel. She recently was in Chicago and Philadelphia and has twinned with both of the cities AND is planning to do a ‘High Line’ type of public park (abutting old railroad tracks). She has been in contact with the founders of The High Line….and architectural firms from the states have met with her about it and other parks in Jerusalem. I’m looking forward to seeing what she accomplishes. Fran

Donna June 27, 2011, 7:22 pm

Such a coincidence, today I was at a talk by a fellow blogger who showed slides, some of which was from his trip to Israel. I was amazed at the greenery and extensive gardens. Your post reinforced what I learned today about a remarkable place that I assumed was devoid of thoughtful landscapes.

Donna,

There are thoughtful landscapes here…..BUT horticulturally, the country is far behind the U.S. and much of Europe. What alot of folks don’t know about Israel is the huge diversity of plant material here. People from all over the world come on plant expeditions and to do fellowships at The Jerusalem Botanical Garden (which has an excellent reputation). The wildflowers are stupendous in early spring in the Northern part of the country….the Golan Heights and the Galilee. It is hard to believe that such a small country (the size of Delaware or smaller) is a composite of topography and growing conditions. Fran

Donna June 28, 2011, 9:18 am

I also learned how they grow much of the food crops that gets supplied to other countries, too. Is this something you found to be true also? It is really interesting and enlightening. I would believe the wildflowers are remarkable.

They do export fruits. The cut flower industry is pretty phenomenal as well. Fran

Elephant's Eye June 28, 2011, 4:15 pm

There is a wild flowers of Israel blog on Blotanical.

Thanks Elephant’s Eye. I’ll check it out. Fran