You Say You Want A Revolution?

Rothschild Boulevard is one of the busiest, most central and expensive streets in  Tel Aviv. It represents a thriving, major hub of the best of Tel Aviv.

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It’s a community of sorts, an allee with grassed strips on either side of the walkways. The stateliness and beauty of this boulevard is due in large part to the dozens of several decades old ficus trees that line the central strip. They offer a canopy of shade… a respite surrounded by urban beauty.

Teenagers, elderly folks, and parents out with their toddlers and babies, converge here. At cross streets, kiosks with seating areas are filled with people enjoying the scene, eating some food, and hanging out with friends.

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It was only a month ago that a protest about the cost of living in Tel Aviv began; started by one young woman on Facebook. Within a matter of a week, hundreds of people pitched tents in the city in order to make a statement.

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It’s by no accident that the epicenter of what has turned into the largest social action protest that Israel has ever experienced is taking place on Rothschild Blvd (and has now spread to other tree lined streets in Tel Aviv and throughout the country.)

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The entire boulevard is lined with 2 rows of tents in the center strip and the 2 side strips that plank the walkways. Hundreds of tents have cropped up. What has become known as Tent City has now spread to other major tree lined streets in the city. People have brought furniture, refrigerators, beds; many are actually living full time in their tents. It is reminiscent of Woodstock, kids playing their guitars and singing, signs posted all over, ad hoc kitchens set up with the food donated by the community, and of course, organizers keeping this informal revolution moving forward….twittering, facebooking and organizing…so much so that less than 2 weeks ago, 250,000 people peacefully congregated on Rothschild Blvd. and proceeded to march throughout the city, culminating with a rally in the main square of Tel Aviv, Rabin Square.

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Over the past decade, the public has been made aware of the environmental benefits of trees. But the health benefits of trees, both mentally and physically, have been less talked about.

Here’s a laundry list of some of their benefits:

Trees make communities livable for people and their activities.

People exercise more…. jogging, walking, and bicycling.

Children and adults have a cool place to sit, relax, play, and hang out. They spend more time outside.

All of these activities increase the interactions with others and facilitate in creating a sense of community.

As reported in  Keep Indianapolis Beautiful…

“Trees Reduce Crime, Increase Public Safety and Build Community
•  A University of Illinois study finds that trees in urban areas are directly
correlated with lower levels of fear, fewer incivilities, and less violent and
aggressive behavior.

•  In an inner-city neighborhood, the greener the residence, the lower the crime
rate.  Residents reported fewer violent crimes and property crimes in green
neighborhoods as compared to those that were barren.

•  Researchers found fewer reports of physical violence in homes that had trees
outside the buildings. Of the residents interviewed, 14% of residents living in
barren conditions have threatened to use a knife or gun against their children
versus 3% for the residents living in green conditions.”

To read about THE HEALING POWER OF TREES in the same article and more, click on here.

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Directly across the street from Rothschild 2 new ‘cultural’ buildings. They are monoliths; cold, impersonal, and glitzy. I don’t know how much they cost. But to put it in perspective, Tel Aviv could have become ‘a city in a garden’ had this money been allocated to greening, creating public parks, and ‘horticulturizing’ the city. If Howard Roark, the protagonist in Ayn Rand’s famous book, The Fountainhead, was alive today, he would be livid.

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One of the first things I noticed when I got to Rothschild and saw these massive structures across the street was not only the bareness of them but the emptiness. Not one person had sauntered over, not even the tourists who had come to check out the scene. The only folks on that side of the street are the international and local press who are following a story that won’t disappear.

The real culture though, the culture of the heart and citizens, and what has now being called a revolution, is taking place under the canopies of trees. So thank you trees for this extraordinary community….and revolution… that you’ve helped to create.

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About Fran Sorin

Fran’s book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, now considered a classic, was groundbreaking when published as no one had written about gardening in the context of creativity, spirituality, and transformation.

In addition to being a recognized garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is a broadcaster, journalist, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and Soul Tender.

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7 Responses to You Say You Want A Revolution?

  1. professorroush August 17, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Don’t let the despots know that eliminating the trees will decrease the protesters…or they’ll be gone in an instant in some countries.

    I wonder, however, which comes first; do the trees come first and then crime magically decreases, or is it all the result of a community that has enough pride, extra money, and free time to beautify their neighborhood that results in decreased crime in the area? Since the latter would also be more likely to report and fight crimes that attack the neighborhood?

    Interesting thoughts about your chicken/egg theory.Your point about neighborhoods reporting and fighting crimes in a neighborhood where they’re vested makes sense.

    I helped develop some school/community gardens in West Philly. One of the neighborhoods had terrible crime. But after the students got turned on to nature/gardening, etc., we were able to recruit block captains and galvanize a neighborhood to beautify their streets and to build a community veggie garden.

    Also, if you check out the work done by Lily Yeh in North Philly….she has created something extraordinary in one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. Fran

  2. Cathryn Farr August 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    I am impressed with the cleanliness that your photos showed in the “tent city”. Is this how it really is? I cringe at the thought of tent cities in Seattle where the refuse and deification is everywhere and it is a plague to the community. What makes this gathering so different?

    Cathryn,
    Because I don’t know the origins of the tent city in Seattle, I can’t speak to it. The tent city in Israel is a nascent movement. My guess is that it be permanent. Upcoming international events could very quickly make the protest obsolete. The government is also beginning to meet some of the demands of the protesters…..there are now many factions!

    Originally, the neighbors and restaurants on the street were totally in favor of the concept. Restaurant business is booming, etc But the homeowners have gotten sick of the crowds, noise, congestion, etc. When I’m there, I see no trash…and as of yet, there has been a minimum of crime. BUT there are other problems that have arisen; it was inevitable.

    What makes this protest different? First, look what’s happening right now in other parts of the world. England is having mass rioting and looting….Israel had over 250,000 people marching on a Saturday night, with no violence, screaming, etc…to make their voices heard. It felt like the ghost of Gandhi was conducting the entire event. This is a movement with a cause. I have not experienced anything like it since the 60s so I find it exciting and invigorating. A sense of change is in the air. Fran

  3. Noel Kingsbury August 18, 2011 at 1:23 am #

    Great to see Israel joining the Arab Spring! Now you can really be part of the neighbourhood. Maybe environmental politics – like street trees and reafforestation – can be a source of joint action across old political divides – a cedar forest from Haifa to Damascus and Beirut perhaps.

    Noel….

    Thanks for your positive thoughts! I believe that anything is possible. Very often divisions between groups can be assuaged/healed through means other verbal ones. A common cause or love of something (like music) can make miracles happen. Fran

  4. elaine rickett August 18, 2011 at 5:54 am #

    I had no idea all this was happening in Tel Aviv there has been no mention on the news. At least it is peaceful, unlike the riots we have just had. I don’t think trees would have made much of a difference to the mindless looting that has just occurred.

    Elaine…
    There has been mention of it the protest the news. Alot of friends of mine in the states have talked about it with me….but it is probably not broadcast as a major story or on the front page of any paper….although the BBC has been camped out here and I have seen stories about it on air. As of yesterday because of the horrendous terrorist attacks in Eilat where several Israelis were killed, the social action committee decided to cancel their weekly Saturday night protest/march.

    I have been watching only the headlines about the rioting and looting in England on TV….and still have absolutely no idea how it happened….and why….it feels like it came out of no where. Fran

  5. Erika August 18, 2011 at 6:26 am #

    As someone living in Israel it is phenomenal to hear ur outlook on this new era of activism. I think most Israelis would agree with you and as a citizen I am very proud of the peaceful way that the tent city has been formed and the way that the protests have been conducted. Anyway great article Fran, you hit the subject head-on!

    Erika,
    Thanks for your kind words. It felt wonderful writing about the power of trees on creating a community…. and how Israelis have gone about making their needs known in such a peaceful manner Gandhi would have been proud. Fran

  6. Cathy August 18, 2011 at 8:29 am #

    You’ve perfectly captured what trees provide – and the effect of an absence of trees and greenery. I would have no interest in those buildings either, and would likely have to be dragged across to them, kicking and screaming.

    I’m also impressed with the cleanliness of the tent city and can only assume that the people who are “living” there care about many things, their cause being just one, their community and environment being another.

    Kathy,
    It just seems like common sense that cities from around the world follow the example set by Chicago, Washington, Portland, Toronto plus dozens of others in the greening of a city. I can only guess that there are decision makers in Tel Aviv who prefer to adhere to the old way of doing business because they benefit from it. I have met with the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem who is charge of the greening of the city about helping her in creating a High Line type of public space. This woman has a vision, is incredibly intelligent, and persistent…and is making changes….Spending time and potentially working with her is a dream.

    The people at the tent city do represent a large swathe of causes. A week after the protest began, doctors who work in the hospital (with no private practice) and make close to minimum wage with horrendously long hours, started protesting as did policemen /women, social workers, mothers for the cost of day care, parents of children with special needs, environmental groups, divorced fathers who want more parental rights, the cost of education, and the list goes on. Everyone has gotten in on the protest…and most with good cause.

    It will be interesting to see what happens this fall with the school year beginning, the vote in the United Nations and now with the terrorist attack in Eilat. Fran

  7. allan becker-gardenguru August 19, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    Thanks for reminding me that there is more to Tel Aviv than concrete Bauhaus-style architecture. I’m sure that the Ficus trees were everywhere when I visited last year, but they were so high above the air-conditioned touring van that we hardly noticed them. Next time, we will have to do more walking!
    BTW, every blog that you post about Tel Aviv, makes me yearn to return. Please don’t stop blogging about this Mediterranean coast city. Reading about it while enjoying your photos is the next best thing to being there.

    Alan,
    Between the Mediterranean Sea, non-stop night life and the Bauhaus architecture (known as the White City), it’s easy to miss the magnificent, towering ficus trees lining some of the major allees. As you probably already know, Rothschild Blvd. is steeped in the history of Tel Aviv. Am glad, Allan, that you are enjoying the posts on Tel Aviv. I never thought I’d be writing it but because I now live here most of the year, it’s hard not to. I do hope you come to visit soon….I would love to meet you! Warmly, Fran