Climate change & Tel Aviv: How the White City becomes the 'Green City' - opinion
Last week, modern Israel celebrated its 74th Independence Day. But, the city of Tel Aviv is actually significantly older – it was founded in 1909, next to the port city of Jaffa. In the 1930s, it became known as the White City, after its white Bauhaus buildings in the center.
Today, Tel Aviv-Jaffa is known for its start-ups and culture, as well as its architecture. When people think of the city, they often think of its diverse and liberal lifestyle, its beaches, restaurants and nightlife, and it’s even known for being the vegan capital of the world. However, many people would argue it should equally be known for its climate action.
Tel Aviv has been ranked number two in the world after Silicon Valley for its cleantech ecosystem. The Global Startup Ecosystem Cleantech Report is published by policy advisory and research organization Startup Genome, and examines three million start-ups, covering 280 cities. The rankings take into account start-ups dedicated to solving climate issues, like green energy, logistics and transport.
Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai believes that thinking about sustainability, green energy and climate protection is part of the DNA of the city. “From the planning to the execution stages, we think green, plan green, imagine green. We are one of the world’s leading cities in climate protection.... Those are not just words. We are committed to action.”
From waves to weaves, to waste
Take energy, for instance. Jaffa Port is home to Eco Wave Power (EWP), whose innovative technology produces clean and affordable electricity from ocean and sea waves. While the Jaffa project has been operating an off-grid pilot power station since 2014, this is soon going to being connected to the grid. The company has also signed agreements with Gibraltar and Spain to help them advance clean energy.
Recognized as a pioneering technology by Israel’s chief scientist, the company has received grants from the Energy Ministry, as well as the European Regional Development Fund, and the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation fund. EWP has also been awarded the Solar Impulse Foundation’s Efficient Solution label, and received numerous commendations, including the United Nations’ Global Climate Action Award.
The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality also recently announced a pilot it is running with LumiWeave, whose flexible and lightweight, innovative fabric has been installed at the Atidim business park. The leaf-shaped covering provides shade during the day and non-polluting lighting at night, and the system is powered entirely by solar energy.
Adhering to safety standards, the company says its technology is able to withstand all weather conditions and can continue to provide lighting even after three days without sun. Industrial and product designer Anai Green, one of the cofounders of the company, won the prestigious Women4Climate’s tech challenge for this innovation.
Tel Aviv-Jaffa also has its sights set on waste. Its goal is to be single-use plastics free within three years. The municipality started by banning disposable plastics from nurseries and schools, and has just announced they will be banned from its beaches starting this summer. It will soon turn its attention toward helping businesses cut their plastic waste.
And Tel Aviv is coming up with creative ideas to cut down on waste in the city. At the Tel Aviv Marathon, for example, plastic bottle use was reduced by 75% by offering water to thirsty runners in perishable cups. These were then collected for recycling and composting, alongside other waste and production equipment from the event. In addition, runners were encouraged to donate clothing – including their marathon shirts – to the Pass It On reuse initiative.
Changing the way we get around
While not everyone is capable of running a marathon, the municipality is aiming to invert the transportation pyramid – prioritizing walking, cycling and public transportation over private cars. So, what have they done recently?
For starters, Tel Aviv has converted over 20 parts of the city to pedestrian-oriented areas. And to make walking around easier, work is being carried out on hundreds of intersections, sidewalks and roads, improving infrastructure, shading, removing barriers from public spaces and converting streets into sidewalks.
My husband has become a bit bicycle-obsessed since the lockdowns. He loves the Tel-O-Fun bike-sharing project and the 160 km. of bicycle paths across the city. Every day, 150,000 bike rides are taken. And demand is expected to grow even further, as bike paths more than double to 350 km. by 2025.
The municipality is also adding tens of kilometers of public transport preference lanes and is working with the Transportation Ministry to improve the level of public transport service. This includes improving the railway tracks leading to the city, as well as the metro and light rail.
They’re also encouraging alternatives to cars, such as the scooters you see on practically every street corner and Auto-Tel, the first car-sharing-by-the-minute company in Tel Aviv, which has already reportedly taken 1,200 vehicles off the road.
In the future, we may even see eco-air taxis. The first prototype by Israeli start-up Pentaxi was on display at the 2022 AutoMotor Show at Tel Aviv Expo. The company’s eVTOL (electrical vertical takeoff and landing) plane will first be available for cargo (expected by 2025) and subsequently for passengers (by at least 2028). The planes should be able to fly up to 320 km. and travel at a speed of 240 kph. But, we may have to wait a while longer, as Pentaxi is apparently looking at the United States and Japan as their initial markets.
Sharing best practices
Lessons learned in Tel Aviv-Jaffa are being shared across the country, as well as across the world. For instance, the municipality is an active member of C40 cities, a network of major global cities committed to urgent action to combat the climate crisis. The municipality is on seven working groups, dealing with climate issues ranging from cooling cities, wave power and ecology, to managing floodwater, green construction, food and innovation. It often shares best practices with the network, and recently presented the LumiWeave project at C40.
Another big focus is on sharing knowledge with citizens across Tel Aviv’s different neighborhoods, so they can become participants in combating climate change and live more sustainable lives. Starting with young children in schools, the municipality also works to educate through youth groups and community centers.
The education campaign appears to be making a difference. Seven years ago, for example, there were 25 community gardens and only 17% of households recycled. Today, there are 60 community gardens and 40% of households now recycle, suggesting that when people know more, they do more to help.
As Eitan Ben Ami, director of Tel Aviv-Jaffa’s Environment and Sustainability Authority, said: “As a municipality, we have a responsibility to invest in infrastructure, but equally we are investing in supporting citizens’ initiatives and educating people to take action. It’s a big task and we’re doing it, as well as sharing best practices with other cities. We’re learning from others and others are learning from us.”
Undoubtedly, there is more work to be done to clean up the currently traffic-blocked, busy city. But, it’s also clear that it’s on the right (bike) path. Perhaps in the future, the White City will be renamed the Green City? ■
The views expressed are those of the author.
The writer is Middle East correspondent for India’s WION (World Is One) TV news channel. The author of Tikkun Olam: Israel vs COVID-19, she has helped numerous multinationals report on their contributions to tackling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.