What would happen if a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist were to take charge of a polluted and traffic-clogged city like Tel Aviv? We may soon find out.
Member of Knesset Dr. Dov Khenin announced his candidacy for mayor of the city on Monday. His campaign is expected to present a serious challenge to reigning Mayor Ron Huldai, who has run the city for the last ten years.
Khenin, an MK from the Arab-Jewish Hadash party, currently heads the Knesset’s environmental-social caucus, and has managed to rack up an impressive list of accomplishments in his two years of parliamentary work. Before getting elected to the Knesset, Khenin worked as a human rights lawyer and served as head of chairman of Life and Environment, the umbrella organization of Israel’s environmental movement.
Khenin’s positions on many of the issues are diametrically opposed to the policies pursued by Huldai. Khenin is expected to campaign on a platform of affordable housing, public transport instead of road building and preservation of Tel Aviv’s low-rise skyline.
Here’s what he had to say in an interview to Ynet (Hebrew link) on Monday:
Ron Huldai is a very energetic and able man, but the question is if his activity is moving things in the right direction. The city needs a different social and environmental agenda and the municipality needs to become more transparent and open, and less centralized. We have answers and alternatives, and we can take the city in a different direction and give Tel Aviv-Jaffa back to its citizens.
I think Huldai is very well connected to the wants and needs of a small layer of the city’s population – namely, people of means and developers. He is definately disconnected from what is happening among other groups. In a meeting with him that I participated in a month ago, he called the housing problem a “psychosis” – whoever thinks this way simply lives in a bubble.
There is a very large group of people in Tel Aviv that, on the one hand, the city depends on, and on the other hand, pushes them out of the city. I am referring, of course, to the young people, students and young couples that cannot continue to live in the city due to the high housing prices that are going up all the time. Veteran populations are also feeling the pressure. In my opinion, Huldai’s policies are making Tel Aviv-Jaffa into a city for the rich only.
Photo: Niv Calderon, Ynet.
A City for All (“Ir Licoolanu”), Khenin’s list in the November municipal elections, is a new grassroots political movement composed of residents’ groups and various social and environmental organizations. Many of the organization’s core members are veterans of neighborhood struggles and environmental activism in Tel Aviv.
The party, created earlier this year, also hosts a series of neighborhood and topical forums, which allow for the representation of a wide range of interest groups in the city. Through these forums, A City for All has drawn up a comprehensive platform with policies that promote affordable housing, urban renewal, clean air, quality education and equality and social solidarity in Tel Aviv and Jaffa.
According to Ynet (Hebrew link), A City for All also has big plans to upgrade the city’s transportation network. The plan, entitled “Mobility for All”, contains far-reaching changes that, if implemented, would bring about a revolution in the way people get around the city.
The major innovation in the plan is the focus on immediate and medium-term transportation solutions. The plan recognizes that the Dan region’s light rail/subway project, with its first line not expected to begin running for another decade, and its second line still stuck in the planning stages, is still a long way off – and the only plans on the table for the interim call for building more roads, interchanges and parking lots in the city.
A City for All’s plan envisions a network of 14 main routes, with upgraded, high-capacity buses traveling along exclusive bus lanes. The routes would criss-cross the city along major north-south and east-west arteries, and would be similar in design to Haifa’s new “Metronit” system.
Once the system is up and running, a congestion charge will be implemented, which drivers wishing to enter the city during rush hour will be required to pay. The plan also calls for building physically separated bike lanes at the expense of car lanes, and clearing sidewalks of obstacles to pedestrian traffic. Bus fares would also be lowered, and limited bus service would be provided on Shabbat in areas where the residents so desire.