Yediot Acharonot: Beer Sheva is Rebranding Itself

train-buildings-beersheva photoAs mentioned earlier this week on Green Prophet, Beer Sheva’s new mayor Rubik Danilovich has big plans for this city of 200,000 on the northern edge of Israel’s Negev desert.

He hopes to rebrand Beer Sheva through hiring a major architect to introduce common planning language, street furniture and greenery.
(Above: One of Beer Sheva’s trademark “train buildings,” photo from Yediot Acharonot).

The Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot ‘s Ilana Kuriel covered the ten-year development plan on Friday in Hebrew. Here is a summary of the piece in English.

“Presently, in some of Beer Sheva’s neighborhoods there aren’t even trash cans, the sidewalks are cracked, the roads are ridden with pot holes and the traffic circles are filled with undistinguished statues that uglify the landscape,” Kuriel wrote, before launching into a summary of the plan to improve the city.

She reported that the program will costs tens of millions of shekels, although the municipality has not released precise figures. It will depend on donations.

Yael Moria, the architect in charge of redesigning the cityscape, told Kuriel that the goal is “to return to the residents a sense of belonging that was lost, and to transform Beer Sheva into a green oasis.” This translates to street furniture, street signage, bike paths, erecting statues and monuments, redesigning traffic circles, planting new trees, designing fountains and creating bodies of water.

sandstorm-beer-shevaShe also noted that Beer Sheva’s main streets are wide and treeless, which gives pedestrians a sense of desolation. Her firm will try to humanize the roads with shade and greenery. (Right: Beer Sheva during a sandstorm, photo from Yediot Acharonot).

Mayor Danilovich, commenting on why his plan would succeed where others have failed, said “we want the edge of the street to speak a common language, so that people will say, ‘here, we’ve arrived in Beer Sheva.'” He also plans to renovate the dusty central bus station, which he says is an eyesore to anyone arriving in the city.

According to Kuriel, the previous Mayor Yitzchak Turner also tried to renovate the station with a $20 million plan, but nothing came of it.

Perhaps more than any of his other efforts, Danilovich’s hope to rebrand Beer Sheva speaks of the 21st century. “People say we are a metropolis, or that we are the city of Abraham, or that we are a student city – the professionals need to decide on one line for Beer Sheva.”

At the end of the piece, Kuriel interviewed Ben Gurion University Professor Oren Yiftachel, who is head of the urban planning track in the Department of Geography [disclosure: and my thesis advisor -DC]. He said that external improvements are only “froth on the water” as far as bettering the city.

“We can’t forget the Arab, Ethiopian and Russian communities, who are also a part of the daily life of the city,” he said. “I think Beer Sheva has to connect to her past for the benefit of the future. Of course we also have to develop the concept of the metropolis, and to build her as a city for all the Negev.”

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GreenProphet reaction: As a resident of Beer Sheva, I can certainly attest to Yael Moria’s desire to enliven the empty city streets. However, any mention of introducing bodies of water in the desert – no matter how efficient and water-saving they may be – gives me a bad gut reaction during this time of acute water crisis.

Furthermore, it’s disappointing to see no mention of creating meaningful public squares for people to gather. There are very few public areas in Beer Sheva that are both attractive and not full of drunks and vagrants (for example, the well-designed and badly neglected Old City). I don’t see a remedy to this issue in street furniture.

In one of Oren Yiftachel’s courses this semester, we are learning about the  recent phenomenon of luxury apartment towers in the city. As part of the course, we will be offering our own ideas to the municipality for future planning. I’ll be sure to keep writing on this issue.

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6 thoughts on “Yediot Acharonot: Beer Sheva is Rebranding Itself”

  1. Daniella says:

    It would be great if there was an incentive campaign to restore old Ottoman buildings in the Old City area – such as, buy one of these houses at an extremely discounted mortgage rate or get an arnona (real estate tax) reduction if you improve it within the next two years, along historical guidelines.

    This could bring in financially stable families to the Old City, who would use the many cafes and restaurants popping up inside it and create a more diverse population.

    I also dream of transforming Rager Street, which is both a central N-S artery of Beer Sheva and an extension of the Tel Aviv-bound highway, into a pedestrianized boulevard. This would be done by putting a tram down the middle, with wide, shaded sidewalks on either side. There would be one lane of vehicular traffic in both directions.

    Some of the frequent tram stations would be developed as part of small plazas, around which 3- or 4-story apartment buildings could be built. Their bottom floors would all be commercial. This would fill in some of the sprawling empty space that drains Beer Sheva of its vitality, and connect the Old City with the hospital/university complex through real neighborhoods.

  2. Jesse says:

    Hey Daniella,

    Thanks for the update about planning issues in Be’er Sheva. Good to hear that the new mayor is taking a proactive approach to the city. It won’t be easy though, I heard Yiftachel say a couple months ago that the entire city’s planning and design are determined by a handful of contractors and developers. I would suggest finding a new use for the Old City and finding a way to connect it with the train/bus station areas, as well as the university/hospital district. Looking forward to future posts…

    Jesse

  3. Isaac Hametz says:

    Daniella,

    You’re again touching on an incredibly important point here. There are very serious and deep rooted social, economic, and environmental challenges facing the city of Beer Sheva. No face-lift, no matter how unifying its theme, will be able to overcome these difficulties unless it simultaneously creates sustainable local economies. The key is not simply looking at the “open spaces” as open spaces, but as productive places where communities can gather, grow their own food, sell home-made goods, and more. If Danilovitch, can keep his mind open to creative zoning schemes like these he’ll have a chance. If not he’ll fail just as his predecessors have before him.

    All the Best,
    Isaac Hametz
    Founder and Executive Director
    Earth’s Promise

    p.s. – Technically speaking, I’m not sure how large a lake would have to be to raise the humidity in the city, but if such a body of water was introduced in the city and did raise the humidity, it would truly make it unbearable in the summer.

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