One of the most pressing needs in countries with little open space is to make urban life desirable enough that city folk won’t want to flee to the suburbs. But in Beer Sheva, a strange phenomenon is underfoot – suburbanization inside the city that drags commerce away from the historic district. A story I wrote for Tablet Magazine explores whether Israel is turning into sprawling California, particularly in light of the recent land reform.
Memorable quote by urban planner Yodan Rofe, discussing a major Beer Sheva strip mall: “It’s the 1950s style of the U.S. A big parking lot surrounded with sh*t.”
The piece looks at some of the businessmen trying to hold their own in Beer Sheva’s Old City, a charming grid of stone-paved streets built by the Ottomans. One is Shachar Udi, above, who launched Gecko Cafe on Smilansky Street in the Old City last year in May. As recently as 20 years ago the Old City was a vibrant center of town, its streets crowded by day with shoppers and workers, by night with young partiers and older restaurant goers. But a slew of malls – both enclosed and outdoor strip-style – cut into the commerce, while the city couldn’t act fast enough to balance the two. Now Smilansky Street (below) is deserted. Read about Beer Sheva’s latest mall here.
What I found most fascinating about this piece was to understand the changing underpinnings of planning in Israel. Like many other Israeli cities, Beer Sheva was planned by European-trained thinkers. This has its ups and downs, as we explored in a post about a redevelopment scheme. Today, however, Beer Sheva represents the rest of Israel’s lunge toward Americanization, including the way developers imagine the urban landscape.
:: Photos by Daniella Cheslow