High above our heads in Israel's skies, especially in metropolitan Tel Aviv, a cruel race is underway. Who will sell the apartment for the most astronomical and groundless price? The developers of the Meier on Rothschild Tower under construction at the corner of Allenby Street and Rothschild Boulevard, are asking NIS 170 million for the most expensive apartment, but they have been overtaken by the Dan Group, which is asking NIS 200 million for a penthouse in the tower planned for the old bus depot on Arlozorov Street.
In the land of the oligarchs which Israel has turned into, these are logical proportions: a man can live in an apartment worth 200 apartments of average families. When looking down on others from on high, people can become so small as to be indistinguishable.
The bitter irony is that that this social, architectural, and economic mutation, which flourishes like mushrooms after acid rain, with the support of some municipalities, beginning with the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, is being sold to us on the green building standard. We are told that to save land, cities must build skyward, and that skyscrapers are the answer. If it weren't so sad, we would burst out laughing.
The most expensive apartment in the Meier on Rothschild Tower is a monstrous 1,500 square meters in size. This is how much land is saved and tenants are crowded in. Just a hop and skip away, in another luxury skyscraper towering over Neve Tzedek at 1 Rothschild Boulevard, the average apartment size is 400 square meters. Some tenants have consolidated apartments taking over an entire floor or more. Each five-floor apartment utilizes the land, contributing to urban density more efficiently.
Environmentally friendly? Come on. Each apartment in these luxury towers comes with a package of several parking spaces, because most of the residents would not imagine using public transport or pedaling a bicycle. The 1 Rothschild Tower has a five-level (!) parking garage.
Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) (TASE: ELEC.B22) knows that when it receives an order to connect the electricity to an apartment in a luxury tower, such as in Tel Aviv's Park Hatzameret, it's an order for current at ten times the rate of the hook-up of an average apartment. These apartments, out of their responsibility for the environment, are chock full of power-hungry appliances, including air conditioning and heating systems that are run round the clock.
The truth is that a calculation of the number of residents per acre or of energy consumption is the least important thing here. What is more painful and destructive is the luxury tower's damage to something more elusive and delicate, but whose complexity is also easily harmed: the urban fabric. The luxury towers are vertical ghettoes with virtually no contact with their environs. They are segregated from them by guards and concierges, smart elevators, and think glass.
These towers have their own swimming pools and fitness rooms, some even have brand-name stores located on private designer avenues. Some residents are not Israelis and do not reside in the country for most of the year. Their contribution to the municipal economic life is negligible. Instead, they drag the real estate market higher, and turn metropolitan Tel Aviv into a compound only for rich folk.
A vibrant and green city is a city in which most of its activity occurs at the street level: pedestrians and cyclists, at cafés, in parks and playground, and at small neighborhood shops, kindergartens, and schools. They all merge into each other, enabling life with social and human accessibility.
Here and there, Israeli cities, headed by Tel Aviv, still know how to be like this, but with each new skyscraper that is built, alienated and severed from its environment regardless of how many sophisticated recycling systems it contains, casts a shadow on the buildings around it and on the chances that a thriving urban scene can survive here for long.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on July 23, 2013
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