Dizengoff Square at noon on Saturday. The cafes in the vicinity are filled to the brim, but the new-old square is almost empty. Only a lucky few find shelter from the sweltering sun under one of the young trees in the area. Shady places are about as rare as parking places in the city - every place that becomes available is occupied almost instantly.
The Tel Aviv municipality itself published a binding innovative set of instructions two years ago for providing shade in the city. It was praised by the professionals, but there is almost no shade in the new square, whose renovation cost tens of millions of shekels.
The renovated Dizengoff Square is just a symptom of a much bigger problem. In a country like ours, why aren't there enough shady places, streets, and plazas?
Although planning in Israel is far from ideal when it comes to shade, there has recently been a change in attitude on the part of the responsible institutions.
In addition to the document published by the Tel Aviv municipality, the National Plannning and Building Commission early this month published draft regulations eliminating the previously required construction rights for artificial shade in public spaces, on the assumption that eliminating this barrier "will lead to shady municipal spaces for pedestrians and public transportation users."
Cost: Advance planning saves money
Streets with shade have many advantages. The protection they offer from the sun makes it more pleasant to walk in the street, thereby reducing the use of polluting vehicles.
How much does making a street shady cost? It depends on the method used to provide shade. A recently published report by the Ministry of Construction and Housing and the Ministry of Health states that the cheapest method is planning in advance a façade with colonnades/pillars, like on Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv. The cost is NIS 900 per square meter. This, however, obviously requires planning before construction.
The cost of artificial shade per square meter, for example pergolas or shelters, is NIS 1,150, while the cost of a tree covering seven meters is NIS 6,000-9,000, i.e. NIS 1,000 per square meter. One of the problems with this is that trees grow to their final size only after eight years, and shade sometimes has to be installed until they grow.
The return: Less in money than in health
During a long recess in elementary school, the students run to the yard, which is only partly shaded. How much will they profit by adding shade? It is not easy to turn shade into numbers of health and monetary benefit, but a new report by the Ministry of Construction and Housing and the Ministry of Health attempts to do just this.
The report states that providing shade saves money for the health system, because it contributes to people's health (children and adults), and the accumulated savings from shade can amount to thousands of shekels a year.
According to the report, the main benefit for the country and its people from shade is from the prevention of morbidity and mortality, especially from skin cancer. The estimated cost of one person with skin cancer is NIS 800,000.
Furthermore, the report's authors contend that providing shade motivates people to exercise, which in itself provides considerable health benefits. The monetary benefit for an active person of engaging in at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week, compared with someone who does not exercise can reach NIS 3,500 a year. The main physical activity induced by shade is walking.
Providing shade through trees is also good for asthma; it reduces the concentration of pollutant particles in the air, thereby easing breathing problems, which also cost the health system money.
In the bottom line, however, shade costs the municipalities money, and the problem with investing in it is the same as with investing in education, preventative medicine, and publish transportation: the party that saves money (in this case, the Ministry of Health) is not the one that has to spend the money (in the current case, the local authorities).
Trees are better than pergolas
Trees take years to grow, but they are "much better than pergolas and any other artificial means of providing shade," says architect Chen Shalita, CEO of Alpha Sustainable Products, which plans, accompanies, and authorizes environmentally friendly construction. A shed made of plastic or aluminum generates intense heat under it, while a single tree can lower the temperature around it by up to four degrees in the summer.
Trees in an urban space
"In the first years of the state, there was more awareness of trees and shade, but we neglected them a little when air-conditioners entered our lives in the 1970s. Fortunately, the trend has changed in recent years," Shalita adds.
Trees may be the ideal solutions, Shalita says, but notes that they come with a price: "They consume water. Before we run to create forest environments, the maintenance aspect must be considered. We're still a desert country. The equation is how much it will demand from us, versus what it gives us. Trees can be planted if we realize how much water they need," he explains.
Trees and shade add value to real estate, says architect Dan Handel, a lecturer at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. "In the US, there are measures showing exactly how much this adds. There are no such measures here, but it's fairly clear that it adds something for everyone: both residents and business that benefit from people walking in the street. The local authorities have an interest in investing."
"Globes": They may have an interest, but are they doing it?
Handel: "Not enough. Most of the activity is by the strong local authorities. It usually doesn't happen because of budgets."
One of the important things for a tree is underground living space - the area in which its roots can reach. The small cubes in which trees are enclosed in the new neighborhoods will not help to grow large trees.
Landscape architect Shahar Tzur makes it clear: "We now know that the most successful source of shade for cities is trees, because in addition to shade, trees provide many other ecological systems services that improve the urban environment (absorbing pollutants, helping to manage water runoff, real estate value, etc.). The main measure that we are seeking to promote in Israeli cities is therefore the urban tree canopy cover index.
"This index is calculated as the ratio of the area covered by tree canopies and the total area in the city. I'm less interested in how many trees are on the ground, or the ratio of residents to trees. I want to know how much of the city's total area is covered by treetops, and how we can increase this area.
"The right way to think about an individual tree and the municipal forest is as a resource, and it should be managed just like any other infrastructure. This requires a change in paradigm, and the realization that a tree isn't just a matter of esthetics. At the same time, there are real challenges in planning trees in a city. The municipal space is replete with infrastructure, making it inhospitable for trees. In order for the trees planted today to develop well and provide good shade, they have to be provided with excellent conditions: land for roots, regular irrigation, ventilation, and drainage. Instead of investing NIS 2,000 in planting a tree, at least NIS 10,000 should be invested to create a big house that will support its development for many years."
In addition to trees: Pergolas generate energy
Architect Daniel Zarhy from Studio PEZ argues that in the current situation, in which awareness of shade is growing, there are areas that the authorities are in no hurry to cover, such as plazas. "If we think of Rabin Square, for example, on the one hand, we want it to stay empty, so that as many people as possible can enter it, but on the other hand, there's no shade. It creates tension between the two interests."
Zarhy believes that shade design has greatly improved, but the change will be felt only in another few years. "As always in planning processes, the process is quite slow," he comments. "The question is whether the awareness that we have now will already change the urban environment at the urban planning level, or whether we will have to use local solutions. In the end, it's not easy to change an existing city."
Zarhy, whose firm won an international competition for planning an academic campus in Bern, the Swiss capital, presents several solutions that have been applied in other countries.
"In places in which there is traditional building, architecture responded far better to the climatic conditions. For example, if we look at North America or southern Spain, construction is denser and there is more shade. In Seville in southern Spain, for example, where the climate resembles ours, you see buildings with ventilated internal yards with proportions so that they provide their own shade. They are high and narrow. Some of the architectural experiments in Beer Sheva in the 1950s (such as the carpet buildings) were built in a form that takes shade into account, although not perfectly," Zarhy declares.
How do they deal with unshaded areas in Spain?
Zarhy: "There are other simple solutions. In southern Spain, there are places where cables are stretched from one side to another. There are cloth sheets that shade the street. It's so simple. In Seville, in the main plaza, they built what amounts to a giant pergola. I'm not sure that the implementation was so good, but you can see that it's possible."
Why don't we do this?
"There are things that can't be changed so quickly. The simplest method is to plant trees, and municipalities are looking at this now and being careful to do it when implementing new plans. I believe and hope that within a few years, this situation will improve."
Where else can we improve?
Shalita: "Better use can be made of public space, so that there will be shade and we also generate renewable energy. For example, if we take a large above-ground parking lot, all of the cars stand around getting baked by the sun. This is both incorrect use of the space and damages the vehicles. There's no reason not to build a giant pergola above that can be used to generate electricity. Why isn't this happening? Because of regulation. If a developer wants to build a pergola that also generates electricity, he will have to pay municipal property tax, get permits, and so on. There is a move now to ease up on regulations, but it's only beginning."
A few days ago, the main entrance to Jerusalem was closed to private vehicles for three years as part of the construction of the new business zone, which will also contain a giant underground parking lot. Zarhy believes that the result will also be worthwhile in the shade that will be created in the area. "They held a competition for landscape architects, and the Topotek 1 firm from Berlin won," he says. "They wrote a policy document that also referred to the height of the buildings, which will be located correctly with facades facing in the right direction - simple principles of passive construction. In the public space, they also addressed the question of shade and the feeling in the street. This entire zone is pedestrian-oriented: a railway station, a central bus station, and a light rail."
Urban renewal: "Difficult to obtain shade"
The growing awareness of the need for shade in public space is leading planning teams in local authorities to demand that planners meet high standards of shade and construction that improves shade in the area, together with massive cutting down of trees for construction purposes. The developers will say that they are making every effort to preserve the trees, because they are obligated to plant new trees to replace every tree they move. The residents will say that the axe is being wielded too easily.
This is a problem in urban renewal, especially in Tama 38," Zarhy says. "They usually want the most basement space possible, which requires almost all of the space on the lot. The result in practice is that no room is left for trees. These are very complicated engineering projects - keeping the building up in the air and building a parking lot under it takes a lot of resources."
Nevertheless, he says that larger urban renewal projects, such as vacate and build, require the developer to not only build another kindergarten, but also to plan shaded public spaces.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on July 22, 2019
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