The New Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv was meant to be one of the biggest train stations in the world, second to only New Delhi. The architect envisioned creating an entire neighbourhood within the 7 stores of vertically constructed material; it’d have a marketplace, an education centre, entertainment spaces, places of worship, health clinics, and residences. This space was designed as a point of connectivity and centrality for all of Israel, designed not only for the function of transporting from point A to point B, but enchanting them to stay awhile at what was built to be the symbolic gates of the city.
We step inside the bus station, and as our eyes adjust to the dim lighting we are greeted by the ever-present smell of urine and men that mistake our confused stares for a completely different intention of why we’ve entered this space.
As we toured the bus station for the next couple of hours, it becomes clear that the Central Bus Station is the most environmentally disastrous man-made infrastructure in Tel Aviv. The disconnect between the envisioned place meaning and its realization could not have been more great; the dreams of centrality and vitality for this space are manifested by stories of abandoned shops and a handful of travellers in the midst of rush hour.
Why has this space failed?
The architects did not take into account environmental concerns, especially in regards to environmental health. The environmental hazards created from 5,000 buses flooding in and out of one space every day created conditions where many aspects of the vertically planned neighbourhood were not possible. For example, the market place, filled with fresh produce and other foodstuffs, was stationed adjacent to the bus terminals. The dirt from the buses would continuously make their way onto the produce, making it unhealthy and undesirable for purchase.
The air pollution that circulates inside of the mall as a result from the buses also was not functional, making the other planned attractions (shopping mall, movie theatre, etc) a failure as well.
Even further, the degree of pollution has created a disease cluster, adversely impacting nearby residents, who are among the most marginalized communities in Tel Aviv. The area around the Central Bus Station was initially settled by Jewish agriculturalists in the 1940’s, who planned the urban space to resemble a menorah. The creation of the Central Bus Station demolished half of this menorah, fragmenting the existing community and creating a plethora of undesirable housing for those that would need the most help – the immigrants and most marginalized residents of Tel Aviv. A fragmented community of marginalized individuals surrounded by a disease cluster creates one of the most pressing environmental injustices in Tel Aviv today.
So, why hasn’t this place been destroyed?
The advisory committee tasked with how to revitalize the Central Bus Station has received thousands of submissions. However, the main challenges for this space are as follows:
- There is no organization of shop owners. There are 1600 shops, thus making 1600 shop owners. With no organization comes the inability to coordinate any sort of functional activity, or gain access over certain spaces.
- Demolishing the amount of concrete that it took to make 7 stories of an indoor neighbourhood would cause tenfold the amount of air pollution that already exists, would yield unthinkable amounts of trash, and would be incredibly expensive and lengthy.
- Due to the unintentional creation of optimal conditions for fruit bats, the Central Bus Station holds one of the biggest bat caves in the city. It was declared a Nature Reservoir by the Knesset, and thus is a protected space.
There have been many proposals to revitalize this space – there were even some talks of a giant water slide. To date, the most successful project is the “Veggie Bench” (pictured below).
There is social and environmental inequality embedded in the infrastructure of the Central Bus Station. Put into the context of Tel Aviv being a global city, this story becomes even more significant. When the proper environmental and health strategic impact assessments are not conducted, especially in the heightened reality of mass urbanization, they become catastrophic failed spaces. And it always impacts the most vulnerable.
Tel Aviv is the urban promise. As the financial capital of the country, it entices those who enter to dare and dream. It celebrates diversity, culture, and thus acceptance. Opportunity allures at its fingertips – but not for everyone. Tel Aviv does not just hold the citadel, where transnational elites and urbanites capitalize on all the urban has to offer. It holds a very strong, but on the same token, very invisible, marginalized space. The stagnation, removed agency, and distributive impacts of the Central Bus Station represents the unattainability of the urban promise to the residents of this ghetto.
We’d like to end with a point of reflection for our Jewish readers:
Who lived in the original ghetto?
How can we compare our ancestors in the original Venetian ghetto to today?
The lived experiences of our ancestors were subjected to social, legal, and economic spatialization in Europe, creating the original ghetto in Venice. To what extent is it our duty to make sure the same conditions don’t occur again, especially within our own homeland?