Israel Environment Bulletin Spring 1995-5755, Vol. 18, No. 2


Israel is unique. It is the only developed country in which population growth is continuing against a backdrop of population density. With the exclusion of the Negev (encompassing 60% of the land area but only 7% of the population), average population density in Israel is 50% higher than in the most densely populated developed countries, such as Holland and Japan. Yet unlike these countries, where population growth is way below the average 0.8% for developed countries, Israel’s population continues to grow faster than any developed country at a rate of 2% annually. According to the team currently preparing Israel’s masterplan for the 21st century, Israel, north of Beersheba, will be the most densely populated country in the world within thirty years if present trends continue.

The so-called 2020 master plan team is only due to present its report next year, but preliminary conclusions are already emerging. Clearly, the challenge of coming years will be the conservation of Israel’s scarce land resources as Israel’s population of 5.5 million burgeons to 8 million in 2020, as its built-up space trebles. Over the coming thirty years, 360 million square meters will be built in Israel, some 20 times the existing floor space in today’s Tel Aviv-Jaffa area. The number of motor vehicles will also treble, reaching 3.6 million, while the country’s inadequate road network will undergo major expansion to keep pace with Western standards. Clearly, without proper planning, the Israel of tomorrow threatens to resemble a never ending field of asphalt and concrete, unadorned by natural landscapes, unbroken by wide-open vistas.

A Reversal of Priorities

A comprehensive plan for Israel was formulated only once before. In 1948-51, a 180-man team, headed by architect Arieh Sharon, drew up a plan that significantly shaped the face of the country during the first two decades of its development. Its principal feature, population dispersal, had a clear geopolitical objective to fill in, for security reasons, the empty spaces on the reborn land, particularly along the threatened borders. In the young, sparsely populated and "empty" country with a population of 800,000 and a population density of 43 per square kilometer the main objectives were settlement, land cultivation and development. The plan, which accurately predicted the dramatic rate of population growth during the first two decades of the state, set the guidelines for the establishment of more than two dozen development towns and hundreds of agricultural settlements as well as major utilities such as the National Water Carrier and a deep-water port at Ashdod.

Nevertheless, by the mid-1960s, the plan became outdated. While its forecast for a trebling of the population within twenty years was right on target, the concepts underlying the masterplan became obsolete. Israel was no longer sparsely populated nor was it empty; infrastructure systems did not meet the needs of the growing population. Development often aggravated such problems as traffic congestion, environmental damage, and overburdened national infrastructure systems.

In 1989, spurred by the massive wave of immigration into Israel and by the dawn of the post-industrial information revolution which necessitated new forms of planning, the Association of Architects and Engineers in Israel, along with the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning in the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, petitioned the government for a long-range plan. Their request was met. In 1990, a 2020 master planning team was created under the auspices of the Ministries of the Interior and Housing, the Jewish Agency Settlement Department and the Israel Lands Administration. Later, five more government ministries joined the project Finance, Education and Culture, Environment, Transport, and Energy and Infrastructure. Headed by Professor Adam Mazor of the Technion, the masterplan team now includes some 150 planners, professionals and researchers.

The task facing the team is formidable to create a non-statutory masterplan, interrelated to other national, regional and sectorial plans, which can serve as a framework for long-range policy in Israel. The challenge is monumental to conserve Israel’s scarce land resources while promoting the development of the state as it enters the 21st century.

From Concept to Plan

Thus far, two phases of the 2020 plan have been completed. The first phase presented a broad spectrum of possibilities for Israel’s future, including alternatives for spatial organization, scenarios for the future character of the country, and goals for long-range planning. Concomitantly, geopolitical scenarios were drafted, and economic, demographic, transportation, technological and environmental forecasts were prepared.

The second stage, completed in 1994, synthesized the knowledge accumulated in the first phase into four alternative planning directions each based on different approaches and different goals.

The first alternative, "business as usual," is the so-called default option. It is based on the continuation of present trends without initiated changes of direction or alternative planning approaches. In accordance with this scenario, the population will continue to crowd into the central region of the country, rather than dispersing to the Negev or the Galilee; low-density construction will use up all the land in the center; and open space landscapes will remain in the periphery alone.

The other three alternatives are more goal-oriented. The goal of the economic-alternative team, for example, is to bring about maximal growth and a high standard of living. This scenario envisages no government interference with the workings of the market except to prevent large-scale damage, such as environmental deterioration. Optimal economic growth will be effectuated through an emphasis on business services or high-tech industry, a trend that will aggravate congestion in the center of the country while leaving the periphery relatively untouched by development.

The social-alternative, on the other hand, focuses on social goals. It is based on a state able to provide an equitable quality of life to all its inhabitants. Every residential area would offer similar possibilities, but the north and south of the country would be strengthened at the expense of the center.

The final group, the physical-environmental team, identified each region’s possibilities in terms of development and environmental assets and translated them into unique possibilities for employment, construction, transportation, etc. Three major scenarios were then formulated: the first concentrates the bulk of the anticipated population increase into the four main urban centers Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and Beersheba; the second disperses the increased population to dozens of satellite towns in the periphery; while the third (the preferred alternative) envisions a balance between development in the center and the periphery.

The physical-environmental scenario seeks to promote a better quality of life for the population on the basis of sustainable development. Its underlying planning principles include: concentrated and dense development, urban renewal, prevention of new settlements and increased density of existing ones, improved public transportation, and emphasis on green buffers, open spaces and the preservation of heritage and nature values. According to this scenario, the major thrust of development will be directed toward the Beersheba region, but the Haifa and Jerusalem metropolitan areas will be strengthened as well.

In addition to the four alternatives, a "peace scenario" was prepared which assumes a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. Each team tailored its approach to fit this scenario which envisions accelerated economic growth as a result of the peace process.

The work of the teams was complemented by several other thematic groups which provided important policy directions for the various scenarios. The environmental team, for example, identified the problems and conflicts likely to arise in the long term, taking into account population and economic growth. At the same time, it identified potential means of approaching such problems as growing land scarcity and increased motorization, water demand and pollution. The environmental team envisioned its task as twofold: practical application of the principle of sustainable development, and development of strategies that can be integrated into all components of the overall masterplan. As a result of its input, the various planning teams integrated environmental aspects into their scenarios while gaining a better understanding of the potential environmental impacts of their policy approaches.

With the exception of the "business as usual" scenario, none of the scenarios will come to fruition of their own accord. In order to combat a further deterioration in quality of life and the environment while conserving Israel’s open space landscapes, new means of organizing Israel’s limited physical space must be adopted. A new planning policy must be based on the following: a new approach to population dispersion which utilizes the relative advantages of undeveloped parts of the country such as the Negev; selection of spatial planning patterns which will promote spatial density and efficient land use without adverse environmental impacts; implementation of new approaches on open spaces, within the urban entity itself; increased building density but not at the expense of environmental quality and population welfare; efficient utilization of public areas; adoption of new land uses below, on and above the ground; and development of innovative and creative patterns of planning and building in previously "uninhabitable" areas (e.g. arid zones, mountain slopes, the sea).

During the coming year, the planning groups will attempt to weave their recommendations into a coherent masterplan tailored to meet Israel’s specific needs. The final product will define long-range targets and goals, normative scenarios for the future character of the country, spatial systems, and guidelines for planning policy in the long-term (30 years). It will encompass both masterplan and policy documents. The former will include maps, quantitative data, and guidelines, all designed to depict Israel’s future image. The latter will set the path by which the objectives of Israel’s future image will be reached. Using back-tracking methodologies, the objective will be defined first while the specific means for reaching the objective will be delineated later. The movement will be from future to present.

Into the 21st Century

Will Israel’s future image be a dream or a nightmare? Israel’s 2020 planners are optimistic. Already today, the very existence of the 2020 masterplan team is helping to channel activities in the right direction. A case in point is that of low-density building. Between 1970 and 1975, only 10% of the built-up land was allocated to one- or two-storey housing. Between 1985-1990, this percentage jumped to 55%. However, in 1994, growing awareness of Israel’s dwindling land reserves led to new government restrictions on low- density building which sharply limit the construction of single- family villas, especially in the center of the country.

In the words of architect Adam Mazor: "Israel has one great advantage in thirty years it will be newer than any other country in the world. All the building and infrastructure that presently exists is only one-third of what will be built by then." If newer is to mean better socially, environmentally, technologically and economically Israel must begin now to plan for the tomorrow of its choice. The 2020 masterplan is an important step on the path to that tomorrow.