Tel Aviv, history, town planning, conservation
Shaping the face of Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv Architecture, Tel Aviv history, Tel Aviv
Yehuda Magidovich – Tel Aviv’s Ultimate Architect
Tel Aviv town planning, Tel Aviv history, Tel Aviv

Independence and a new town plan for Tel Aviv was the next step.

Following the return of exiled Jewish residents to Tel Aviv at the end of the First World War, and the reconstruction of damaged buildings, the Tel Aviv Committee began to promote the idea of separating from Jaffa and becoming a separate legal entity.  Recognizing the uniqueness of Tel Aviv, the British agreed to the plan, and on  May 11, 1921, the High Commissioner for Mandatory Palestine granted Tel Aviv autonomous municipal jurisdiction (township status), effective as of 11.6.1921.  First, for practical reasons, a local council was established: Tel Aviv residents has been paying taxes to the Municipality of Jaffa but had been receiving nothing in return.  After a local council was established, and the boundaries of the municipal jurisdiction determined, the council was granted the right to collect taxes, enact bylaws, establish a local police force, and more. At this point, veteran Jewish neighborhoods requested to become part of Tel Aviv. The annexation of these neighborhoods took about two years and was completed on May 11, 1923.

Though the separation of Tel Aviv from Jaffa facilitated development, some problems remained. First, though Tel Aviv was considered a municipality by its residents and administrative council, in practice it was only granted the status of a Municipal Corporation in 1934; secondly, and it was still subject to the jurisdiction of Jaffa’s local planning committee.  

Though it did not have full municipality jurisdiction, Tel Aviv was in fact run as an independent Hebrew municipality for all intents and purposes. It was the only urban entity in Israel that was administered by Jews and in Hebrew (although Tiberias had a Jewish mayor). The residents could elect their representatives to the Jaffa Municipality, and there was a special Hebrew police force.  

As land was redeemed and construction increased in Tel Aviv and the surrounding area, the Tel Aviv Township repeatedly submitted requests for expansion of its borders, especially during the waves of Aliyah and intensive construction in the years 1925-1926. The British authorities did not easily agree to transfer land from the jurisdiction of Greater Jaffa to that of Tel Aviv, even though these lands were in fact in the hands of Jews and construction was under way.  Certain compromises were reached:  the area near the railway station was declared ‘’neutral land’’ and revenue from the industrial area was divided up between the two municipalities. Due to the fast pace of construction, as soon as a new municipal border was set, a request was already submitted for further expansion or the city limits.

The Arab neighborhood of Manshiya fell mostly within the Tel Aviv area; it was connected on its narrowest side to Jaffa. Despite this, its small Jewish neighborhood, Yaffe Nof, was still considered part of Jaffa. The border in Neve Shalom was drawn so as not to sever the connection between the Arab part of Manshiya and the Arab Jaffa Municipality, and to prevent the train station from belonging to Tel Aviv.  The German neighborhood of Valhalla was surrounded by a border that twisted and turned and differentiated between the various Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. By 1933-1934, new Hebrew neighborhoods had expanded outside the boundary set in 1930.  The end of Herzl Street in the south with its many high buildings belonged to Jaffa. Jewish construction had already gone beyond Salameh Road into the orchards.

Inspired by European and British world views, in February 1921 Mandate officials issued an ordinance that outlined urban planning and construction regulations in Eretz Yisrael. Following this, a town building committee was established in Jaffa to approve building plans, location of roads and land division. The committee included the district governor; his deputy; the mayor; representatives of the governor and the municipality; and others. Due to its unique status, a separate building committee was established in Tel Aviv. This committee oversaw construction standards, mainly in the north of the city, from Bograshov Street to Hayarkon, and from the sea to Ibn Gvirol Street. This area was constructed in the second half of the 1920s and early 1930s according to a master city plan prepared in 1925 by the Scottish town planner Patrick Geddes.

Geddes’ Plan for Tel Aviv

During 1925-1926, an area of ​​1,000 dunams was purchased from Arab landowners; they included 1,800 plots for construction, mostly located north of lands that were already built. As the land was not purchased in blocks, there was no territorial continuity; some enclaves remained in non-Jewish hands. The scramble for land at that time resulted in speculation; land was transferred from hand to hand and prices rose.  In 1926, the Mandate authorities decided to expand the city’s limits; an order issued in early 1927 expanded the border of Tel Aviv to the southeast to Lavenda Street, and especially to the north. By now, the city reached as far as Nordau Street today. Land reserves increased.  It was now possible to create a plan for this area with the help of Patrick Geddes.

Geddes came to Israel from September to December 1919, and then from May to November 1920. During these two visits he prepared a series of reports and plans: a detailed architectural plan for the Hebrew University; a draft and preliminary report for Jerusalem; a general plan and detailed report for Haifa; plans for Tiberias; garden neighborhood plans for Talpiot in Jerusalem, Hadar Carmel in Haifa, Ahuzat Beit in Tiberias, Kiryat Anavim and several agricultural towns.  He helped the Mandate authorities draft the Town Planning Ordinance which was promulgated in 1921 and which outlined the principles for town planning in the British Mandate areas.

During his visit in 1920, he was asked by the High Commissioner to work on an initial plan for Jaffa and Tel Aviv. At that time, Tel Aviv was still under the municipal jurisdiction of Jaffa, so separate plans for Jaffa and Tel Aviv were out of the question. In 1925, while Geddes was visiting the country on a private visit, Dizengoff asked him to draw up a plan for Tel Aviv. Geddes agreed. He extended his visit and devoted his time and energy to the planning of Tel Aviv. This plan shaped and determined the nature of Tel Aviv; it’s footprint is still discernable today.

Tel Aviv’s community leaders were looking for a plan that would support Tel Aviv’s fast-paced development. Geddes, already 71 years old and nearing the end of his life, was looking for space, sympathy, and convenient historical and political circumstances to present his ideas. Despite his good reputation, most of the plans he had drawn up had remained on paper, therefore he wanted to see one of his large-scale plans implemented in Tel Aviv. Later, he called this his most ambitious plan of all, since it enabled the city’s growth from 30,000 residents to a potential 100,000 residents. More than just a master plan,  it reflected Geddes’ unique planning, social, and cultural worldviews. It was relevant not only to the northern areas of the city, which were not yet built, but also to Jaffa. He believed that Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Sarona and other towns should work together so that all the neighborhoods would be properly connected.

Geddes could not ignore Jaffa. It was the largest city in Eretz Yisrael at the time and many Jews still worked there. Jaffa did not support the separation and had no interest in competing with Tel Aviv. Though Dizengoff originally asked Geddes only to plan the new northern areas of Tel Aviv, the British district commissioner, James Campbell, asked Geddes to plan Jaffa as well. Geddes worked in full cooperation from the Tel Aviv Technical Department, whose architects translated the plan into detailed streets and plots and prepared the technical documents required for approval by the Municipal Building Committee. The Jaffa Municipality did not cooperate as fully, and in the end, Geddes’ plans for Jaffa were not approved by its mayor.

Geddes’ planning concept failed to bridge ethnic gaps between the two cities; this explains the huge difference between the planned areas in the north and the unplanned areas in the southern part of the city.  In addition, Geddes did not change the parts of the city that had already been built, and only designed the unbuilt part in the north.

Geddes’ plan encompasses the area from today’s Ben Zion Blvd. and Frishman Street to the Yarkon River and it is called the “Northern Method”. Geddes incorporated the general concept of ​Ahuzat Bayit’s founders who chose to build north of Jaffa in order to distance themselves from it. The plan had structure and substance. He argued that since Tel Aviv was built on the sea, the streets should run from north to south so that houses would be ventilated enough and get enough sun.  

Geddes did not design a uniform and orthogonal network of streets. Instead, he differentiated between “mainways”, i.e., wider streets delimiting large urban blocks, and “homeways”, which were narrow residential streets no more than seven meters wide that served the residents of each block.  For Geddes, these suburban urban blocks were the heart of his plan, and he allocated wide spaces for squares and public parks. In the center of each block, which was made up of 30 to 50 private homes up to two stories high, Geddes planned a large garden. In addition, the homes had gardens in front and back yards for growing vegetables, which were supposed to supply about half of the city’s vegetables. The program promoted a suburban lifestyle with tennis courts in the center of these blocks and rose-lined alleys between the houses. He envisioned a suburban lifestyle instead of a bustling city.

Home and landowners alike did not agree to the new plan. Its implementation required expropriation of land and the Land Expropriation Ordinance of 1926, which gave local authorities the right to expropriate land for public purposes, subject to the approval of the Urban Planning Commission, needed to be implemented. Section 22 of the Ordinance empowered the local planning committee to expropriate up to 25% of consecutive plots of land for the purposes of road expansion. If the percentage of land expropriated exceeded 25%, the landowner was entitled to compensation. Disputes pertaining to compensations were heard in the Land Court. The ordinance was amended in 1936 to include expropriation of plots for public use as well.  Since expropriation of land meant that compensation needed to be paid to the owner, the municipality had difficulty expropriating land due to the high value of the land.  Most of the expropriation were carried out for the purpose of constructing critical public buildings. Expropriation of land for urban parks was rare, and that is why there are few public parks in Tel Aviv. Parks that were built include the Grozenberg Park (1920), the Nordia Park (1925), the Carmiya Park (1925), the Neve Tzedek Park (1925) and the Great Synagogue Park (1932-33). 

Dizengoff presented the plan as an antithetical approach to the way that Tel Aviv was developing at the time, i.e. through the haphazard purchase of plots of land and their parcellation into small plots.  He believed the plan should regulate private as well as public construction. The landowners claimed that that the new plan was against their interests, while Dizengoff responded that the landowners’ private building plans were detrimental to urban planning and order. He submitted the Geddes plan to the Urban Planning Commission even though he knew there would be objections.  The Commission convened on April 6, 2006 and approved the plan following a lengthy discussion in which landowners presented their objections to the paving of roads and the allocation of land for squares and parks at the expense of the homeowners and the size of their plots.  The discussion prompted a debate on equality in the public space and highlighted the gap between affluent homeowners and residents who could not afford to buy land, and between the northern and southern parts of the city. The minutes of the discussion reveal that Herzl Street, which was part of Ahuzat Bayit, was no longer considered a favorable area in which to live.

Patrick Geddes

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