Ahuzat Bayit – becoming a modern Hebrew city 
09/12/2021
Tel Aviv, Town planning, Tel Aviv history,
Town planning regulations for Tel Aviv
10/08/2021

Theodor Herzl’s utopian vision and the birth of Tel Aviv

Theodor Herzl’s utopian vision had a deep affect on the planning of Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was established towards the end of the Ottoman rule. The Turkish government’s supervision of private construction, land use and health and sanitation issues were wanting; there was almost no local initiative. In this environment, the founders of Tel Aviv were free to create new alternatives.  They drew upon European ideas and knowledge and the ideological foundations of the Zionist movement, which were shaped by modern 19th and 20th century beliefs, and capitalist theory. 

In their memoirs, many of the neighborhood’s founders remark that their vision for the new neighborhood was inspired by Theodor Herzl’s utopian text, Altneuland. In this book, Herzl describes modern cities in Eretz Yisrael that have electricity, large public buildings, public institutions and culture. Herzl was the most prominent prophet of urban Zionism, advocating for modernism and capitalism as early as the end of the 19th century. 

He predicted that the First Aliyah would bring the poor, and the second stream would bring various professionals and the middle-classes. Bourgeois Jews would turn his vision into reality. Herzl also believed that the success of the Zionist settlement in Eretz Israel would depend on the successful transfer of Western technology and science along with social and political theories.  This would promote economic growth and the development of Eretz Yisrael.

He foresaw a society that promoted middle class justice and equality and values of individualism. The aspiration to build Jewish cities and town in accordance with modern, advanced concepts of urban planning were influenced by European views in this field.  Herzl’s Altneuland reflects the spirit of the period, and the author’s knowledge of urban spaces in Europe. At the end of the 19th century, the idea of utopian cities were emerging in Europe. Citing  the effects of the Industrial Revolution, proponents of these future cities sought to transform the bleak and brutal urban landscapes into greener landscapes.  A prominent utopian idea at that time was the ‘garden city’ based on the ideas of English urban planner Ebenezer Howard.

In conclusion, Herzl’s famous book presented a roadmap for the founders of Ahuzat Bayit, who were committed to a clear Zionist ideology while seeking to build a modern European-style neighborhood. Tel Aviv was planned and built, for the most part, according to modern town planning principles, which prioritize new methods over old, separate dissimilar populations (for example, Jews and Arabs in Jaffa) and promote modern capitalist development. Like many Europeans planners at the time, Ahuzat Bayit’s founders envisioned a garden city –a clean, beautiful and healthy environment very different from the Arab town of Jaffa.

Historical buildings,
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Was Ahuzat Bayit based on Ebenezer Howard’s utopian urban vision? 

In his book Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1898), Ebenezer Howard promotes a holistic view of a city surrounded by a green belt of garden neighborhoods which –far from the noise and tumult of the city — would serve as residential areas.  These cities would feature services, industry and employment as well as boulevards and gardens. Proper planning and zoning would benefit residents and promote urban growth. This concept of expansion over wide spaces was compatible with Zionist plans to accelerate settlement processes in the Yishuv and redeem land as quickly as possible.

Were the founders of Ahuzat Bayit familiar with the concept of garden cities? There is no clear evidence that Tel Aviv was originally planned on the heels of the European garden city movement; however, a number of sources indicate that the founders knew about the establishment of garden suburbs in Europe and garden cities in several places in Europe and the US. Agudath Achim, an organization established in 1906 in Haifa initiated the establishment of a modern suburb named Herzliya, that was based on a similar vision as that of Ahuzat Bayit. Though it is unclear who came up with the idea first, the fact is that in different parts of the Yishuv similar ideas were being floated indicates that the basic concepts of the garden city were known in Eretz Yisrael.  In Jerusalem also, a short time before the Ahuzat Bayit initiative was launched, a company by the name of Zikhron Moshe promoted a modern neighborhood that was basically a garden city. In addition, the founders of Ahuzat Bayit knew of Valhalla, the German Templar colony that was similar to a garden suburb.   Other Templar colonies such as Sarona, though agricultural in nature, had some of the characteristics of an urban suburb.

In his memoires, chairman of the Ahuzat Bayit committee Akiva Arie Weiss mentions that before coming to Eretz Yisrael he educated himself on urban planning. This included visiting an international exhibition in Belgium on the theme of architecture and city building.  Therefore, it makes sense that Weiss had encountered the garden city concept.  The founders’ model for the garden neighborhood was presented in a letter sent by the founding committee to the main headquarters of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael in Cologne. This letter describes a modern neighborhood that would be built ‘’with order and systematic elegance…and have beautiful wide streets, and [provide solutions to] sanitation issues such as drainage, plumbing and so forth.’’

Armed with this vision, the founders turned in the fall of 1908 to Josef Treidel, an engineer from Haifa. and asked him to prepare a plan for roads and a network of water pipes for the neighborhood. In January 1909, the plans were ready. Land had been allotted for the gymnasium, a playground and public garden. Treidel recommended building residential units in  elevated parts of the terrain, while the eastern part would be used for gardens, parks and a playground. This would save costs on leveling all the land. The plans included a 12-meter-wide main road that would surround the bloc of houses. Secondary 8-meter-wide roads would be perpendicular to this main road. The gymnasium would be erected on higher ground and would be surrounded by gardens and parks.

Plans were also commissioned from Boris Schatz and Joseph Barsky, as well as the well-known Viennese architect Wilhelm Stiassny, who was visiting the Yishuv at that time. Stiassny submitted his proposal to the committee in April 1909. Stiassny’s plan showed a city steeped in green with a fancy square surrounded by public buildings, in keeping with current trends in Western Europe.  

The final plan

The final plan for Ahuzat Bayit was based primarily on Treidel’s plans, though with many changes. The founders reduced the allocation of land to public parks to allow for more houses.  In addition, they rejected Treidel’s plan for a main road and decided that a 12-meter-wide main road (Herzl Street) would divide the neighborhood from north to south. The secondary streets, intersecting with the main road, were to be 10 meters wide. The plan included 79 lots for housing and each member had to buy between 620-1120 square meters of land to ensure spacious construction. No land was allocated for a public park and they made do with private gardens, boulevards lined with ornamental trees and a planned garden in the courtyard of the Gymnasium. The final plan approved was based on contemporary trends in urban planning:  the orthogonal grid, Ebenezer Howard’s ideas and cultural values of aestheticism and monumentalism. 

Tel Aviv, historic city, historic preservation, town planning
Achuzay Bayit Town Plan

 

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