This post is based on an academic paper by Daniel Orenstein and Steven Hamburg. The paper sheds light on the Israeli planning system which seems to be producing homogeneous and wasteful products. The full name of the paper is: “Population and pavement: population growth and land development in Israel” and it was published in Population and Environement journal.

The reserach examines the connection between the population growth in Israel and the urban development in the years 1961-1995 (based on four population censuses in the years 1961, 1972, 1983 and 1995). The authors looked at the national level, district level (the six districts that make up Israel) and local level (by examining 40 local authorities). The paper focuses on the conversion of open land to built-up land across time. This land conversion process is compared with population growth has and the way regulation impacts on this process. This reserach was carried out against the background of the necessity to avoid obliterating the remaining open land in Israel. The researchers raise three questions:

1. What is the connection between population growth in Israel and the rate of converting open land to built-up land?

2. Does the scale of analysis affect the strength and magitude of this correlation (scale means national, district or local)?

3. What are the regulatory means that infulence the rate of open land conversion and in what ways?

To carry out the research a number of specific areas all across where chosen including urban, suburban and rural settlements which are also ethnically diverse (meaning taking into account also predominately Arab settlements and not only predominately Jewish settlements). Out of 250 local authorities in Israel 40 were examined (for more please see pager 9-10 in the paper itself). After the selection of the research areas the paper elaborates on the methods used, which employed analysis of aerial photos from different years in order to assess the amoung of land that was converted from open to built. To make the story short I’ll focus on the major findings that arise from this paper.

The first important finding in the national level is that the rate of open land conversion to built-up land is higher than the rate in which the population is growing. Furthermore, this conversion rate is even higher if the sparsely populated Galilee and Negev regions are taken out of the equation. Namely, the open land we build on for the additional population is being eroded at a rate that is growing over time. We waste our land faster than we used to. Another somewhat intuitive finding shows that the rate of sprawl (open land conversion for each additional resident) is higher for the rural settlements and for the northern settlements.

In contrast to the national level, when looking at the sprawl rate at the local authority level, we see that the planning gets more and more homogeneous. The rural regions have a lower sprwal rate than in the past, while the urban areas have a rising rate of sprawl approaching the rural rate. The Arab settlements (which had a tendency for higher sprawl rate) have a decreasing rate of sprawl, while the Jewish settlements have a rising rate of sprawl approching the Arab rate. Thus, while at the national and district levels we are eroding open land at a rising rate (also by establishing new settlements), at the local planning level the urban planning becomes more and more homogeneous. In the words of the researchers:

Sprawl (more space consumed per additional unit of population) is increasing over time at both the national and district scale, yet the locality data do not corroborate these results. The locality data suggest a growing homogenization of development across the Israeli landscape.

Particular attention was given to the effects of the Jewish population dispersal doctrine on the rate of open land conversion (this doctrine goes back to 1948 and aims to redistribute of the Jews in Israel while idealizing rural agrarian lifestyle). It was found that this doctrine is responsible for more open land erosion than the rest of the faulty Israel planning regime. And here is the text itself:

The amount of land developed in the peripheral areas was significantly higher than in the core area, once variation due to population growth and other related factors are removed. Likewise, development in Arab localities was less than in Jewish localities (controlling for other factors), although this difference was statistically significant only for the full 1961–1995 study period. These results reflect a consistent Israeli policy to encourage internal migration of Jewish citizens to the peripheral areas, while concurrently restraining the growth of Arab localities (Falah 1991; Khamaisi 1993; Yiftachel and Rumley 1991), despite the preference of most Jews to live in high-density urban communities in the geographic core area of the country (Kellerman 1993). Various national policies have attempted to attract Jews to the peripheral areas (Kellerman 1993; Newman 1984, 1989). Among them was the development of small, exurban communities with larger homes. By attracting people to these communities, policy magnifies the impact of local population growth on open space in Jewish, rural localities where the amount of land developed per capita is an order of magnitude higher than in any other type of development.

The most astonishing find is the failure to stop open land erosion even in districts where there is not much open land left. Namely, even in places where there is not much open land left, the sprawl rate is not declining. Here it is (emphasis mine):

One somewhat surprising result of the population–development relationship is that for districts in which open land is becoming increasingly scarce, an expected slowing of land development relative to population growth with a concomitant increased importance of open space was not evident. We would have expected to see the rate of land development slow as open space became increasingly rare. Rather, we see the rate of loss of open-space increase (and the rate of land development increase) as open land reserves become smaller. This is true even in the case of the Tel Aviv district, where only a small amount of land (*20%) remained open space by 1990.

In conclusion – at the local level our planning is becoming more and more uniform and provides indication about a central technocratic systems that operate with no context, and creates a uniform built environment. At the district level we are unable to save the open land at all. And at the national level, the loss of open land is at a higher rate than the rate of population growth. For the good of this small and precious country, its planning systems need to be completely reorganized and most of the regulation and the ideology standing behind them have to be shredded – the sooner the better.

You can access the full paper here (and if you do not have access and still want to read it you can leave a reply or contact me).