Located on the shores of the sparkling Mediterranean, Tel Aviv has always been a place of physical and ecological beauty. Now — from an urban farming initiative, to a bike-share program, vegan hamburger joint, and a massive eco-reclamation of the town dump — Israel’s cosmopolitan gem is coming into its own as a green city.
“Make the desert bloom” was the hopeful, if ecologically naïve, mantra of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. (Not surprisingly, the country pioneered water-conserving technologies like drip irrigation.) Today in Tel Aviv, urban farmers are working to make the city bloom.
The Tel Aviv municipality recently opened an urban farm in Yarkon Park that is accessible by public transit and includes a petting zoo, community garden plots and bird-watching center. The urban farm joins the Maoz Aviv Community Garden as the newest hot spot for urban food growing.
Israel is known for its outdoor produce, but in 2008, two food writers paired up with Slow Food to launch the country’s first farmers market. Located in Tel Aviv’s port, it offers mostly organic produce, locally made beer, honey, cheese, olive oil and other artisanal goods. A second farmers market recently opened in Tel Aviv’s Jaffa neighborhood. The Jaffa market will be plastic bag-free and offer vegetable delivery by bike courier .
The city’s restaurant scene is also tuning toward local ingredients. Upscale restaurants like Catit, Raphael and Herbert Samuel all incorporate seasonal, locally grown produce into their dishes. Diners for looking something a little simpler — and vegan — can eat at Buddha Burgers, which features an extensive (almost overwhelming) menu that goes way beyond meat-free burgers.
Nearby, Tel Aviv University is joining other colleges across the world in encouraging Meat Free Mondays for students and faculty. The international effort to reduce global meat consumption manifests itself on the Tel Aviv campus with an educational campaign and a special vegetarian entrée offered in the cafeteria on Mondays.
The Green Drinks phenomenon — social/networking meetups for environmental types — has gone international. And like many big cities across the globe, Tel Aviv is in on the trend. The Green Drinks chapter meets monthly at local watering holes or organic coffee shops like LovEAT in South Tel Aviv.
Despite the car congestion, biking is a great way to get around this beach town. There are several bike shops and rental locations serving the city, and the Tel Aviv municipality recently green-lighted a bike-share program that would make 1,500 bikes easily accessible to residents for a nominal fee.
The Tel Aviv Bicycle Association promotes safe cycling advocacy and works to ensure that bikers’ needs are heard by city government. And while it is still years from completion, Tel Aviv is in the process of creating a light rail/subway hybrid — the city’s first.
The arrival of global fashion retail giant H&M; in Tel Aviv earlier this year caused a frenzy amongst shoppers. Now H&M; will unveil its eco-friendly “Garden Collection” — which utilizes organic and recycled materials — at stores across the world, including Israel.
On a more local scale, Tel Aviv designer Lilyja crafts beautiful jewelry out of recycled silver and other materials. Mesila Studios and Ubico Studio create sustainable furniture and home accessories by salvaging materials from trash bins and renovation sites and repurposing them into something truly beautiful.
Play, act green
For decades, the Hiriya dump in Tel Aviv was just that: a massive garbage dump that sat kitty-corner to the airport. But through strange feats of city planning alchemy, the dump is being reimagined as an environmentally friendly recreational park. Slated to be completed by 2020, and be the largest urban park built in the last 100 years, the park will include gardens, bike trails, an amphitheatre and a visitor center made from salvaged and recycled materials.
Those who don’t want to wait until 2020 can visit the Center for Environmental Action. Founded by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the center offers many opportunities to get involved with city-based environmental education and advocacy projects.