The Boris route

Ron Huldai, mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, shares his pedal-powered philosophy with Nathan Jeffay


November 9, 2010
Follow The JC on Twitter

Ron Huldai, mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, is excited. "Do you know what a Boris bike is?" he asks, pointing at the bicycle in his office. It is a sample for the city-wide bicycle hire programme, like the one introduced by his counterpart in London Boris Johnson, which he will launch at Passover.

This is just the latest new programme by a mayor who loves to innovate, and as a result enjoys widespread popularity.

Israelis like to change their politicians regularly, yet Mr Huldai's has remained in office through the premiership of four Israeli Prime Ministers. In fact, he came in to office in 1998 when Benjamin Netanyahu was Prime Minister for the first time, staying through his downfall and his comeback.

Mr Huldai, a former military man and school principal, entered his post with a critique of the way the city had been run. The city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa has two responsibilities that have often been seen to "work in contradiction to each other" - catering for residents and catering for those who live elsewhere, namely commuters and tourists.

Tel Aviv has it all: the best weather, superb beach, old Jaffa, high tech attractions, restaurants and nightlife

His contribution has been to eliminate the sense of contradiction - he has instigated schemes of urban regeneration, law and order, and economic development that are designed to simultaneously benefit residents and visitors.

"When [tourists] come here and the city is clean, with law and order in the streets, they feel safe, they feel good, they enjoy life in my city," he says. "And at the same time, they are contributing to the economy of the city, so we are encouraging tourists to come."

The "Boris bike" programme is the latest example of Mr Huldai's good-for-everyone philosophy. With this single innovation he hopes to help residents by reducing congestion and parking problems, making their city greener and allowing them to get around more easily. And he hopes to add yet another plus point to the city as a tourist attraction, and make the city more accessible to tourists.

"When I became the mayor of Tel Aviv, most of the tourists that came to the city of Tel Aviv were businessmen and we did a lot, changed our strategy, to show the world that the city of Tel Aviv is a city for everybody," he says.

The key to the city's success as a tourist destination, he believes, is that it has something to appeal to all tastes. "Tel Aviv it's a real great city because it has everything: the best weather in the world, excellent beach, old Jaffa and high-tech up-to-date attractions, excellent culture, excellent restaurants and excellent nightlife."

The diversity of the city makes it difficult to get his thoughts on what is worth visiting. What are the must-see attractions in his opinion? He goes everywhere - he's a classical music lover who, in addition to recitals and concerts, visits the loudest nightclubs. "I have to go because I have to know what is going on in the city, every hour and in every part of the city," he explains.

"I am not recommending people what to do because I don't know who you are. Some are interested in history and I can tell them go to Jaffa, go to the port in Jaffa, go to the flea market. Others, there is the nightlife - I can recommend some very fancy nightclubs."

He suggests that visitors create their own itineraries based on their interests, drawing on the expertise of the municipality's tourism authority, The Association for Tourism in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. It offers free tours for visitors, and has produced a pocket-sized booklet that divides the city in to five colour-coded zones and makes the sites extremely easy to navigate.

Though Mr Huldai has instigated numerous redevelopment programmes, each one still excites him. He is now overseeing the preservation and restoration of Serona, a German Templar colony within the city boundaries which actually predated Tel Aviv. "It's now under very intensive renovations that are going to be finished in a year and it may be even better than the Old [railway] Station [another renovated area, home to shops and caf├ęs]. You will very soon find the port of Jaffa renovated - it's going to be, in a way, maybe nicer than the port of Tel Aviv, because it's more authentic."

    Last updated: 3:21pm, November 9 2010