The human city

By Mordechai Beck, November 11, 2011

Most mayors would be embarrassed if a large number of citizens took to the streets, set up camp in one of its main boulevards and demonstrated for weeks on end against the high cost of living. But Ron Huldai - Tel Aviv's feisty mayor - is not only unfazed by this past summer's demonstrators, he is proud that they protested in his back yard:

"They were saying that the time has come to return to earlier standards, where the state intervenes to guarantee that everyone can find affordable accommodation, education, public transport and so on.

"They now understand that this is not the fault of the mayor, but the result of the policies of the government, which are mostly beyond my control."

Despite these limitations, Huldai is proud of the major advances he has helped create in the city -- reversing a worrying trend: "People - especially younger ones - are returning to the city; it has become a magnet for would-be residents and tourists alike."

All this fits well into his original vision - "to turn this city into an international metropolis - a city which is an expression of freedom, pluralism, tolerance, culture, rationality, where everyone can find his or her place."

As for tourism, which has also seen a marked upward trend in the past years, his goal remains the same - "to give to tourists the same level of services that all the residents have, whether cultural, artistic, culinary, sports facilities or places to stay."

This year the mayor is celebrating his barmitzvah in the job, but he is far from resting on his laurels.

"In the coming year, we will be enlarging three of the city's iconic sites - the renovated Habima theatre (in mid-November); the renewed Cinemathèque (next to its present location) and the new wing of the Tel Aviv Museum for Art -- which, at 20,000 sq m, is twice as large as the existing space. Much of this wing will be devoted to contemporary Israeli art.

"The major theatres - which are world-class - invariably have English subtitles to help tourists. In addition we have some great jazz clubs - among the best in the world - a huge variety of high-level restaurants, and, if you're looking for history, just go to Jaffa."

What gives Tel Aviv its special character, its magic? According to its number one citizen, it is its human size: "You are not overwhelmed when you walk the streets here," he explains. "Everything is in human proportion.

"Moreover, the central cultural places are in close enough proximity to allow you to walk from one to the other - the opera, Habima, the beach, the sea, the sparkling Yarkon river, restaurants, night clubs and promenades. You've got everything on tap."

As for tourist accommodation, Huldai notes that: "in addition to the fact that in recent years hotels are recording 80 per cent occupancy year-round, increasingly people are renting out apartments to tourists for short periods."

In short, a city for all seasons.

Last updated: 4:09pm, November 11 2011