“The Future of Israel lies in the Negev.”
~ David Ben-Gurion, first prime minister of Israel
If you aren’t intimately familiar with Israel, you may not realize that the country is divided into two cultural and geographical spheres: the Center and the Periphery.
The Center, composed of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and their environs, are densely populated hubs of activity. The Periphery: the Galilee, Golan Heights, and Negev Desert, are more agricultural areas outside of the Center’s reach. This segmentation is critical to understanding the Israeli mindset when it comes to how we perceive each other.
Today YNet News broke the story that Be’er Sheva is set to become home to Israel’s largest mall. With a projected budget of 700 million NIS (approx. $180.5 million) and a three-year timeframe, the mall aims to be not only a commercial center, but a nexus of social activity. Upon its completion, the mall will house clubs for youths, seniors, soldiers, and feature a children’s play area.
Additionally, the new center will be the first green mall in Israel with the following environmental considerations:
- Solar paneling on the roof for energy conversion
- Pools for collecting rain water and condensation from air conditioning to be reused for irrigation
- Green park to be built near mall with connecting bicycle paths around the mall’s periphery
—– Read more about the mall’s environmental impact and plans for Be’er Sheva’s development—–
Getting Real About the Environmental Impact
But let’s not kid ourselves. While I’m proud to read about any environmental initiative in Israel, particularly ones close to home that hold the dual promise of educating Israeli citizenry about the environment and utilizing Israel’s hi-tech prowess, there are some definite drawbacks to this plan when it comes to the environment.
Transportation– First of all, the 100,000 square meter mall will have 1,800 parking spaces. I hope that built into these plans are charge stations for electric cars, spaces for Zip Cars (a girl can dream), and a matrix of bus routes to locations around the city.
Rebranding the Desert City— Second, I am dubious about the designers’ efforts at “breaking the city’s desert-like appearance.” It is one thing to rebrand a city beyond a single perception for which it is known, but let’s get real: Be’er Sheva is a desert city and it always will be, no matter how green its facilities. This is not a bad thing nor should it be viewed as one.
Pollution Control— Third, it is critical that the traffic necessary to sustain a successful mega-enterprise, such as this one, does not create excess pollution. Exhaust from cars and buses, traffic jams on city streets, and noise pollution in residential areas are all potentianl consequences that require close monitoring.
As it is, YNet cites:
“Some 300,000 vehicles pass every day on the Toviyahu Boulevard route, where the mall will be built. 35% of the city’s population lives at a distance of 1.5 kilometers from the mall.”
Be’er Sheva’s Future
It is clear from reading about the mall that the designers have conceptualized their plans with a mind for a future Be’er Sheva, not the present one that exists today.
In the next five years, two key developments will be made in this Negev city:
- Completed construction of an Advanced Technology Park
- Development of the Ramat Hovav area, transferring Israel’s largest military base from Tel Aviv to the Negev region
That the mall’s construction is synchronized with these two factors implies an assumption that Be’er Sheva will:
- Draw commercial interest— Become a national population center that a major commercial enterprise requires
- Attract population— Create housing opportunities for scientists and IDF officers looking to house their families close to their places of employ
- Allow for more income flexibility— Create higher paying jobs for a residential population with an increased spending potential
If all goes as planned, 2012 will be a breakout year for Negev development. While this may leave us pink cheeked that our region is finally getting the recognition it deserves, we must keep critical environmental issues at the forefront.
While the Negev has long been thought of in purely geographical terms– it comprises 55% of Israel’s landmass– the new attention brought by the Advanced Technology Park, the military transfer of forces to Ramat Hovav, and the new green mall makes Be’er Sheva a force to be reckoned with.
Be’er Sheva must grasp the brain power already harnessed by the Negev’s top four employers: the IDF, Ben-Gurion University, Soroka Medical Center, and Teva Pharmeceuticals, and claim its rightful place among the nation’s leading scientists, thinkers, and innovators. A city center that is truly green in its construction and daily activities will serve as a reminder to all that Be’er Sheva and the Negev have much to offer to the citizens of this nation.
If you liked this post, you may also enjoy reading:
- “Shifting Speeds: Israeli Government Invests in Cycling Programs for the Sake of the Environment”
- “Middle East Environmentalism: Blogging for the Environment” — learn more about Israeli environmental NGOs
- “Charles Bronfman Prize for Humanitarian Action: Seeking a Better World” — learn more about Prof. Alon Tal’s work in the Negev
- “Bronfman Big Ideas Series: Renewing the Jewish Pioneering Spirit by Volunteer Work in the Negev”
- “Jewish National Fund Hosts Alternative Spring Break” — learn more about the Negev, Center/Periphery dichotomies, as well as the JNF’s Blueprint Negev initiative
- “Israeli Philanthropy: Planned Galilee Medical School May Change the Way We Think About Giving to Israel” — of interest for the Center/Periphery perspective
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