The City That Never Sleeps

Tel Aviv, “The City that Never Sleeps,” is on its way to become one of the world’s great metropolitan areas. It projects a sense of informal freedom, in plain contrast with the distortions frequently delivered by the media.

Cities are not just compilations of buildings, streets and open spaces; they are – or they are supposed to be – places where people can increase their chances of self-realization as happy human beings. The “State of Tel Aviv,” as is commonly labeled, to distinguish it from the rest of the country, is a city that looks more into the future than into the past.

The fourteen-hour non-stop flight from LAX to TLV brought me back to a place that has changed in many ways. Yet in spite of Israel’s contradictions, inequalities and extremes, I found the country exceptionally better than when I left it, back in 2001. Its energy cannot be described neither visually nor in writing; it must be felt.

I saw people of all ages, colors and countries of origin. I saw construction going on everywhere, with high-rise buildings becoming commonplace, and not only in Tel Aviv. During an “Architect’s Day Symposium” at the Cinematheque, the City’s Director of Planning told us that, at this time, there are in plan-check residential and commercial projects for a total of almost eight million square meters, or about 86 million square feet. That is the equivalent of four hundred twenty-story high building on the Wilshire Corridor.

The new wing of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, designed by architect Preston Scott Cohen as an addition to the museum’s Main Building, is the latest development in a process that started in the 1930s, when the city’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, created a municipal art museum in his own house.

The project’s main concept was the creation of an 87-foot-high atrium, called “the lightfall,” which brings natural light deep into the building. The program for the new addition was demanding. Rectangular galleries had to fit into a triangular site, which also had to accommodate a new art library that takes one third of the total 200,000 square feet, or about 18,000 square meters.

One may argue whether the design belongs to the trend triggered by the “Bilbao Effect,” which resonates in the works of Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind. Yet, in spite of the building’s trendy aspects, the use of light in the atrium brings a poetic contribution to the building.

Ramat Aviv, the North Tel Aviv neighborhood, is a place of normality within abnormality. At its center is Neveh Avivim, where many notorious people lived, among them Prime Minister Ytzhak Rabin and President Shimon Peres. Besides being close to the sea, it has a powerful anchor: the Tel Aviv University campus, which serves as a magnet to a highly educated population. It is also strategically located next to important arteries of mobility.

Tel Aviv’s 18th annual Pride Parade was officially titled “Women for Change.” Although it joins similar manifestations around the world to assert tolerance and equal rights for all, this event, under the particular situation of the Middle East, and given Israel’s political map, is not just about personal liberty. It is about freedom from coercion of any kind. It has the symptoms of a revolt against all establishments.

Tel Aviv’s “White Night,” unlike its siblings “Nuit Blanche,” “Notte Bianca,” “La Noche en Blanco,” “Noaptea Alba,” and so on, carries a powerful message to many who still have hard time to accept Israel as a vibrant civilization. It sais: we, the people, young, old, men, women, straight and gay, secular and religious, Jews, Muslims, Christians and atheists, enjoy life and contribute to culture and any way we can.”

The festival was spread throughout the city. I counted at least eighteen areas, from the City Harbor, the University of Tel Aviv and the Haaretz Museum in the north, to Jaffa in the south, from the beaches in the west to the new Sarona development area in the east. They included dancing, theater for adults and children, artworks, music, public singing, magic, image projections, DJ’s stages, art events, poetry readings, exhibitions and street performances. My video covers only a fraction of what went on, an approximately ten-kilometer walk along Rothschild Blvd., the Habima Square, Dizengoff Street and Rabin Square.

My observations through the lens of a camera tried to capture some of the elements that reflect some aspects of a country that is a mosaic of cultures, tribes and ideas, frequently clashing to one another: right (nationalist, secular or religious) vs. left (liberal-progressive,) orthodox-religious vs. secular-cosmopolitan, straight vs. gay, machismo vs. feminism. And yet, coexistence is possible, in spite of the many differences.

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