YERUSHALAYIM - When it was abandoned some two decades ago for its replacement, the old Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv – really a collection of bus stops that had been built during the Mandatory period – eventually slid into a funk that represented the worst of urban living – with the worst phenomenon that could be imagined in an urban setting finding a home in an area that decent people, and many others, avoided like a plague.
But for the many Israelis who have not set foot in the area since 1993, when the new Central Bus Station opened, a surprise awaits: Over the past two years, the old bus stations and decrepit buildings that harbored a plethora of undesirables have been replaced by greenery – a public park replete with playground equipment, fountains, benches, sports fields, and other amenities, as well as a police station. No longer the domain of drug dealers and the like, the site is full of people from morning, when mothers take their infants and small children to play in the park, until night, when the older kids come out to play soccer and basketball. The park was completed in recent weeks, and will remain in place until further development of the area. When further development is carried out, the park may remain in place, or be moved, officials said.
The park is part of an overall urban renewal program for the area, approved in 2015. The Old Bus Station area is barely a few hundred meters from some of the highest-priced real estate in Tel Aviv, the area surrounding Rothschild Boulevard, and the city has for a very long time sought to raise the fortunes of an area that is convenient to everything. The city is set to provide approval for a 78-dunam project that will include housing, business, and administrative facilities.
With that, the program – and the park – has critics. Globes quoted Shefi Paz, a local community activist, as saying that while the park is indeed a welcome replacement for what had been there, “when I have been there I have never seen Israeli children playing there. The only children I see are those of the many African immigrants who live in the neighborhood.” The establishment of the park was on their behalf, she said, “especially since another park in the neighborhood they frequent is set to be demolished to make way for the light rail.”
Others see the problem as one of gentrification. Globes quoted Shula Keshet of local activist group “Achoti” as saying that what was happening in the Old Bus Station area “is reminiscent of what happened in areas like Neve Tzedek, in which a process of gentrification pushed out the old population in favor of young professionals. The institutions planned for the developed space have nothing to do with the local residents, and they will bring in the ‘north Tel Aviv’ Ashekenazic white culture to an area that was primarily Sephardic.”
City officials dismissed the claims, saying that there had been no choice but to create something new on the site. “There is a great deal of positive impact in developing an area that had been problematic. The projects planned are important to the city and to the local population as well.”