Thursday, January 29

Subdividing Apartments - Plague or Pestilence?

I am saddened and appalled after a walk around the south end of Tel Aviv.  My stations on this sad sojourn were the small real estate offices peppered through the older poorer neighborhoods south of Lev Tel Aviv.  A picture emerged that was by turns, hopeful, then frustrating, and, in the end, tragic and nearly intractable.  The good news is that the property values in these neighborhoods are rising.  The bad news is that this rise is fueled by subdivision of any and all legal shelter into warrens of tiny rooms for maximum rent. 

Behind any door in the areas near the old Central Bus Station, Shapira, and Neve Sha'anan, you will likely find a corridor with 3, 4, or 5 more steel doors.  Each of these new apartments, even if its only 15 square meters, will bring a market rate of 2000 to 2500 shekel per month.  

According to one real estate agent, the most common size of micro-apartment is around 18 to 20 square meters (about 160 square feet), but he also knew of smaller ones, down to about 9 square meters.  This is the size of a jail cell.

As with any tolerated illegal activity, this use of the built environment drives out all legitimate uses.  Its like growing corn when your neighbor is growing opium poppies.  Eventually, you will join him or sell the land at the inflated price.  Thus large areas of South Tel Aviv are undergoing a seemingly irreversible decline along a number of axes simultaneously.  At the same time these areas are getting more overcrowded, more rundown, and, most critically, more expensive.  

These areas are now unaffordable for their longtime demographic: families of modest means.  When families cannot move in to a neighborhood, the diversity declines and the level of services usually declines along with it.  Should we write off this whole area of town?

In my next post, I'll talk about some possible solutions.

Thursday, January 22

"Improving" Carrot Fields

Adding building rights to a lot is known as improving the lot, even if nothing besides the legal status of the lot is touched. On the books, or on the city maps, the lot is now available for building, and this has an immediate effect on the value of the land. 
If there are enough rights for a profitable building project on the lot, the land will increase in value by about the amount of the expected profits.  The owner will be assessed for this higher value, and the city will benefit from higher taxes, before the first foundations are laid. 

There are some paradoxes, though... If a city decides to "improve" all of its lots, it leaves nothing for the public sphere - parks, recreation, public buildings, even roads and paths.  Not much of an improvement.  The first goal of city planning is to set aside a percentage of the land for public use.

In new neighborhoods in Israel, 50% of the land is set aside at the beginning for public uses. This usually results in a sparse semi-urban environment with wide roads, ample parking and green space. Tel Avivians know it as Ramat Aviv.  

Older areas of the city are denser, with only 25% to 35% apportioned to public use.  These are the areas that have the most recognizable urban character.