The connection between urban renewal and the Israel Hamas war
The current war has once again demonstrated the lack of disparity in Israel between the home front and the battlefield and in this short article we will attempt to outline the important connection between urban renewal, protected spaces (bomb shelters) and national security. To this aim we have invited Dr. Benny Barosh – an expert in security and professor of construction engineering in the civil engineering department at the Ariel University, to answer a series of questions on the matter.
Dr. Barosh, what is the connection between urban renewal and security?
“Urban renewal projects improve national security in two main ways. Firstly, in the construction of buildings with protected spaces to replace old buildings, since less people are dependent on old underground public shelters, or normal rooms which are considered to be “the safest possible” or interior staircases. Secondly, the resilience of the building due its strength and size provides security. The more robust the building (i.e. resistance to physical mechanical stresses, pressures and difficult environmental conditions), the more resilient it is to earthquake and damage by rockets and other warheads”.
Questions and answers with Dr. Benny Barosh
Is a building that that undergone a process of urban renewal likely to sustain less damage by a direct hit by a rocket or missile compared to an old building?
“The answer to that question is unequivocally positive, both in the case of an old building that has been reinforced and extended as part of a National Outline Plan 38/1 project as well as in the case of a building that has been demolished and reconstructed as part of a National Outline Plan 38/2 project.
Buildings which have undergone a process of urban renewal are more secure and stable since they have been reinforced against earthquake and they have concrete cores containing protected spaces, staircases, lifts, utilities and the like, especially so in the case of buildings which have been demolished and reconstructed. These buildings have not only been reconstructed in compliance with state of the art earthquake standards, but they are usually larger and so the impact of damage to them will be lower. Urban renewal reduces the likelihood of complete, partial or even localised collapse, and the protection afforded by protected spaces provide direct physical protection to the residents and their guests”.
How can urban renewal help reduce the gap?
Five days after the war broke out, the Israel Builders Association published an article stating that around 62% of homes in Israel do not have protected spaces. How can urban renewal help to minimise the gap?
“The shortage of protected spaces in Israel has drastically improved over the last 30 years but it is still substantial. All types and varieties of urban renewal from detached houses to apartment complexes and entire neighbourhoods can assist. Especially if the urban renewal plan is adequately incentivised, and during this period we are reminded of the main benefit – saving lives. Earthquake protection and reinforcement can change the Israel Builder Association from one end to the other”.
Do protected spaces also reinforce the building itself?
“Certainly. In most cases the protected spaces in buildings are built on top of each other and create a type of very robust concrete tower. Protected space cores also reinforce the building from an engineering perspective and they are very strong enclosed reinforcement cores for the building, from the top of the building to the foundations.
They are extremely resilient to horizontal forces, minimise the overall horizontal movement of the building and considerably improve its stability”.
What is the current status of urban renewal in rural areas?
“In wartime it is obvious that any distinction between city centres and rural areas is completely irrelevant. The threat of rocket attacks affects all geographical areas of the country, and even Eilat has become a target for rocket attacks by a terrorist group in Yemen. The earthquakes that have occurred in the Middle East and Asia in the last few years are a stark reminder of the fact that an earthquake in Israel is just a matter of time.
I very much hope that asides the very heavy cost of the war, more attention will be given to both of these threats, both at the personal level, i.e. that people will prefer to live in reinforced buildings with modern protection systems, and also at the national level by investing more in increasing urban renewal in rural and outlining areas which are considered less attractive from an economic / real-estate perspective, by giving incentives to contractors. In the same way as the state is making efforts to remove bureaucratic constraints on adding protected spaces to existing buildings, it needs to give the same urgency and priority to reinforcing whole buildings and facilitating urban renewal.
Creativity is needed and I would suggest considering solutions that have not yet been implemented. For example – transferring construction rights from the urban centres to rural areas despite the different planning mechanism, or determining that building contractors who receive substantial construction rights in central areas will also be required to reinforce buildings and housing units in rural areas in accordance with a pre-determined formula. It would also be possible to require contractors and developers involved in urban renewal projects in city centres to contribute to a national fund for reinforcement in rural areas. At the end of the day, construction rights are a question of economic benefit and perhaps the time has come for planning institutions to lift certain planning and building restrictions.
Other tools are regulation and taxation, which if utilised prudently by the state could accelerate urban renewal in rural areas and minimise building costs in preferential areas”.
In your opinion, what are the two most significant barriers to urban renewal in Israel?
“The main barrier that I have highlighted for some years now is consciousness. In this period of war, when millions of Israelis are discovering that the lack of protected spaces endangers them and their families, the level of consciousness surges. Regretfully, experience shows that most people are very quick to forget this when things return to normal.
This is where the state needs to step into the picture. Asides financial incentives and legislation to prioritise and allocate budgets for urban renewal, the state has a duty to take active steps to increase public awareness including in the media.
The state knows how to do this and has launched several successful and effective campaigns in the past such as “Israel is drying up” to encourage water conservation and encouraging Coronavirus vaccinations. Earthquakes and rocket attacks are tangible threats. The State of Israel needs to devise a national contingency plan and provide comprehensive guidance in how to act in the event of an earthquake or other emergency.
The second barrier is the onerous and protracted bureaucracy in obtaining permits and approvals. The last few years have albeit seen some very positive improvements in this regard, although the local authorities and municipal engineering departments are still under tremendous pressure due to regulation and this leads to delays. The state needs to find ways to streamline these processes including by increasing manpower. This is essential for success”.
To conclude, what is your vision of the urban landscape in Israel in the next decade?
“When we analyse the data and trends of urban renewal in Israel, and in view of the huge gaps between the ideal and the reality, it’s clear to me that it will be possible to massively expand urban renewal in the entire country within a few years and if the state is prudent enough to heed to experts in the industry and take active steps to lift barriers, I have no doubt that we could see a huge improvement. With some conservative optimism, in another ten years from now we won’t only see a massive increase in demolition and reconstruction projects in the centre of the country, but also a many more projects in rural areas and all around Israel”.