This crisis will reshape the way we understand city living

(above photo credit: Barak Brinker)

The Tel Aviv Foundation, a non-profit organization under the umbrella of Tel Aviv’s Mayor, is promoting Tel Aviv innovative philanthropy and forming partnerships with other cities around the world, through advanced financial tools.

As a popular destination for international tourism, Tel Aviv, as many other mediterranean cities, is facing a significant challenge to its economy.

Nowadays, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation has put all its efforts into helping the city, the mayor, and the community to minimize the effects of the current crisis.

To better understand all these challenges, and opportunities, I reached again to my friend Dr. Hila Oren, CEO of the Tel Aviv Foundation.

Dr. Hila Oren

Hila, thank you so much for your time this morning. These are difficult times, and the work of the Tel Aviv Foundation is decisive for many people in your city. I understand that the foundation is having a different role because of the current crisis, and you are managing different services.

Thank you, Pablo. Yes, we started the mayor’s emergency relief fund, and we are approaching six different communities and problems: asylum seekers, people of Jaffa, small businesses that had to close, violence, women, and children at home. 

We’re raising money, which I must tell you people are giving for the better.

Do you think people are much more likely to give because everyone is suffering the effects of the pandemic?

There is solidarity, and there is social responsibility, more and more from the Israeli population. Before [at the foundation] we used to raise money from Jewish communities all over the world. We continue doing it, but because it’s such a global challenge, we feel much more the support of the Israeli population.

Last year, during the Smart Cities Congress, you mentioned the Tel Aviv Social Coin. How is that program helping in the current crisis?

I think it’s very interesting, and it brings a very interesting message, especially now during the Coronavirus pandemic,  which is a challenging problem all over the world. It brings a great tool, and now many politicians and mayors are being aware of it,  and thinking about using it in other countries.

The City Coin is bringing 30% more business to shops accepting it, which is local business, because, as you know, people cannot go far away from home, they need to shop locally.

What other communities are asking for help?

Another community that needs special care and help are the artists, because you know, there’re no arts and culture at all. Everything is closed. Some people are doing things on the web, but it doesn’t pay.

How can these people shop and buy their groceries and meet their needs.? We started a fund for them and also provide small loans, and we provide the guarantee of those loans, so they don’t need anyone else to vouch for them. Again, it helps. It is a little microfinance tool, really in need right now. And I think it’s a message from us to municipalities all over the world to collaborate with the arts community.

You’re having conversations with people in different cities. Do you think they are thinking they have to revise their long-term planning because of this situation affecting almost everything?

I think cities are not ready for that yet. What they are doing, at least what we’re doing in Tel Aviv, is revising the budget, and many projects are now on hold. And we will take another look at them because people understand that they don’t need so much [building] space anymore. 

Actually, it started before [the coronavirus] with sharing offices and all that, but even that is not needed as much. I think the most important thing now, although we don’t like to say it, it’s patience. 

As a city maker, I always talk about listening to your residents. Now, because it is so quiet, it’s easier to listen. And when it is quiet all over, you need to understand that you have to wait and be patient, until there are new sounds and new messages from the world, whether it’s from animals now in the public spaces; you can see them, and it’s beautiful. 

Rabin Square across from Tel Aviv’s City Hallby Barak Brinker

I’m not so sure if next year we will build as many schools, or as many kindergartens, or as many community centers as we built before, maybe we will understand better, and we can use them in a multifunctional system. And, things that are much more needed are open public spaces. I think those will be in demand and we must have more. 

Do you think people are looking forward to meeting the same way as before?

We need not have meetings, we can have a short 30 minute meeting on zoom. We don’t need two hours meetings around a table. We need not go so much out of our houses and build more roads. Look,  the roads are clean now. Not everything is good, but some of it has improved.

If we go back to 100% the way we were before, then we miss the whole lesson that we need to learn from this. The COVID-19 came to us to give us a lesson. And we have to listen to it. And I’m saying that now, being quiet, we can listen. 

Here in Barcelona, as a Mediterranean city that lives mostly from tourism and events, people are really worried that visitors, especially the bulk of international visitors that come every year, won’t come again for some time. Tel Aviv is probably facing a similar problem.

I think this year, that will not happen. People are really worried here. I don’t think it is the same in Tel Aviv, but we have all the restaurants and coffee shops completely shut down as well. 

And, as you know, we have all the conferences in Barcelona, and you came to some of them. This is a huge business for the city, we have conferences and exhibitions all year round. Now all those events are cancelled or postponed. And, frankly, I don’t see those events happening in the fall the same way as before.

I agree, not in the same way. But I must remind you that in the past most Barcelona’s residents, and even the current mayor, didn’t like all this atmosphere of big conferences and lots of tourists. They were complaining about it, right? And now everybody’s afraid that it’s not coming back!  

As always in life, it’s about balance, it’s about being somewhere in the middle: not so crowded, but not so empty as it is now. 

And again, as I said before, the lesson from this is we need to find the balance in between. It’s all about life, you know, the yin and the yang. How are we balancing things? 

So I’m not sure that everything will become as crowded as it was. But I’d like to ask: do we want it to be as crowded as before? Do we want that? Thousands of  flights? Millions of visitors? The never ending noise?

I think the message is to find the balance between what it was and what it is now, and I believe that, later this year, we’ll find ourselves much more balanced.  Again, I’m not a prophet, and I want to still keep quiet and wait and listen to understand the new messages. 

Two months ago, we didn’t think we’d be in this situation, but in a year from now, the result of it will be very interesting, and it will be a blessing to the world.

This is the way I see it, and our cities will have new tools, and new directions.

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