The People Demand Sustainable Living!
Anyone familiar with Israel’s central region knows the ubiquitous cranes that pierce the sky, chronic traffic congestion, and steady erosion of open spaces. Homebuyers have limited options, and many new developments consist of high-rise suburbs that are largely disconnected from public transport, forcing residents to rely heavily on their cars.
It doesn’t have to be this way, argues Tami Pashtan. “Through my research, I evaluated the preferences of prospective homebuyers in Israel for characteristics of sustainable urbanism,” says Pashtan. “When we talk of sustainable city living, we mean walking-friendly neighborhoods, accessibility to amenities, connectivity to public transport and mixed-use areas that combine residential spaces with commercial ones," she explains. "All this is in marked contrast to urban sprawl, auto-oriented development and the separation of land uses.”
Bridging business and the environment
Pashtan, born to Israeli parents in Chicago, moved to Tel Aviv six years ago, choosing TAU’s Porter School of Environmental Studies because of its “unique, multidisciplinary focus.” Also, it allowed Pashtan to work with two supervisors – Prof. Jacob Hornick of the TAU Faculty of Management and Dr. Yodan Rofe, an architect and specialist in green neighborhoods from Ben-Gurion University – so as to fuse the business and environmental approaches. This fusion is also reflected in the two sources of funding that Pashtan secured for her research: Shikun & Binui Ltd, one of Israel’s largest construction and infrastructure companies, and the Office of the Chief Scientist at the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection.
In her study, Pashtan applied the "conjoint analysis" method – the first time it has been used in planning research in Israel. Conjoint analysis is a technique used to ascertain what combination of a select number of characteristics is most influential in a respondent's decision-making process.
Pashtan interviewed 520 people over the age of 30 from Israel’s central region, asking them to select various options for the following categories: neighborhood type, price range, housing type and walking distance to retail and services, as well as access to public transportation.
No to high rises
The results highlighted how important sustainable urbanism is to people, even if they themselves are not aware of the exact definition of the term. “Unlike other preference studies, half of the people I surveyed placed the highest importance on walking distance to retail and services. This is what we call 'walking neighborhoods' – where amenities and shops are close by."
While the study's results indicate that neighborhoods that are more compact and have connected street grids are usually less preferred by respondents – meaning that they ideally would like neighborhoods that are spread out – amenities such as local retail and service accessibility can alter respondent choices.
Another important conclusion Pashtan drew from the results was that most respondents desire to live in 4-6-story apartment buildings, as opposed to the most prevalent building type in recent years of over 14 floors. Also, over three-quarters of respondents are willing to live in a neighborhood with people of different income levels, suggesting that new developments could include low-cost housing units without turning off higher-income buyers.
Putting research into practice
Having identified consumer interest, what can be taken away from the study? The outcomes of Pashtan's research contradict some common Israeli development practices, and reveal a gap between prospective homebuyer preferences and the current market offerings. “Stakeholders in both the public and private sectors should explore the findings to plan for sustainable neighborhoods that meet residents' desires,” Pashtan says.