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A Jerusalem Eco-Housing Pilot Project is Turning Talk into Action

One thing Israelis aren't short on: Talk.  So it’s a reassuring sign of the times that whether it’s climate change, the rapidly shrinking Dead Sea, or the way urban pollution effects everyday quality of life, the environment—HaSviva—is becoming a much … Read More

By / May 8, 2008

One thing Israelis aren't short on: Talk.  So it’s a reassuring sign of the times that whether it’s climate change, the rapidly shrinking Dead Sea, or the way urban pollution effects everyday quality of life, the environment—HaSviva—is becoming a much more common topic of conversation. It hasn't always been that way. Gil Peled, an Israeli architect and green building consultant, explains, “Now everyone is aware of environmental problems, but when we had suicide bombers up the road it was the last thing on people’s minds."

Fortunately, converting talk into action is precisely what Peled’s Eco-Housing Pilot Project has been doing. Like so many people in the country, Peled lives in a stone-brick apartment block erected two generations ago when the national priority was ‘building the land’ rather than ‘saving the planet’. But what sets Peled’s building in central Jerusalem apart from the others nearby is that the residents have reduced their ecological footprint by over 30% since the project began in 2002. The trademark stone floors and thin walls work well in the summer, letting heat escape, but that same lack of insulation becomes a burden during the icy Jerusalem winter. I’m not alone in huddling around an electricity-hungry portable heater from December to February. Not exactly what the Jewish Agency promised… And when it comes to recycling, if there’s a deposit box for newspapers or plastic bottles at the end of the street then you’re one of the lucky ones.
Nu, so how is it possible to ‘green’ a 50 year-old building, not to mention stubborn stuck-in-their-ways Israelis? For Peled, the most important thing was to green people’s attitudes. “It’s easy to jump on technological solutions, but it’s really a matter of changing people’s behavior,” he says.

Now, with the full participation of the ten apartments in the building, they have succeeded in reducing their resource consumption via simple changes like recycling, using energy-efficient appliances, and harvesting rainwater from the roof to feed plants in the garden—itself a reclaimed patch of wasteland. “The place was very neglected and in disrepair and we’ve taken responsibility of our environment,” says Peled. The Eco-Housing Project is the first—and remains the only—green apartment building in Israel. Peled notes that it’s much easier to design green housing when building from scratch, pointing to a number of independent projects in the Negev and Galilee doing just that. However, he argues that “detached housing is, by definition, un-ecological” because of the roads and infrastructure needed, not to mention the extra space required in a land-scare country. The building, which over 20 people currently call home, has seen tenants come and go, but their enthusiasm hasn’t waned. “They didn’t come here because they were ‘green’, but when they arrived they understood that there is something special here,“ explains Peled with satisfaction.

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