Scot who created Tel Aviv hailed in city's centenary celebrations

AS TEL AVIV last night began a series of celebrations to mark the 100th birthday of the city, quiet and unassuming tributes were paid to a Scot who defined its shape and form.

For the modern Tel Aviv would be altogether different were it not for the vision of Sir Patrick Geddes, a soldier's son from Ballater, Aberdeenshire.

Long ignored in his homeland and only now beginning to be recognised as the father of modern town planning, Geddes – who was also known as a zoologist, botanist, and philanthropist – was fted in his day by Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin, among others.

Geddes – who was also responsible for numerous civic improvements in Edinburgh's Old Town and established the Camera Obscura – delivered the plans that eventually helped establish Tel Aviv's White City as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Driven by his vision for "neotechnic order, characterised by electricity, hygiene and art, by efficient and beautiful town planning", Geddes introduced the idea of public green space, allowing for a rural quality of life in an urban setting.

He drafted the masterplan for the Jewish city in 1925, enabling it to expand from a suburb of the predominantly Arab city of Jaffa into a thriving metropolis in its own right, absorbing waves of Jewish immigrants during subsequent decades.

This is a legacy organisers of the Tel Aviv celebrations are quick to acknowledge. A history of the city written to mark the centennial anniversary states: "With the arrival of Geddes, the true development of Tel Aviv took off."

Yirmi Hoffman, director of conservation for Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, said: "There is no doubt that Geddes's plan enabled Tel Aviv's expansion from a very small town into a city."

Tel Aviv, with about a half a million residents, is to many Israelis the opposite of Jerusalem. Tel Avivians like to contrast the Western-looking beachfront city full of enjoyable cafs and pubs with the traditional, grave biblical city.

Tel Aviv has always emphasised the new – even its name was chosen with futurist connotations meaning "hill of spring".

Rachel Hatzor, 74, said: "In Jerusalem they sanctify the buildings and the past. Here people are looking ahead. There are no sacred houses and there is no sacred history in which you get stuck and which prevents you from seeing the present and future."

PROFILE

BORN in Ballater in 1854, Patrick Geddes was brought up in Perth. He started his career in banking but went on to study botany and by 24 was a biologist of great promise.

He was sent on a research mission to Mexico, but fell ill there and ended up working at Edinburgh University. His wide interests – including town planning, politics, social thinking and literature – led him into a number of innovative urban renewal projects. In Edinburgh, he protected more than 70 sites, including Lady Stair's Close, plus many of the Royal Mile's closes.

Back to the top of the page