This research examines land use change in Israel––an intriguing but understudied setting with regard to population–environment dynamics. While Israel is fairly unique with regard to its combined high levels of economic prosperity and high population growth, this case study has relevance for developed countries and regions (like the south and southwest regions of the USA) which must balance population growth and urban development with open space conservation for ecosystem services and biological diversity. The population–land development relationship is investigated during the period from 1961 to 1995 at three spatial scales: national, regional (six districts), and local (40 localities). There is a positive correlation between population growth and land development rates at the national scale, and while remaining positive, the strength of the relationship varies greatly at regional and local scales. The variation in population–land use dynamics across scales is used to garner insight as to the importance of geography, policy and historical settlement patterns.
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Using GNI Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) as an economic indicator, Israel resembles Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Slovenia, all of which had a 2002 GNI PPP between $17,000 and $21,000. However, all of the latter countries have an annual rate of population increase of less than 0.1% whereas Israel’s rate of annual increase was 1.6%. Countries that bore resemblance to Israel with regard to both rate of population increase and GNI PPP were Kuwait and Bahrain (Population Reference Bureau 2004).
From the perspective of open-space preservation, it is important to note that much of the Negev Desert, while relatively unpopulated, is used extensively for military training zones. In addition, it is used for mining of minerals and is the site for repositories of solid, chemica,l and radioactive waste.
The academic literature on planning is Israel most often refers to strongly centralized control of land use in Israel. However, there are situations and research that challenge this assumption. Prior to National Outline Plan 31 in the early 1990s, planning in Israel was sectoral rather than comprehensive (Frenkel 2004), allowing for market and/or political pressures to catalyze development in circumvention of centralized planning processes. One such example is mountaintop residential development in the Galilee in the 1980s (Carmon 1990). Another is illegal or unplanned development in multiple sectors (commercial centers, residences, storage facilities) as documented by environmental organizations and by the State Comptroller’s office; development that is often approved ex-post facto by decision-making bodies. Alfasi (2006) suggests that the combination of mandated flexibility measures for planning at the local level coupled with illegal circumvention of statutory planning guidelines produces results that do not reflect official planning goals.
Locality boundary data are updated up to 2002. Locality boundaries have been modified in the past, including the creation of new local authorities and the transfer of undeveloped land between local authorities. In 1961, there were 179 local councils nationwide, compared to 194 in 1972, 222 in 1983, and 251 in 1995. There was also a sharp increase in the number of communities, rising from 873 in 1961 to 1,178 in 1995 (MoI 2000). Recently, the trend in establishing new local councils may be reversed as pressure grows from the national government to merge municipal councils into larger administrative units (MoI 2003).
We note that the maps updates did not always correspond to census years from which we take our population data. In order to address this discrepancy, we used all of the maps published prior to a given census year to quantify developed area prior to that year, thus synchronizing the time periods for the population and spatial data as best as possible.
We used local population data to develop several additional variables: population at t 0, population density at t 0 (population divided by the total area built in the locality), and population growth during the interim period. Owing to strong covariance among these variables, only population growth was used in our statistical analysis.
Based on a regression model that included percentage of open space in each locality at t 0 as an additional variable, we determined that development rates in most cases did not show any change based on the proportion of available land, even in localities where there was only a small percentage of land still available for development. Our assumption that the rate of development within a locality could be characterized as a logistic curve (as land became more locally scarce and a higher premium was placed on remaining open space, development would slow) was not supported by the data. Population density at t 0 and population size at t 0 were excluded from the model because they showed high covariance with population growth.
The data from Mazor (1993), while being the only data that provide estimates of built space prior to the 1990s, were received by the public and other professionals with some degree of controversy regarding its accuracy, specifically as to whether it overestimated the amount of land that had been developed in the past.
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We would like to thank Leah Van Wey, Jeff Albert, Brian O’Neill, Michael White, Barbara Entwistle, Lori Hunter, Bethany Bradley, Jeremy Fisher, and two anonymous reviewers for their ideas and recommendations; David Lindstrom for his assistance with the statistical analysis; and Lynn Carlson for her assistance with the GIS analysis. Spatial data were generously provided by the GIS unit of Keren Kayameth L’Israel (central division), and by the cartography library of Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Funding was provided through a Luce Environmental Graduate Student Fellowship to Daniel Orenstein.
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Orenstein, D.E., Hamburg, S.P. Population and pavement: population growth and land development in Israel. Popul Environ 31, 223–254 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-010-0102-4
- Land use/land cover change
- Open space preservation
- Population growth
- Land use policy