Saturday, 11 May 2013

Things to Learn from Israel

I would like to dedicate a post to some of the positive things I have seen during my recent visit to Israel. It’s not like I’m abandoning well established habits of knocking Israel down. Instead, this is an attempt to show that in some respects there is a lot to be learned from other countries, even if these countries are in stress.
First, I would like to clarify I am only going to talk about things I have seen with my own eyes during this last visit of mine. That is, there is much more to Israel than what this post covers, at least when compared to Australia; significantly lower cost higher education is a fine example that springs to mind. I choose to focus on what I could see with my own eyes during a ten day visit where I found myself saying "I wish Australia, or Melbourne in particular, was like that".
Bearing those clarifications in mind, let’s have a go.

Public transport:
Public transport made some significant inroads in the Tel Aviv area. First, there are regular train services to the airport (hear that, third world Melbourne?).
Second, it is incredibly easy to find your way around the public transport system. A Google search will not only tell you what buses you need to take to get from here to there, it will also point you to the stations and tell you when you should expect your buses to arrive. In some cases you can use apps to tell you exactly where the buses are (as in, you can see them moving on your smartphone's map). While this last feature proved unreliable in other cases, it is still way ahead of the facilities available to Melbourne’s public transport users.
I will put it this way: it appears Tel Aviv has invested in its public transport, whereas Melbourne does the minimum it can to sustain its services at their historical level of service. This week’s state budget brought the message home as firmly as it could go: $8 billion for a new toll road of dubious value, nothing for public transport.

Electric bicycles:
They’re all over the place in Tel Aviv, with people of all ages riding them to get from place to place. Couple that with lots of bicycle lanes created on the sidewalk (as opposed to the far more dangerous road), and we have ourselves a very effective way to get from place to place. Which, you know, is the whole point of bicycles.
Or is it? Because in Melbourne you have to wear lycra and participate in at least three triathlons a month to be allowed to be seen riding a bike. With a relatively few inner city exceptions, bicycles are not a mode of transport; they’re a social statement.

The streets of Tel Aviv allowed me to witness a sight I had all but forgotten existed: the sight of children playing in the street. More importantly, the sight of children playing without adult supervision in the street. I commented recently on this matter in a book review here, but suffice to say I consider the sight of children playing a very good indicator for a healthy society.
In contrast, at Melbourne you can actually get the impression there are no kids about. You do not see them on the street, at least not on their own; you see them being ferried around by their dedicated chauffeurs, riding at the back of their armored aircraft carriers. You see them guided by adults into playing footy or cricket. But you don't see them simply playing. You do not see children being children.
The problem is that keeping the children away from harm's way is a self fulfilling prophecy. We keep them supervised at home because we are afraid for their safety even though, statistically speaking, they do not have much to fear outside (or at least they used to not have much to fear outside). However, by keeping children inside, we are making the experience of venturing out for those few that do go out much more dangerous: there will be less sympathizing kids around and more room for preying adults to do their thing uninterrupted.
The case of children playing unsupervised outside is a case where Israel clearly has the upper hand over Australia, or at least Melbourne.

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