My question about Haifa

When visiting Israel, I spent two days in Haifa, Israel’s third largest city at about 279,000.  It seemed to me oddly empty, in a fractal sort of way.  The supermarkets had very little on their shelves.  There weren’t many supermarkets, or for that matter many restaurants.  No part of town seemed to be truly densely populated.  There was neither a center nor a thriving set of edge cities, not that I could see.  There weren’t even many parts of town.

Nothing even remotely resembling a real bookstore, not outside of the university at least.  So what gives?  What is the proper theory of Haifa?

Comments

"It seemed to me oddly empty, in a fractal sort of way"

Not sure what this means. I've never thought of fractals as empty.

He explains it - the emptiness is there at every level of detail. Few supermarkets (it's "empty" of supermarkets) and the supermarkets have little in them (they're "empty" of products). Presumably the food is low calorie, too.

"Presumably the food is low calorie, too"
LOL

Yes. I laughed too.

Empty at every level of magnification.

Nar. They only stock Swiss cheeses and sponge cakes that will make a big hole in your wallet.

I think he means it was a layered common emptiness. For instance there weren't many supermarkets, and in the supermarkets there wasn't much on the shelves. For a more fractal example - maybe there weren't many neighborhood center business districts, and in those districts there wasn't many stores to choose from, and in those stores they didn't have much to offer.

It'd be weird to have a bunch of supermarkets where no one lived.

Where I'm from people don't live in supermarkets.

Not only fractally empty, there also were'nt even many parts of town.

I'm trying to picture vacant lots here, but they are parts of town too, just not being used for too much.

Strange city.

Americans and Israelis I know through The Technion sound pretty happy there. Maybe "oddly empty" is a good thing.

Most visits to Haifa by foreigners that are sponsored in any way, ( especially academics, business persons, and technologists) are to highlight the Technion-Israel Insitute of Technology. All the other sites of Haifa except for the Bahia gardens are various unneeded extras.

The story is there is a Red team and a Blue team. And they do not talk to each other to the detriment of each other. They build their lives around bomb shelters so their life wont be disrupted from rockets. Kind of like walking above ground in the middle of the winter in Montreal I would imagine.

"What is the proper theory of Haifa?"

Everything doesn't need to be Hai fa-i.

Don't you mean "Hyphy"?

Haifa has an underground rapid transit system, the only one in Israel. That might help explain why what's above-ground seemed deserted. Did Cowen use it?

The Carmelit is very lightly used. There was a fire in it some time ago and during the renovation the city made do. There is also nothing underground, no malls or stores or connections to office buildings - only stations.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Lebanon_War

I was just there 4 days’ ago; city is centered around Baha’i Gardens and Technion, with surrounding campuses from Microsoft and Intel etc. Students aside, my read is much of the workforce there make the trip up from Herzilya / Caesaria or another family-friendly town south of Haifa; many of the visitors may daytrip from Tel Aviv or elsewhere. Not sure...

I lived in Haifa for a year, and would sort of agree --- it's a quiet place. It has an oddly suburban feel for a place that is mostly apartments. There is a saying: "Jerusalem is for praying, Tel Aviv is for partying, Haifa is for working." There are little public spaces here and there, but no real center. The hilly topography may contribute to this, by separating the neighborhoods.

I remember a lot of businesses being tucked into odd places, on streets you would never happen to go down unless you lived there. There were two supermarkets within a short walking distance from my apartment, but you might not notice either one when driving around, because one was in the basement of a sort of mini-mall, and the other on a residential back street.

That said, it was a pleasant place to live. We found it easy to meet people. My memories of that year include a lot of meals at people's houses, being introduced to the home cooking of several cultures. There's a rich life that goes on more in private spaces.

There aren't any particular Haifa restaurants I miss.

This comment is too insightful and on-point to be on the internet.

Or to be in one of Tyler's threads/comments?

One of the best restaurants in the eastern Mediterranean is just up the coast from Haifa, chef Uri Buri's in Acco.

Sounds like exactly the sort of place I'd like to live. I can't complain though about where I live in the Chicago suburbs.

Haifa's population is a little larger than Champaign-Urbana but with a density 50 times greater. C-U bustles with people and businesses. It is hard to imagine how Haifa manages to look empty unless most of its activities take place indoors and underground with connecting corridors.

I see that you’re simplifying things for non-Illinoisians, but C-U is far enough that it can’t even remotely be called a suburb of Chicago. Lol. It’s a great town though. Cheap ethnic food, excellent cafes, and an erudite population with a quaint small-town feel.

I was comparing Haifa (which I know only from Wikipedia) with an isolated municipality of approximately the same population. The fact Haifa has a 50 fold population density and STILL seems empty is rather a remarkable claim.

I never stated or implied C-U was a Chicago suburb. It clearly isnt.

I stated that i live in a Chicago suburb, not C-U.

I stated very clearly I am a C-U-C-K.

I wonder how much of our sense of "bustle" comes from a relatively small slice of the population that spends disproportionate time in cafes, bars, restaurants, and pleasure shopping --- for example, students. College towns almost always have an interesting downtown for this reason. Whereas if the population is more working families, there will be businesses to serve them, but those businesses will be less flashy (daycares, auto repair), and may be located less conspicuously, because they are mostly catering to a local population that knows where they are.

Good point. Depends on local sensibilities I guess. If the entire culture, for example, is accustomed to family meals, the restaurant scene might appear dismal. If the population is frugal, the shopping might be poor.

When I lived in Germany in the late 80s, the prevailing culture was small refrigerators and frequent shopping to local markets. There was one supermarket in the city center.

Restaurants were almost all family owned gasthouses.

Switzerland, Austria, Belgium all seemed similar. The only large crowds were wine fests, and they were packed.

Haifa's population is a little larger than Champaign-Urbana but with a density 50 times greater. C-U bustles with people and businesses. It is hard to imagine how Haifa manages to look empty unless most of its activities take place indoors and underground with connecting corridors.

The dense settlement around Champaign-Urbana is about 127,000 in population. The county in which it nestles has 209,000 people in it.

Haifa's current population is 281,000, or 2.2x that of the built-up area around Champaign-Urbana. Haifa's density (at 11,000 persons per sq. mile) is about 5x that of an ordinary dense settlement in the U.S., not 50x.

What is with the pedantry here?

I chose C-U because it is an island of civilization. Unlike the Chicago burbs, people can enjoy amenities within a short drive. Haifa residents dont have this feature. That Champaign county is 210/290th the size is beside the point. They are roughly equal in terms of scale and scope of production. A criticism that C-U is a college town would be better placed.

If Haifa has 11,000 people per square mile and Champaign county has 202, is that not 54 times the density? Or am I messing up the math with the squares?

Haifa has about the same density of Miami or Yonkers and substantially more than Staten Island. But again, the closest metro area to Haifa is what, 50 kilometers?

I meant to say that living in the Chicago burbs, one gets to enjoy amenities in neighboring burbs.

But in Haifa and C-U, one must drive a considerable distance to do so, and the fare is not much better if not worse.

I have never visited Haifa. I'm taking Tyler's observation as an article of faith and looking at the map and stats of Haifa. Something strange is going on, and I understand Tyler's curiosity.

Haifa suffers from declining importance and vitality. Once an important industrial center with an international harbor, with 11% of Israel's population (and two universities) - it has frozen gradually, as the young population is moving south to Israel's center. Its population nowadays is old relative to other cities (in parts of the city the share of 65+ agers is 30%), and it holds about 3% of the Israeli population these days. Haifa failed to cope with economic and commercial developments and its future is questionable.

There are 280,000 in the municipality and another 200,000 in adjacent (and densely settled) suburbs. These hold 5.5% of Israel's population. The municipality itself hasn't held 11% of Israel's population since about 1950.

The histadrut union was strong in Haifa and might have kept tech away - technion notwithstanding.

Also the pollution and disease rates are scary.

I imagine a lot of it has to do with Haifa being close to the Lebanese border- much more so than Tel Aviv and Jerusalem- think rocket attacks.

Israel's socialist health care, mandated HMO coverage, has killed all the population?

What about Hizbollah’s contribution to the health care of the general region?

Rockets keep falling on my head
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red
Crying's not for me
'Cause I'm never gonna stop the rockets by complaining…

Another Haifa memory, specifically food-related: I used to have lunch at the home of my Arabic teacher, and a lot of the delicious food she served was actually made by her neighbors. It seemed like a number of women had little home-based unofficial businesses where they'd prepare large quantities of cookies or stuffed cabbages or whatever, and sell it throughout the apartment building. I haven't experienced that anywhere else. But it's an example of how you can have an interesting food culture that is outside the restaurant scene, hence inaccessible to tourists.

Sounds wonderful. You're making me hungry!

I have encountered this while visiting a friend in a NYC apartment, and not uncommonly in the low-income hispanic communities in south texas where I grew up (not apartments, but poor neighborhoods).

I believe our society/economy does a poor job at division of domestic labor, with its atomised family units and urban isolation.

No part of town seemed to be truly densely populated.

The density of settlement in the municipalities around Haifa ranges from 9,000 per sq mile to 28,000 per square mile. It's as densely settled as DC

Yes, I'm sure Tyler can wiki as well as you can.

The question is, taking his observation as true, why a densely populated city would APPEAR mostly vacant.

You appear to be contrary to everyone's speculation explaining this. Are you uncomfortable with the explanations or uncomfortable with Tyler's observation?

Pick one and defend it, and stop nitpicking.

It doesn't appear that way and wouldn't to anyone not named 'Tyler Cowen' He's not finding what he's looking for, and fancies the place is thus 'empty', which is his problem.

Right now I think there's a heat wave in Israel, as there was in Greece a week ago, so I'm betting TC saw the same thing I saw when I went to Phoenix, Arizona to live for a year: it was the middle of summer, and it was hot, and everybody was indoors. The town looked like a deserted desert town.

Bonus trivia: I got attacked by a tumbleweed in Arizona once, it stuck to my windshield, I saw it coming at me (but could not do anything) a mile away, and it just stuck there, I had to peer underneath it to drive. That, and being attacked by a huge "dust devil" (rocked my car a bit as I drove through it, pedal to the metal, was afraid for a second it would flip my car over, and filled the inside of the car with dust despite the windows being rolled up) were naturalist high-points.

There are more than 30,000 students in town, just from U Haifa and Technion -- but they don't exactly seem like Collegetown USA party animals.

...Maybe the schools and some businesses were on summer break when Tyler visited?

good game. Bahá'í Faith is a very interesting thing, indeed

Wow, it's amazing how many guesses there are here from people who have never been to Haifa:
- Haifa is not a major rocket target -- and most rockets fired at Israel in the past 5 years have come from Gaza, not Lebanon
- Haifa has a very small Baha'i population because the Baha'i faith discourages permanent residence in Haifa for its adherents. The workers at the gardens and the shrine of the Bab rotate in on shifts.
- The carmelit (undeground funicular) has 2,000 rides a day, hilariously tiny for any train system.

Haifa is at this point split three ways between Arabs, Russians, and sabras, and it's one of the only places in Israel where Jews and Arabs live close together. It's possible this makes it hard to build a "public square" in a real sense. I bet much of the action is tucked away on side streets as Nancy suggests, also I noticed the malls tend to be busier than the shopping streets, much of which (especially in the older parts of the city) tends to be quite low-end. The higher-rent parts of town farther up Mt. Carmel feel very suburban.

Most commenters here don't know anything about the world. That's why they gravitate to economics.

I grew up in Haifa 😊

It has the best falafel shop in Israel. It won a country wide survey. I grew up eating there. Trust me on this one 😋

It has a thriving and ever expanding high tech sector, with Google, Microsoft, Intel, and many more. The Technion is part of the story.

It’s a great case of Arab/Israeli co-existence. It’s really beautiful.

Many adults and young adults left to the north or the south of the city for a bunch of reasons, and those who work commute to Haifa via rail which improved a lot.

In the 1990s, there was an influx of Russian immigrants to Haifa, and that changed the dynamics in the city. At the same time, the Arab population expanded.

Israelis don’t buy much stuff anymore in city supermarkets. The hubs are at the outskirts of the city, as is true in other big metro areas.

Hey. I grew up in Haifa 😊

It has the best falafel shop in Israel. It won a country wide survey. I grew up eating there. Trust me on this one 😋

It has a thriving and ever expanding high tech sector, with Google, Microsoft, Intel, and many more. The Technion is part of the story.

It’s a great case of Arab/Israeli co-existence. It’s really beautiful.

Many adults and young adults left to the north or the south of the city for a bunch of reasons, and those who work commute to Haifa via rail which improved a lot.

In the 1990s, there was an influx of Russian immigrants to Haifa, and that changed the dynamics in the city. At the same time, the Arab population expanded.

Israelis don’t buy much stuff anymore in city supermarkets. The hubs are at the outskirts of the city, as is true in other big metro areas.

I went to Haifa about seven years ago, on my first trip to Israel. I was just there to look around, spending my own money and I didn't know anyone there. I wandered round various neighbourhoods (including Arab neighbourhoods), spoke to some people, visited some bars and restaurants - the food and drink both seemed pretty good) and rather liked the place.

On the other hand, I have made a number of subsequent visits to Israel, and I haven't felt a strong enough pull from the place to make me return.

Did your visit happen to coincide with either Shavuot or Eid, both of which just passed? I was in Haifa last week and did not find it particularly empty.

A few thoughts:
1. Haifa is less densely populated than other cities, at least partly due to the terrain + bahai garden. This leads to a feeling of emptiness
2. Historically high cancer rates due to pollution in the northern part (I think the statistic is about 30% higher). This leads to many people preferring to commute.
3. Young people prefer Tel-Aviv for the social/dating scene. Another reason to commute- only an hour by train each way. Old people (married w kids being my definition of old) don't go out, so it feels empty.

Maybe your mind is empty? If you don't want to see the otherness. Next time try not think, try to go down the stairs From Carmel to down town.

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