As we celebrate 47 years to the reunification of the city of Jerusalem, it is my privilege and honor to share the trends of upward momentum in our city and our plans for the future. To best understand Jerusalem’s future, we must go back 3,000 years to the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. When the people of Israel came to the land of Israel, each tribe was allocated a portion of land. The land was divided, except for Jerusalem.
The home of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem was, and is today, a center of worship for both Jews and non-Jews. Jerusalem, at its core, is an indivisible city.
Three thousand years ago, when members of the different tribes converged on Jerusalem, a sense of respect and friendship was formed. This same sense of kinship is felt in Jerusalem today. Jerusalem, as the center of the universe for people of all faiths, is a city that unites people. This part of Jerusalem’s past is the essence of my vision for Jerusalem’s future.
Jerusalem, the oldest new city in the world, is the heart and soul of Jewish people all over the globe and the spiritual center of the world for over three billion people of faith. Freedom of religion is strictly maintained in the city. Looking towards the future, I believe that by developing new products and ideas, we can create demand for the city of Jerusalem and scale to our opportunity.
By managing and leading the city with a wide coalition, strong consensus, and respect for all religions, we have yielded results in the last five years that are being celebrated by all of the city’s residents. The municipal budget has grown by double digits in the past four years. At the entrance to the city, the Municipality is advancing the construction of 13 towers with 35 stories each, totaling 1.1 million square meters for businesses that will add 100,000 new jobs to the city.
In the past five years, 500 new classrooms were created in East Jerusalem and an additional 500 are planned in the next five years. Perhaps one of the strongest indicators that Jerusalem is thriving is the fact that the number of young adults leaving the city has declined by approximately 70 percent in the last four years.
In the field of education, we are investing in future generations. The matriculation eligibility of students in the national-religious education system rose from 64 percent in 2007 to 71 percent in 2013, an increase from 64 percent in 2007; eligibility in the national education system is 69 percent, compared with 66 percent eligibility last year.
The number of students in primary and secondary national and national- religious schools rose by five percent between 2008 and 2013. In the seven years before I entered office, the city suffered a 12 percent decline in these numbers. Jerusalem’s students are succeeding in school and out of school as well. Forty-four percent of Jerusalem’s children are part of youth movements, compared to the national average of 30 percent. Jerusalem’s residents are also increasingly satisfied with their lives in the city. Ninety-two percent of Jerusalem’s residents report that they are satisfied with the standard of living in their city, as compared to the national average of 88 percent. Jerusalem is one of the safest cities in the world and an oasis of sanity and peace in a region wrought with conflict.
THE FLOURISHING renaissance Jerusalem is experiencing in the fields of education and employment is making Jerusalem an attractive destination for residents, tourists and pilgrims. When I entered office in November 2008, the annual number of tourists was less than 2 million. In 2013, we are at a run rate of 4 million tourists and approximately 7 million people visited cultural events, festivals and cultural institutions in the city. Five thousand new hotel rooms are in the pipeline and Jerusalem now has 70 percent hotel occupancy.
The annual Light Festival in the Old City draws 300,000 tourists to the Old City of Jerusalem. Concerts, festivals and street parties are creating a vibrant cultural life in Jerusalem and strong demand for the city. In March 2014, 26,000 runners ran in the Jerusalem Marathon, including 2,500 runners from 54 countries around the world. The Formula 1 Peace Road Show drew 300,000 spectators including Muslims, Christians, and Jews, both ultra-Orthodox and secular, all sharing the same streets. The sight of the modern race cars, speeding alongside the walls of Jerusalem’s ancient Old City, embodies my vision for Jerusalem- blending the old and the new in a city that is open for everyone to experience and enjoy.
Film and television production in Jerusalem are gaining traction. Since 2008, the Jerusalem Film Fund has invested in the development of 60 projects and produced 40 feature films and 13 television series filmed in Jerusalem. In upcoming months, NBC will begin filming “The Dig,” a television series by the makers of Heroes and Homeland. Natalie Portman recently finished filming an adaptation of a novel by Amos Oz.
We are showcasing Jerusalem’s beauty to the world through film and media, and developing Jerusalem internally as well, investing in infrastructure at a rapid pace. Jerusalem is positioned to become the largest sports center in the country.
Teddy Stadium was expanded to include an additional 34,000 seats, and recently hosted the 2013 UEFA European Under- 21 Championship. The Jerusalem Arena will open in August 2014 with an Exhibition Game featuring NBA All-Stars playing against the HaPoel Jerusalem team.
A new aquarium, one of the largest in the Middle East, will be a sensational part of the Biblical Zoo in 2015. Several new cinema complexes have recently opened in Jerusalem. In 2018, Jerusalem will boast a high-speed 28 minute train to Tel Aviv. The airport will be less than 20 minutes away. In addition to the new light rail line, the national and municipal governments are investing over NIS 20 billion in another three light rail lines that will be developed in the next seven to ten years.
The facts on the ground are proof that we must be doing something right. By carefully aligning strategic development with our vision for Jerusalem, based on the way that the city functioned in the past, we have succeeded in positioning Jerusalem as a leading international city.
We are fully aware that we have a lot of work ahead of us, but based on what we have achieved so far, I am optimistic going forwards. A united Jerusalem is the only viable option for a vibrant and thriving Jerusalem. This is our future.
This is Jerusalem.
The writer is the mayor of the City of Jerusalem, the undivided capital of the Jewish people.