Analyze this: Don't lower the bridge, raise the city to its heights

Only problem with bridge's appearance is its surroundings.

June 25, 2008 22:30
4 minute read.
Analyze this: Don't lower the bridge, raise the city to its heights

strings bridge 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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The latest project by acclaimed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava is an engineering marvel, a soaring piece of sculptured white steel that is intended to serves both as a key element of the mass transit system, and an inspiring gateway for those entering the city. But it's also hugely over-budget, way behind schedule, derided as a extravagant and unnecessary waste of taxpayer money, and worst of all - it hasn't even been built yet. No, it's not the light-rail bridge at the capital's entrance, which at least was dedicated last night despite sharing the problems described above. It's Calatrava's design for the New York City PATH station at Ground Zero, replacing the old underground train hub destroyed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. The architect had designed a new station whose rooftop was a spine of slender white "wings" that cut the sky, not unlike the stringed bow-like tower supporting the rail bridge that now sits above the main road into Jerusalem. But bureaucratic and construction complications have caused the budget of the PATH hub to run upwards of $2.5 billion, and years behind its projected finish. An editorial in the New York Daily News recently declared, "Bust this boondoggle," and under pressure to tone done its costly design, Calatrava has clipped the wings of the station so that, as The New York Times noted, "It may now evoke a slender stegosaurus more than it does a bird." It's a sobering thought that New York City, a city far bigger than Jerusalem, far richer and with far more claim to be the leading metropolis of our age, is also struggling with the ambitious scope of a Calatrava project, even as the capital dedicated its own last night. There's no question that both are expressions of urban ambition, although NYC is arguably in a better position to afford such hubristic follies than Jerusalem, which despite its vaunted name is one of this country's poorest cities. It's also, not coincidentally, one of the poorest run, a monument to mismanagement and shortsightedness on both the national and local level, exemplified by some of the ludicrous planning decisions made in the construction of the bridge. With the light-rail it is designed to carry still at least two years from completion, it is now serving as the world's most costly foot-bridge. In the meantime, though, city hall has allowed Egged to eliminate local bus lines intended to be replaced by the light-rail, so Jerusalemites will certainly have plenty of walking to do. But all that is now water (or traffic) under the bridge, so to speak. Now that it is finished, one can at least admire the artistry of Calatrava's work, a truly impressive piece of architectural engineering, that from certain angles assumes a lyre-like form that perhaps evokes the harp of David associated with the city's glorious past. In fact, the only problem with the bridge's appearance is its surroundings. Not just the jumble of run-down buildings, unsightly gas stations and tangled traffic in its immediate vicinity, but Jerusalem as a whole. For despite its near-mythical position in Western and Middle Eastern civilization, and its unequaled status in Jewish culture, the capital is ill-served by guardians who are failing to properly plan and sustain the city, despite fervently defending their claim to sovereignty over it. Looking at the majestic sweep of the Calatrava bridge, one is tempted to think not whether Jerusalem needs this creation, but whether it needs Jerusalem - not the heavenly gotham of biblical prophecies, but the down-to-earth city which far too many productive Israelis are choosing to leave every year. An urban monument like the bridge, even one condemned at the time of its creation by many as extravagant, unnecessary and wasteful, can inspire residents to try to lift themselves up to the heights it reaches in steel or stone. That's surely the impact that the Eiffel Tower had on Parisians when it went up in 1889, and the Stature of Liberty for New Yorkers in 1886. Sometimes such monuments arguably become more recognizable than the cities in which they stand, such as Eero Saarinen's majestic Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The Calatrava bridge is not likely to replace the Old City's Western Wall, Temple Mount and Tower of David as Jerusalem's dominant symbols; nor does this the city need any additional structures to ensure its place in the global consciousness. What the bridge can and should do, though, is help remind its residents - including this country's leadership - that the New City has yet to the live up to the promise of the prophets who once proclaimed Jerusalem "the perfection of beauty," both in what has already has been constructed here, and what remains to be built. Why shouldn't Jerusalem have its own Calatrava creation? After all, New York City can only brag about being the city of the world; we lay claim to being the center of the universe.

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