A brand new city, with no notice

A project to build a new city that would hold up to 100,000 residents on the southwestern edge of the capital is met with sharp criticism from the municipality.

Nir Barkat
It began about 10 days ago with a stormy press release from the mayor’s office.
The message sharply stated Mayor Nir Barkat’s profound opposition to a project to revive the construction of housing units on the western side of the city – specifically in green areas. A second announcement followed a couple of days later, written in even stronger terms, making it clear that not only was the project unacceptable to the municipality, it could result in the unprecedented step of the mayor bringing the matter to court.
What could possibly cause such an outburst of outrage from Barkat and most of the members of his coalition? The match that lit the fire was none other than a project to build a new city that would hold up to 100,000 residents on the southwestern edge of the capital.
Moreover, this dramatic decision came from Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) – who is president of the national commission for housing – Construction Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) and Interior Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud), without any prior notice to Barkat. Nor did they invite him to take part in the planning of the project, which already has a name: Bat Harim.
The rationale behind the project is, of course, to provide affordable housing – small apartments for young families, mostly – in a radius that would enable the future residents to find adequate jobs in Jerusalem. According to Interior Ministry sources, the future city will include Tzur Hadassah and Mevo Betar, and some 20,000 housing units will be constructed – most of them up to three rooms and at affordable prices.
But the main problem is the location of the planned city, which will cover most of the green areas in west and southwest Jerusalem.
Most of these are classified today as protected environmental areas, among them the Lavan Ridge. The plan does not include any single-story structures; there would be eight to 10 stories per building.
Another concern is the change that would occur in the character of the Tzur Hadassah community, whose residents moved there mostly from Jerusalem for the more rural lifestyle it offered at a relatively affordable price. The new project is the last thing Tzur Hadassah’s residents are likely to want, and their opposition is also expected to be adamant.
But the primary issue remains, apparently, that such an important project has been decided on and prepped for submission to the Interior Ministry’s national planning committee without any of the involved officials considering that Jerusalem’s mayor should at least have been consulted about it.
Barkat fumed over the project and made it clear that it would never occur under his watch – and the mayor has some say on the subject, having promoted a new plan for the Mei Neftoah project, which diminishes environmental damage by converting proposed luxury housing into a park and nature preservation center. Furthermore, he recently made a decision to halt all development and construction plans in the Lifta area for the same reason: to protect nature and the environment as much as possible.
Bat Harim seems, according to sources at Safra Square, to be just another project that has no chance of implementation – as the associations for environmental and nature protection will never let it pass. So the question remains: Why was it conceived and promoted at all? In some ways, it is just another attempt to revive the old, rejected plan to build on the western side of the city – the famous “Safdie Plan” of which all high-ranking municipality officials are well aware.
“Every now and then it reappears, in one variation or another,” admits an Interior Ministry source, “although we all know that the objection at the Jerusalem Municipality is still very tough. But there is no question that something has to be done to increase housing in the region; otherwise young couples will continue to leave for more affordable housing elsewhere.”