Deconstructing Jerusalem’s future with a mix of hope and dismay

Finding concrete details on development projects, especially when they will be completed, can be frustrating.

Eliyahu Zazon, founder of Jerusalem Construction News (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Eliyahu Zazon, founder of Jerusalem Construction News
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
 Jerusalem is a city under development: pits surrounded by white metal barriers; massive unfinished luxury residential complexes; the metal frame of the high-speed railway station.
For most residents, these construction sites are just part of the backdrop of life in Jerusalem.
They may have heard fragments of news reports, sometimes with contradicting information, about the more substantial projects, but have no definite idea about even those, let alone the work being done all over the city.
Eliyahu Zazon, a marketing consultant who moved to Israel from Monsey, New York, has made a personal hobby and mission of digging up the details of the work planned and under way throughout the city.
“That stuff just sparks curiosity,” Zazon said of his interest in the cordoned-off construction sites.
“There are no labels. Usually it’s just a big pit.”
After living in Jerusalem for five years, in December 2014 Zazon created Jerusalem Construction News (, a blog that tracks development projects.
Zazon uses information from English and Hebrew-language media sources, online forums for architects, and information published by the municipality, and attends meetings held at the municipality and in other locations on various projects.
Initially, Zazon intended the blog to be a repository of information, which might interest a small number of other people. Less than a year and a half later, the blog is getting thousands of hits per month.
It was the light rail that “piqued my interest, got me interested in what was going on,” he said.
“The thing I wanted to know most about that project was the time frame, which was really hard to find because it was supposed to be finished a couple of years earlier,” he recalled.
“There are still signs up that say, ‘the train coming in the year 2000.’ It took a very long time.”
Even today, finding concrete details on development projects, especially when they will be completed, can be frustrating.
That sense of frustration is evident on his website.
For instance, the planned 20-kilometer “blue” Jerusalem light rail line, which was announced earlier this year, still has no estimated completion date, he said.
“Because the current 13.9 km of light rail track took nearly a decade to complete,” Zazon wrote in a post when it was announced, “construction of the blue line may optimistically be completed between 2025 to 2030.”
When we spoke, Zazon confirmed his sense of frustration, telling how he was asked by a reader to post expected completion dates for projects. All he could do was write, “no completion date given” at the end of articles.
“I’ve written about one project that is already 20 years in the making,” he added, referring to a residential complex near the Jerusalem Theater known as Mishkenot Hate’atron.
Perhaps equally unsurprisingly, Zazon laments how many structures – both completed and planned – do not reflect Jerusalem’s unique character.
Pointing to a picture of the unremarkable skyline of the city center, which he had previously posted to the website (he called it “disgraceful” in the post), he said that “none of these buildings say Jerusalem,” adding, “They are all function and zero form.”
He pointed to the Clal Center on Agrippas Street, near Mahaneh Yehuda, as a particularly egregious example, noting that the building became such a popular site for suicides that nets were placed around it.
(The building’s interior is equally depressing.) “Even the City Tower building,” he said referring to the building on King George Avenue at the intersection with Ben Yehuda Street), “none of them pay respect to what Jerusalem is.”
Another project near Mahaneh Yehuda that Zazon panned is the planned 26-story residential building called “The Pyramid,” designed by Daniel Libeskind and Yigal Levi.
Libeskind also designed One World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan, known as the “Freedom Tower.”
When the plan for the Pyramid (mockingly referred to as the “Freedom Pyramid”) was approved by the Local Planning and Building Committee, Zazon wrote that the building is to have “a shape that would be better suited in a neighboring country.”
Indeed, it is hard to ignore the irony of building a pyramid – a symbol of Jewish enslavement – in Jerusalem.
“I honestly don’t think anyone likes it,” Zazon said about the proposed pyramid.
Due to an outcry over the design and massive size of the planned building, in October last year, the Local Planning and Building Committee mandated that the building height be reduced. Nevertheless, the building will still be more than 20 meters higher than City Tower.
Lipeskind’s firm told In Jerusalem that new renderings of the design are to be released soon and will include significant changes, though the building will remain a pyramid.
Municipality spokesman Evyatar Elad did not respond to a request for a comment on the criticism of the pyramid structure for this article.
Nevertheless, there are projects in the works for which Zazon offered praise.
One is Mit’ham Etz Haim, yet another development near Mahaneh Yehuda, next door to the closed side of the shuk, which is being developed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.
The facade of the original building is to be retained, which Zazon said “pays respect” to Jerusalem’s character.
The development will also include an open space for pedestrians and two towers, which will pierce the skyline, but which Zazon nonetheless believes have a “very subtle” design.
Zazon also pointed to the National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel, which is to be built in the neighborhood of Givat Ram near the Israel Museum for the Israel Antiquities Authority. The campus was designed by Moshe Safdie who designed a number of other Jerusalem landmarks, including Mamilla, David’s Village, the David Citadel Hotel, Yad Vashem and others.
“It’s supposed to look like an archeology site,” Zazon explained.
“There is a black canopy on the top and the main building area is underground. They keep the antiquities on the bottom and protect it with the black tarp,” as would be done at an archeological dig, he said.
However, the future of the city’s transportation system is of much more interest to Zazon, who believes that the planned light rail system, which includes three additional lines, represents the city’s future.
“The local government seems to have a good understanding of where transportation is headed, where it’s more automated with fewer people owning cars and lesser of a need for large roads,” he said.
“Imagine being able to leave your house, walk for a few minutes, get on the light rail, get off at the bus station and get on the high-speed train to Tel Aviv – and when you are in Tel Aviv take the light rail there.”
All in all, Zazon said that he is “pretty optimistic about the train, even though it will take a long time,” a sentiment that is likely shared by most of the city’s residents.
Israelis are no strangers to the idea of waiting patiently for someone or something to fulfill the promise of a better future – even though he, or it, may tarry.
Until the Messiah arrives with the new light rail system, hopefully before 2025-2030, Zazon plans to continue to follow and report on all the developments changing the face of Jerusalem.