Grapevine - Urban renewal blues

But today there is very little room to build outward; the only solution is to build upward. So Jerusalem will become a city of tall towers.

Holyland construction project 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Holyland construction project 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
Plans for the renewal of Jerusalem were this week presented to the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee, which may approve major changes that will not only revamp the face and character of Jerusalem, but will cause great anguish and inconvenience to many of the city’s residents – especially those who were previously unaware that their lives would be affected.
Urban renewal began on a relatively modest scale during the administration of Ehud Olmert. True, some of the projects he pushed through, or to which he turned a blind eye, contributed to his conviction on charges of corruption and resulted in a spell in prison; but compared to what’s in store for the city, this was really peanuts, even though the Holyland project continues to dominate the skyline like an open wound on the urban landscape. Uri Lupolianski took urban renewal somewhat further, and Nir Barkat, further still.
But it appears that Moshe Lion wants to surpass all his predecessors, including Teddy Kollek, who was regarded as a latter-day Herod.
The essential difference between Kollek and Lion is that in Kollek’s day, there were still numerous vacant plots on which nothing had been previously built, and he filled in the empty space, as in the construction of the Israel Museum. People such as President Reuven Rivlin and lawyer Isaac Molho can remember when the site of the museum was a barren hill where they played as boys.
But today there is very little room to build outward; the only solution is to build upward. So Jerusalem will become a city of tall towers; few will be able to see the Judean Desert from where they live.
To most, that won’t matter, because if they never had that view, they’re not going to miss it. However, what they will miss is being allowed to move around freely in their cars along roads that are already congested and will become more so, as more towers are built.
The people at city hall have a solution. The light rail will cut through almost every main street, and the public will be encouraged to make greater use of bicycles, electric scooters and Segways. In heavily overcrowded Geula, haredi young men are already using Segways on the pavement, narrowly avoiding baby carriages and wheelchairs.
But that doesn’t mean that everyone who owns a car will give it up, or that people will stop buying cars. It’s an unfortunate fact in Israel that every time a new road is built to ease the pressure of existing traffic, more cars appear on the highways.
In Kiryat Yovel, where an attempt is being made to build a new haredi neighborhood in a largely secular area, there have already been several protest demonstrations, but to no avail.
In Talbiyeh, the “fun” is just starting, with plans for the light rail to go along Keren Hayesod St., with two adjoining hotels to be built on Ahad Ha’am and Keren Hayesod streets, plus a couple of apartment complexes behind the hotels, with underground parking for residents of these complexes and hotel guests, who will enter and exit via Sokolov St., but will make life difficult for existing apartment owners who live in buildings without garages. In addition, whatever pavements do exist on Sokolov Street are narrow, so pedestrians usually walk in the middle of the road, but they will be risking their lives if the municipality’s plans come to fruition.
Other than Bernice and Arthur Fogel, who have attempted to alert people in the area, few people seem worried about what will happen when the hotels go up and buses and taxis transport tourists to and from the hotels. No one appears to be doing much about the situation, mainly because they don’t know enough. Bernice Fogel thinks that this is unconscionable. The city council is in office because the public elected its members, she says, and the council therefore owes it to residents to keep them informed – and not only in Hebrew.
She organized a meeting last week at Ginot Ha’Ir, where members of the Urban Forum presented a vague outline of what will be happening. They didn’t really explain what their role is or whether they are working for the public or the municipality. Some people present suspected the latter.
Considering the dramatic changes that will be taking place everywhere, including shaving off some of Sokolov Park to make room for traffic, it is essential that city council representatives hold major information meetings in every neighborhood, says Bernice Fogel. She stops short of suggesting a referendum, because a referendum currently has negative connotations, but the people at city hall cannot be allowed to ride roughshod over people’s lives.
By the way, none of the grandiose plans for Ahad Ha’am, Sokolov and Keren Hayesod streets include a public toilet in Sokolov Park.