Barkat's top environmentalist vows to green the capital

For 10 years, Naomi Tsur has led the nongovernmental efforts to rehabilitate J'lem as the head of SPNI's Jerusalem office.

naomi tsur 248.88 (photo credit: )
naomi tsur 248.88
(photo credit: )
Naomi Tsur understands the environmental challenges facing Jerusalem. For 10 years, she has led the nongovernmental efforts to rehabilitate the capital as the head of SPNI's Jerusalem office and as founder of the Sustainable Jerusalem coalition of 60 environmental groups. Now, she's going to tackle those same issues for the next five years - but this time from the other side. As the No. 3 spot on Mayor-elect Nir Barkat's winning list, she's going to be spearheading any changes the city makes to beautify the city in the near future. Tsur, who made aliya from England in 1966 and lives in the capital's Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, rattled off with easy authority on Thursday a slew of environmental issues the Barkat administration would be facing. At the same time, she readily admitted that she did not yet know where plans and projects stood in the municipality, which would dictate in part how they tackled the situation. One immediate change, however, came through clearly - the municipality could not rule from on high, but rather in a "synergy" with the city's residents and civil society. "What is really lacking is public participation in planning processes. We need a process to get wisdom from neighborhood residents, so we can solve problems, but in a way that makes sense [for local residents]. There hasn't been enough done in the last two decades," Tsur told The Jerusalem Post. "It comes down to a valley here and a bus stop there. We have to deal with the details and not just general plans. We will establish general forums for public participation. People in the neighborhoods know what they need and need to develop local leadership," she said. "With issues of environment, you don't really start, you just keep going on," she opined. Making more open spaces, and ones accessible to all, was one of her priorities. "The issue of open space allocation, fair equity between different neighborhoods is very important. There's a definite situation of have and have-nots. How we look after them and develop them is the issue," she said. Tsur specifically mentioned several projects she felt should be promoted. "The Jerusalem forest shouldn't be depleted anymore - it's a quarter of its original size. Hopefully we will create a continuous park along the railway line from Emek Refaim to Malha. Residents wanted it, and we have committed to it. It runs through rich, poor, Jewish, Arab neighborhoods and answers a real need for quality open space," she declared. With the light rail project snarling up downtown and years behind schedule, Tsur championed two tangential aspects of public transportation. "There are plans for bike paths - they just haven't been implemented. Being able to get to work on a bike or [by] walking is crucial. You should be allowed to take your bike onto the light rail and heavy rail so that you can get to work," Tsur said. However, the public transportation conundrum starts long before people reach the outskirts of the city, she noted. "We need to think about ways to get people to Jerusalem by public transport. We need to work to get a fast train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as soon as possible. If all commuters come into the city via mass transit, then they will continue [using mass transit]. If they come in the cars, they'll just stay in the cars," Tsur told the Post. "More than half of the city's residents don't own cars. We are the largest users of a public transportation system in the country, but it's a mess," she added. Barkat has pledged to clean up the capital's streets, and Tsur agreed that was a priority. "We need to think about not only cleanliness, but what happens to our garbage, about recycling. I'm going to see what's been planned, what's being done. I don't see why we shouldn't be recycling much, much more," Tsur maintained. Part of the solution will have to be figuring out sewage in the eastern part of the city and the Kidron valley, she noted. She also mentioned environmental education, recycling of gray water and rain harvesting as other areas of interest. Green building and affordable housing could go hand in hand, she said. Tsur acknowledged that it was easy to delineate the problems before taking up her responsibilities in the municipality, but she expressed confidence that if the residents supported them, they could accomplish a lot. "If we say this is important, then we have to set about it and not be afraid and go ahead. I think if things are important enough, you can get a lot done," she said.