Let's meet at the square

Jerusalem's three main squares - Zion, Davidka and Zahal - are returning to their former glory.

new davidka square 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
new davidka square 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After two decades of economic decline, terror and massive construction that turned downtown Jerusalem's streets into an obstacle course, there is good news ahead for the city's three main squares - Zion, Davidka and Zahal. The trio are scheduled to undergo major redesigns, which are aimed at restoring them to their former glory days as centers for shopping and leisure for both Jerusalemites and tourists. The revitalization is being carried out by the Eden Company (a subsidiary of the municipal-owned Jerusalem Development Authority set up to rehabilitate the downtown area) in partnership with the Jerusalem Foundation. The face-lift for the squares is in addition to some $100 million being invested in revamping downtown infrastructure, and $450 million the municipality is putting into the new light rail system, which will transform Jaffa Road into a pedestrian mall. "Jerusalem is aiming for a total revitalization of the city center - to make it more accessible transportation wise, to renovate and upgrade infrastructure and to bring residents, culture, employment and businesses back into the area," says Asaf Vitman, CEO of the Eden Company. Working with the Eden Company is the Jerusalem Foundation, which is now celebrating 40 years of taking an active role in the city's development, and has committed itself to financing the makeover for the squares - something it views as one of the city's most critical needs. "In light of the city center's decline over the past decade, the foundation has taken upon itself to help respond to the challenge of revitalizing the center of Jerusalem," notes Jerusalem Foundation president Ruth Cheshin. "We are moving ahead with several endeavors to bring new life back to the center, keep the students and the younger generation in the city and make Jerusalem... a world-class capital." Ask any veteran Jerusalemite and you will be regaled with memories of the heyday of Kikar Zion, when Rehov Ben-Yehuda and Jaffa Road were "the" place to meet and be seen - and when the elite of Jerusalem would gather in it's cafes and coffee shops for the Friday morning "parliament," to discuss the burning issues of the day. Today, the square is more commonly known as a hangout for disenfranchised youth, beggars, assorted street musicians and the homeless. To spruce up the square and make it an attractive, pleasant place to gather, Israeli-born architect/sculptor/designer Ron Arad, a professor at London's Royal College of Art, has been commissioned to design a unique creation - an outdoor environmental structure combining playful forms and advanced technologies. Arad, who is considered one of the most influential designers of our times, hopes his eye-pleasing work will convey a message to the youth who gather in Kikar Zion to explore new horizons, as well as challenging them to push themselves to their limits as he does in his designs. Kikar Zahal, the bustling junction where east meets west at the corner of Jaffa Road and the Old City walls, is being redesigned by world-famous town planner and architect (and native-born Jerusalemite) Moshe Safdie - whose name is better known these days in connection with the recently rejected Western Jerusalem Plan. The Jerusalem Foundation of Canada, headed by David Azrieli of the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv and of the Jerusalem Mall, has committed itself to raising some $2 million for the project. With completion of the light rail infrastructure, all vehicular traffic will be routed underground, creating a pedestrian space with green passages, stone-paved walkways and even an amphitheater. According to Steve Solomon, director of the Canada desk at the Jerusalem Foundation, the Canadians are also committed to donating some 10% of the money they raise toward social service projects for youth at risk. "In addition to the bricks and mortar, we also want to support human services in Jerusalem," he says. Kikar Davidka, on Jaffa and Hanevi'im streets, commemorates the homemade mortars that saved the day for Jerusalem during the War of Independence. The redesign of the square is being undertaken by award-winning Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. His design will combine a series of stone columns with water elements, and the square will be shielded from city traffic, thus providing a pleasant oasis in the center of town. Legorreta envisions the mixture of red stone, flowing blue water and green trees as creating a feeling of space, air and color to contrast with the Jerusalem stone of surrounding structures. Of course, the original Davidka will continue to occupy a place of honor in the square. To help maintain the square, a special endowment fund is being set up. Kikar Zahal is slated for completion sometime between October 2007 and February 2008. No dates were given for the other two squares.