Shaping their future

Residents of the German Colony, Greek Colony, Katamon, Talbiyeh and San Simon meet to help influence the area’s master plan.

german colony street 311 (photo credit: Sarah Levin)
german colony street 311
(photo credit: Sarah Levin)
For nearly four hours, some 100 residents of the German Colony, Greek Colony, Old Katamon, Talbiyeh and San Simon gathered at the International Cultural and Community Center (ICCC) on Rehov Emek Refaim to present their vision for their community. Sponsored by Ginot Ha’ir, the community council for these neighborhoods, the conference was a preliminary step in residents’ participation in shaping the new master plan for the area being developed by the municipality.
Ginot Ha’ir chose a different type of forum for eliciting residents’ ideas. There were no representatives of the municipality present (although Deputy Mayor Pepe Alalu did show up at the end to congratulate residents on their involvement).
After an initial explanation of the planning process so far and where it is heading, residents broke up into small groups and worked out their vision of what they would like to see in the future. This was then presented to the entire gathering. No criticism or objections were allowed. The ideas presented will be studied by the community council for possible incorporation into the master plan to be presented by Ginot Ha’ir to the municipality.
Ginot Ha’ir, covering 1,600 dunams, includes historic areas (the German and Greek colonies), cultural institutions (the Jerusalem Theater, Smadar Cinema and the ICCC), green areas (Liberty Bell Park, the Sun and the Moon Groves and the new Hamesila Park being built along the old railroad tracks) and a number of educational and religious institutions. Its residents are mainly middle- or upper-middle class and include a mix of religious and secular, many of them English speakers. Most of the buildings are low rise (six stories or less).
Gabriel Kertiz, the master plan architect, explained the planning process. “The whole idea today is to envision how we want the master plan to look. The master plan is the planning policy to be adopted by the authorities and used for shaping the final statutory plan [the one with force of law]. We are now in the first stage, where we are studying the problems through surveys and meetings. We are looking at traffic, transportation, infrastructure, green areas, parks, etc. The initial process has been going on for some nine months. By the end of February or early March, we hope to have the survey completed and by May or June to have an outline for the master plan. When we have agreement on a master plan, we will present it to residents and then to the city. Today, we want to put all your ideas on the table for consideration.”
The conference comes in the context of what Ginot Ha’ir calls “an ongoing, wide-ranging series of initiatives working toward changing the status quo and creating new situations through sporadic decisions” [on the part of the municipality].
So what do residents care about? First and foremost, residents want to preserve the architectural and historical character of the community, while still ensuring a lively business and entertainment area along Emek Refaim and a pluralistic mosaic of residents.
Jerry Goodman, who is spearheading a fight against commercial enterprises encroaching onto the narrow residential streets of the German Colony, wants the plan to clearly define commercial and residential areas. “Businesses and restaurants in the German Colony should be restricted to buildings facing Emek Refaim and not be allowed on side streets. The side streets should be reserved exclusively for residential dwellings.” Numerous residents expressed concern over parking and the traffic situation in the German Colony. Resident Ya’acov Simkovitz suggested moving the Jerusalem Pool from its current location next to the soon-to-be-created Hamesila Park to an open field on Rehov Hatzfira and letting the pool’s landowners build a parking garage. Others suggested having underground garages built at Liberty Bell Park and the pool area to relieve the problem. Still others proposed closing Emek Refaim to all traffic except buses.
German Colony resident Edith Rubin expressed concern that children cannot walk safely to school because of lack of sidewalks or too narrow sidewalks and dangerous intersections.
Other residents were concerned about building height. One suggested not allowing buildings higher than the tallest trees in the German Colony. “We fought the proposed Four Seasons Hotel, which was going to be 14 stories high,” Goodman reminded people. “We have to set maximum height, which should be four stories for residential buildings in the German Colony and six for hotels and commercial structures.”
The majority of residents mentioned their desire to preserve and increase neighborhood green areas and to add leisure time and sports activities, as well as pedestrian and bike paths.
“The charm of this neighborhood is that you don’t need to drive,” notedTodd Warnick of the German Colony. “You can walk to everything youneed, and we want to retain this.”
The issue of affordable housing for students and young couples weighedheavily on a number of residents, who lamented the fact that none oftheir children live in the community because “they can’t afford it.” ATalbiyeh resident suggested giving subsidies to builders to set asidelower-cost apartments for young couples and students.