Facing new mayoral election, Barkat presents ambitious five-year plan to improve Jerusalem

Mayor: I’ll give the city more jobs, housing, classrooms, light-rail lines and culture to help keep ‘our children’ from moving away.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
In a far-reaching and ambitious presentation addressing job creation, transportation, educational standards, affordable housing, culture and government transparency, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Tuesday presented a comprehensive five-year plan to improve the capital city.
As the October 22 mayoral election edges closer, Barkat and challenger Moshe Lion are actively campaigning to garner votes to win what many believe will be a hotly contested race.
During the presentation, held at the capital’s downtown Musrara Youth Center, Barkat claimed that residents “can feel changes in every part of Jerusalem.”
“When I presented my work plan in 2008, a lot of people said there was no hope – our children are leaving the city – and I said we can make a change for the better,” he explained. “From my experience in the army and in business, I knew I could make a difference.”
Barkat described his five-year plan as a “continuation” of his 2008 agenda, which he said had actively addressed and improved the aforementioned issues.
He said his first priority would be to create 100,000 jobs – including a new business district – to curtail the exodus of young residents who cannot find sustainable local employment.
“Employment is the number one reason why young people are leaving the city – so increasing employment means more people will stay and escape the cycle of poverty,” he said.
“First, I want to create 100,000 new jobs in Jerusalem to strengthen employment,” he said. “Additionally, we’re planning a new business district near the entrance of the city that will create 40,000 new jobs.”
The mayor went on to address challenges facing Jerusalem’s school system, saying that investing in education was an investment in the future.
“Today we have 44,000 students [in the capital] – in 2020 we want to have 60,000,” he said, adding that he wanted to build an additional 500 classrooms over the next five years and increase the number of school days not only to augment instruction but to give parents more free time to work.
As for transportation, the mayor said he planned to construct more light rail lines to reduce traffic, and even an aerial tram connecting numerous tourist attractions.
“We are going to connect many important different locations in Jerusalem so we won’t need [as much] private transportation, and the city will become more accessible,” he said.
Barkat added that he would also continue to invest heavily in community centers.
“We have certain neighborhoods in our focus, which the city, together with philanthropists, will work to strengthen,” he said. “These neighborhoods will be made more attractive to young adults.”
In terms of housing, Barkat said he intended to continue to build affordable apartments to help spur growth. On August 11 he stated his support for a government plan to construct 793 new homes in east Jerusalem, including 400 in Gilo, 210 in Har Homa and 183 in Pisgat Ze’ev.
“New construction in Jerusalem is essential to the development and strengthening of the city, and for allowing young people to live here and be able to afford to buy apartments,” Barkat said at the time. “I am glad that we and the government of Israel see eye-to-eye on this important need.”
With respect to culture, Barkat noted the importance of inclusiveness among the Arab population and of investing in cultural and sporting institutions to stimulate economic growth.
“Today the Arab sector of the city also wants to be part of the culture and I want to continue to build infrastructures for culture in the city,” he said. “Culture is not an expense; it’s an investment.”
He also cited the Maccabiah Games, for which many events were held in the city.
“Anyone who understands economics knows the importance of investing in projects like the Maccabiah Games,” he said, “because when the 150,000 spectators returned home, many of them said, ‘Next year I’m returning to Jerusalem.’” He added that the city’s new sports complex was transforming Jerusalem into the “chosen place” for such events.
In overall regard to his plans, Barkat said he had created an unrivaled degree of “transparency.”
“A two-way conversation is an important part of the management of the city,” he said.
“Today, all municipal committees are open to the public and journalists, offering maximum transparency. Everyone knows what is being done with our resources and there has been a huge change in creating trust.”
Barkat concluded Tuesday’s presentation by noting that each variable of his agenda was inter-connected, representing “the power of the plan.”
“We can achieve the goals of this work plan, and I intend on turning them into reality in the next five years,” he said.
In response, an official with Lion’s campaign, who requested anonymity, accused Barkat of a whitewash.
“As he has done during the past five years, Nir Barkat is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Jerusalem residents,” the official said Tuesday evening, stating that more residents had abandoned the city and more businesses had closed during Barkat’s term than during that of his predecessor, Uri Lupolianski.
“Barkat’s tenure, marked solely by elaborately expensive public relations events wasting tens of millions of shekels, is akin to an elaborately dressed shop window with an abandoned shop inside,” he said.