Make Jerusalem livable

With new mayor Moshe Lion, the city has a chance to look ahead.

Jerusalem Chords Bridge (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Jerusalem Chords Bridge
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A report by the Central Bureau of Statistics provided sobering figures for Jerusalem. The capital was ranked one of the five least livable cities in the country.
This isn’t the first time statistics have pointed to severe challenges facing Israel’s so-called eternal capital. The CBS has previously revealed that the city of gold is among Israel’s poorest.
Mayor Nir Barkat can point to many changes during his tenure as he prepares to leave office. The municipality says the data in these reports don’t reflect changes in the city or are historic and that positive changes are on the way. For instance, a new Gateway Project at the entrance to the city has included an investment of NIS 1.4 billion and the project may provide 40,000 jobs. It will eventually include two dozen buildings.
Jerusalem is a unique city that faces unique challenges. Statistics cannot tell the whole story. The capital’s diversity, including its large ultra-Orthodox and Arab populations are a source of strength and at the same time one of the reasons the city comes off poorly in many measures. For instance, haredi and Arab areas in Israel often tend to be poorer. It is a national challenge to help integrate these communities into the economy. It is not just the municipality’s fault or burden.
This points to a contradiction in Israel’s policies. While the country wants greater recognition for Jerusalem as the capital, the national institutions located in Jerusalem don’t treat the city as the country’s capital when it comes to investment. Jerusalem has faced many struggles to obtain the budgets it needs. In the spring the city passed its largest ever budget, at NIS 6b. and NIS 3b. for development. Barkat fought to get the Finance Ministry to provide NIS 877m. This can’t just be a temporary measure. The future demands major investment in the capital.
One issue that has faced Jerusalem’s residents is the issue of the cost of living. While Jerusalem is among the poorer cities in Israel, it still faces the same housing problems and price increases as other parts of the country. This has slowed in the last two years due to investment in apartments and other reforms. But the overall problem is not being addressed, given the fact that Jerusalem is a young city with large families and large numbers of students.
With new mayor Moshe Lion, the city has a chance to look ahead. First and foremost, this requires the government to internalize the concept of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel and a world heritage center. Jerusalem is not just another municipality, it is a city that has numerous layers of central importance to Israel.
Jerusalem is a magnet for tourists. It needs the infrastructure to accommodate those tourists. Tourists bring investment to the city and help encourage the kind of advancements necessary to make the city an international symbol of Israeli abilities. Many tourists arrive in Jerusalem and use the city as a base for their extended stay, visiting Bethlehem or the Dead Sea area and returning to the city. That’s good news for the capital because Bethlehem and the Dead Sea often don’t have the resources to support large numbers of tourists staying in those areas. This is all the more reason to continue investments in making Jerusalem a tourism-friendly city.
Another layer of the city is its glorious and ancient history. Tourists come to see the Old City and the religious sites that are central to three religions. However those sites need to be cared for and treated like the historic landmarks that they are. The level of cleanliness in the Old City is oftentimes appalling. More needs to be done to clean up the area, to mark historic sites and make them accessible for tourists.
To make the city livable means balancing the needs of the population. A protest on Wednesday by the Peleg Yerushalmi faction shut down the Light Rail and a key intersection and showed just how complicated life can be in Israel’s capital.
None of the city’s residents are going anywhere, but Jerusalem cannot be thrown to the side. The government needs to step up and oversee a long-term strategic plan that ensures that Jerusalem remains what Israeli politicians like to boast it as – the eternal capital of the Jewish people.