Will the next mayor transform our city into a ‘Jerusalem of Gold’?

The Holy City of Jerusalem especially deserves to be adorned with a clean “outer garment” that reflects our inner spirit of holiness and idealism.

A general view of Jerusalem shows the Dome of the Rock (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REURERS)
A general view of Jerusalem shows the Dome of the Rock
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REURERS)
Like most Anglos, you likely came from a country that focused on cleaning and greening the environment. When you arrived in Jerusalem you were shocked – perhaps disgusted – by the apparent cultural more of littering, the paucity of public trash bins and the sluggish to nonexistent municipal removal efforts.
Working over the past several years with the Jerusalem Green Fund to organize community and business clean-ups, I finally stumbled on the secret to successfully cleaning the city: Open an American Embassy in the neighborhood! Since its opening, the small parks that were dumping grounds have been planted with shrubs and colorful flowers; the bus parking area that was strewn with trash around the periphery has been periodically cleaned; and streets have been painted with white lines and are better maintained. Similar sprucing up occurred with the pope’s visit to England in 1982 and to the US in 2015 – so it can be done. But we can’t rely on embassy openings and papal visits to transform ancient Jerusalem into the modern marvel of glimmering cleanliness that befits its holy status.
Everyone I encounter is passionately appalled by the contrast between the ideal and real Jerusalem regarding litter, but no one knows what to do about it. Most say it’s the job of the municipality. Few step up to volunteer for community clean-up projects that are popular in the US. To solve this problem we need both governmental support and a grassroots cultural change.
Consider the New York City where I lived in the early 1970’s: the picturesque park adjacent to the mayor’s house and overlooking the East River was so decorated with dog ordure (to use a polite term), that it was literally impossible to drape a blanket on the ground to read the weighty Sunday newspaper. Rush hour horn honking along Park Avenue strained the ability to hear the professor at a Hunter College evening class. And of course the streets were dotted with garbage.
Not so today. Part of successfully cleaning up New York has been attributed to Mayor Giuliani’s application of James Q. Wilson and George Kelling’s “Broken Windows Theory,” positing that the toleration of small infractions such as graffiti, subway turnstile jumping or littering will result in more serious crimes. A car with windows intact can be left on the street untouched for weeks, but one with a single broken window will be rapidly stripped of its parts. Strict enforcement of minor crimes such as littering or unnecessary horn honking (which by the way are crimes in Jerusalem) will certainly improve the environment – and may have a positive ripple effect to reduce murder and possibly terrorism. Although it’s hard to establish causes of social trends, murder rates declined by 73% in NY between 1990 and 1991.
SO WHAT NEEDS to be done to clean and beautify Jerusalem today?
With the mayoral election scheduled for October 30, it’s timely to pose this question to the candidates. According to a Jerusalem Post article from October 14 covering the race, while all candidates pay lip service to environmental concerns, Ze’ev Elkin, endorsed by Barkat and Bennett, leans towards a top-down model using government leverage to create change, whereas Ofer Berkovitch, founder of the Hitorerut B’yerushalayim social movement, prefers a bottom-up, grassroots model. Elkin promises to transform Jerusalem into a large, modern, hi-tech city by building towers with the inevitable loss of green spaces. Berkovitch envisions an environmentally friendly city that preserves the green spaces, but hasn’t yet provided details on how to accommodate more businesses and build necessary housing at the same time.
Neither a top-down nor a bottom-up approach alone can get the job done. To take just one example, we need the government to allocate funds to provide small trash receptacles at least at every bus and train station throughout the city and to provide staff to empty them. In the long run, this will be cheaper than having the street sweepers chase after every cigarette pack and bakery bag dropped in the gutter. Manhattan today has a trashcan on every corner, so well-intended citizens know they won’t have to carry the hot pretzel wrapper or sushi tray far to do the right thing.
At the same time, a bottom-up culture change is needed to socialize Jerusalemites to walk the few extra meters to deposit the trash in a receptacle. Consider the Singapore that Prime Minister Lee transformed using a carrot-and-stick approach, which went from being one of the dirtiest cities in the 1960s to the poster child of a clean and green city today.
We are not in New York or Singapore, but a similar strategy, if seriously applied, can succeed in the Middle East. The Holy City of Jerusalem especially deserves to be adorned with a clean “outer garment” that reflects our inner spirit of holiness and idealism. You can learn more about how all the mayoral candidates envision the future of Jerusalem’s environment and how they plan to realize these goals.
The Jerusalem Green Fund is sponsoring an English speaking forum on Monday night, October 22, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Association of American and Canadian Immigrants (AACI), Pierre Koenig St. 37. Please join us and be a part of the solution that we all so deeply desire: making the physical city worthy of our second national anthem’s moniker, a Jerusalem of Gold.
Reuven M. Schwartz, PhD is a recent oleh from New York and Pittsburgh and has served as chairman of the Jerusalem Green Fund Clean-up Committee.