Heart and soul of Jerusalem
With dedication, generosity and wisdom, Teddy Kollek devoted his life to improving the problematic, poor and conflict-ridden capital of Israel.
A legend grew up around Teddy Kollek, the former Jerusalem mayor who died this week, because of his extensive involvement in the capital's physical development. "The second Herod," Yitzhak Rabin called him, when the city's new municipal compound was dedicated in 1993. Kollek accepted the compliment with mixed feelings: Unlike King Herod, who concentrated on building monumental fortresses and palaces to glorify his rule, Kollek's major projects were meant - so he intended at least - for the well-being of all the city's residents. His personal contribution changed the face of Jerusalem in a single generation.
Until 1965, Kollek's connection with Jerusalem centered mostly on his efforts to help establish the Israel Museum, the great cultural institution that was inaugurated in the divided capital in May of that year. A few months later, leaders of the Rafi party persuaded Kollek to head their list for the municipal elections in Jerusalem. Kollek was victorious in the November 1965 election, but until the Six-Day War, in June 1967, his mayoral tenure was rather mundane. After the unification of Jerusalem, in wake of the war, he really poured his soul into the city. Throughout the 28 years of his tenure, up until the last day, Kollek worked with endless dedication, generosity and wisdom to improve life in the problematic, poor and conflict-ridden city.
Teddy Kollek's long mayoral tenure comprises a relatively brief chapter in the history of a city that is thousands of years old. But it was an unprecedented period in terms of construction momentum - a period in which the city tripled in area and saw its population more than double. At the same time, Kollek's tenure was marked by struggles in two main realms: national-political-demographic, over physical presence and control; and urban-architectural, which boiled down to the tension between the desire to preserve the city's unique character and the pressures of development.
In the urban-architectural sphere, government decisions and policies after 1967 led to the expansion of Jerusalem by means of the construction of surrounding neighborhoods in the east, to prevent the possibility that the city would be divided again in the future. Also in keeping with this objective, decisions were made to rehabilitate the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and to erect a large compound to house the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. The government's activity drew its inspiration from the traditional Zionist ideology that said that only settlement and construction would ensure Jewish control over the territories.
The municipality, under Kollek's leadership, was hardly able to exert any influence over the location of the new neighborhoods, their dimensions and the size of the population that would live in them. The establishment of these neighborhoods thinned out the population of the "inner" city and weakened it socially and economically. One could reasonably imagine that were Kollek currently the mayor of the city, he would have opposed the so-called "Safdie Plan" (which was just recently frozen) to expand the city westward.
From the start of his tenure, Kollek understood that the development of a poor city like Jerusalem could not be accomplished solely with municipal and government budgets. Therefore, in 1966, he established the Jerusalem Foundation, through which, over the years, he raised hundreds of millions of dollars to fund the construction of public buildings for culture, leisure and sports activities, as well as to create educational and coexistence programs, and preservation and development projects. Thanks to Kollek's personal charm and his extensive contacts with statesmen and wealthy philanthropists, Jewish and otherwise, from all over the world, the foundation he established carried out hundreds of projects, from physical structures to social and cultural endeavors. Until the day he died, Kollek served as honorary chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation.
In 1970, Kollek founded the Jerusalem Committee, which comprised planners, architects, writers, historians and academics who specialized in the management, design, preservation and development of historic cities. The team met every couple of years to discuss the city's problems, particularly issues of physical planning. Thus, for example, the committee discussed the plans to renovate the Jewish Quarter and to rebuild the Mamilla area near Jaffa Gate. The team's recommendations were influential in canceling the plans for massive road systems with gargantuan interchanges that were part of the city's 1968 master plan. However, the advisory committee, which did not have executive powers, was unable to exert much influence over many other projects.
Kollek's tenure was notable for achievements that transformed Jerusalem into a much greener, more aesthetic place, by means of the construction of public parks, promenades and scenic look-out points all over the city. Still, there was criticism in the past that fewer green areas were created in the eastern Arab section of the city in comparison to the Jewish neighborhoods.
The central component of the "green revolution" was the construction of the national park around the Old City walls, an idea that originated during the British Mandate period. After the unification of the city, the Old City basin was in serious danger due to various proposals to build nearby. However, the authorities rightly recognized the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to correct several urban "distortions," such as buildings that had been erected right by the Old City wall and hid it from view. The historic moment was fully exploited: A few days after the end of the 1967 war, the concrete walls that had divided the city since the War of Independence - especially in the Mamilla area, in what is now Kikar Tzahal, and in the Musrara quarter - as well as the remains of buildings destroyed in 1948 battles all along the wall, were taken down. And thus the path was opened to the realization of a "green belt" around the Old City.
In July 1967, at a meeting attended by then prime minister Levi Eshkol, several ministers, Kollek and members of the administration of the National Parks Authority, a decision was taken to surround the Old City walls with a national park. This was one of the few times when planning considerations superseded political ones with respect to design in the city. The completion of the plan, which created a mosaic of small and large parks around the walls, took 15 years, and was accomplished largely thanks to the mayor's efforts.
Today, the national park covers 2,400 dunams (600 acres) from the western slopes of Mount Scopus in the east to the edges of the Yemin Moshe neighborhood and Mamilla compound in the west, and from the former no-man's-land opposite Damascus Gate in the north to the edges of the Abu Tor neighborhood in the south. It was built gradually, and battles over the planning erupted concerning various parts of it, such as the Mamilla compound.
The most impressive area of the national park, which contributed the most to the "green revolution," is its southwestern extension, known by the name that Kollek gave it: "The Cultural Mile." During the 19 years in which the city was divided, most of this area, which stretches from Jaffa Gate through the Ben-Hinnom Valley to the Khan Theater in the south, was completely abandoned and neglected, strewn with destroyed and crumbling buildings. In the 1970s, there were plans to build a multiple-lane road and several residential towers in the area, but public opposition led to their cancellation. Meanwhile, the city purchased part of the area from the Greek Orthodox Church and the Jerusalem Foundation built the Bloomfield Garden there. Today, "the Cultural Mile" consists of a series of parks containing 15 historic buildings that have been preserved and renovated for cultural and other public uses.
Another successful project that was part of the "green revolution" was the construction of the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens (also known as the Biblical Zoo) in a valley in the southwest of Jerusalem. For decades, until it finally closed in 1991, the zoo had been located in the Sanhedria area of northern Jerusalem. In 1993, the big, beautiful new zoo was opened - thanks to funds that Kollek raised through the Jerusalem Foundation. It has been a very popular attraction ever since, and is one of the few leisure-oriented locales in the city where secular Jews, religious Jews and Arab residents intermingle.
In the early 1970s, entrepreneurs sought to build hotels and apartment buildings on the northern slopes of the Armon Hanatziv ridge, which offers one of the most breathtaking vistas of Jerusalem. Following a tenacious and ultimately successful public battle, the plans were annulled. At Kollek's initiative, and with the help of large donations that he raised for the purpose, it was decided instead to build the Haas and Sherover Promenades, which were dedicated in the late 1980s. The promenades, which serve as a physical barrier to construction on the slopes of the ridge, also have historic importance: Their existence ensures the preservation of the marvelous scenic lookouts located along their length.
During the years of Kollek's tenure, many gardens were created in the city, some with a special character, such as the Wohl Rose Park (popularly referred to as the Rose Garden) near the Knesset, and the Charles Clore Garden next to the Valley of the Cross. The latter project, the result of a public struggle led by Yigael Yadin in the 1970s, was planned on two separate levels, with a green strip in between, in order to moderate its impact on the uniqueness of the natural landscape. In addition to the larger parks, dozens of small gardens were built in the city to serve local residents - all the way from the poorer inner-city neighborhoods to the satellite communities.
Up until the late 1960s, there were very few public sculptures in Jerusalem, partly in deference to Judaism and Islam, which frown upon the creation of human images. Most of the sculpture in the city was found within Christian religious buildings or at memorial sites, but there was no environmental sculpture as in Western countries, of the sort used to beautify urban spaces and to highlight entrances, access routes and intersections. This changed under Kollek, who oversaw the installation of about 70 sculptures in the city, designed by Israeli and foreign artists. Environmental sculpture played a key role in improving the self-image of residents of the new neighborhoods, some of which suffered from a sense of total disregard for the public-aesthetic-cultural aspects of their lives.
Teddy Kollek's tenure will be remembered, among other things, for its many achievements in the field of preservation and renovation of neighborhoods and buildings of architectural, historic and ethnographic value, which were in danger of demolition or physical deterioration. The crowning achievement in this regard was the thorough and high-quality renovation of the Old City walls and gates, and of the Tower of David, which became a museum of the history of Jerusalem.
Most of the houses in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City were destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948. After the Six-Day War, the government and the Jerusalem Municipality undertook new construction there, in keeping with the traditional standards of the dense urban fabric of the Old City. Among the important preservation and renovation projects that were carried out here were the uncovering of the ancient street called the Cardo, and the construction of modern commercial and residential buildings above it.
Among the most prominent projects outside the Old City walls was the preservation and renovation of the Yemin Moshe neighborhood, whose houses were damaged in the War of Independence. Another successful initiative was the cancellation of the plans to raze the Nahalat Shiva neighborhood, which was instead rejuvenated with new construction and had its traffic routes converted to pedestrian malls. As part of a careful preservation plan, the neighborhood's alleys were repaved, workshops were replaced, the facades of the shops and houses were renovated and these places were converted into galleries, cafes, restaurants and pubs. Subsequently, this grew to be a very lively section of the city.
After a few failed attempts to prevent the demolition of buildings of historic-architectural value, in the mid-'70s the municipality prepared preservation plans for unique neighborhoods like the German Colony, Musrara and the Ethiopianquarter. These plans were effective in preserving the neighborhoods' original character, and increased their prestige and popularity. Prominent historic buildings that were saved from demolition by conversion to a new use include Beit Ticho, which now houses a museum and cafe, and the windmill in Rehavia, which was renovated as a small shopping center. Until the end of Kollek's tenure, Jerusalem led all other Israeli cities in the field of preservation and renovation; since then, it has lagged behind Tel Aviv.
Until 1967, the appearance and functioning of central Jerusalem resembled that of a nondescript provincial town. After the war, it was decided to renovate the city center immediately and thoroughly, as befitting a progressive capital city of international stature. The aspiration to effect dramatic changes in Jerusalem meshed well with the political, military and economic euphoria that prevailed in Israel from 1967-1973. Consequently, various ambitious plans were put forward, which were also fueled by planning trends imported from abroad that preached comprehensive and massive development of entire areas that would destroy their existing, old fabric. Had such plans been executed, significant parts of central Jerusalem would have been completely erased, including the Nahalat Shiva and Even Yisrael neighborhoods.
Except for the Mamilla development plan, Kollek opposed any schemes that called for demolition and redevelopment, and did not bring them before the planning committees for approval. This stance was most obvious in his opposition to plans for new municipal headquarters. Kollek argued that the municipality must remain in its symbolic historic location, on the border between the western and eastern parts of the city.
Kollek's vision was realized and in June 1993 the new municipality compound was inaugurated in Safra Square, in the heart of the city, on the "seam line." The creation of the new compound in a previously neglected area also helped improve the municipality's functioning. Its architectural design won acclaim for its combination of new and old, including renovation of historic buildings and the construction of modern ones. However, the area did not become a commercial success, due to the decline in movement between the two parts of the city in the wake of the deterioration in the security situation. The construction of the compound signified the beginning of a trend of renewal in the city center, though this did not change substantially during Kollek's tenure.
Following the Six-Day War, the era of high-rise building and change in the traditional Jerusalem skyline began, accompanied by some fierce public battles. Right after the unification of the city, heavy pressure came from entrepreneurs who wished to build high-rises for residential and commercial purposes, and hotels in the open areas around the Old City and the city center. This sparked protests from residents, neighborhood committees, students and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), which wanted the authorities to cancel the projects that would alter the city's skyline. Kollek supported the formulation of a clear policy on the issue, and proposed limiting construction to eight floors, similar to what was done in Washington, D.C. His proposal was rejected and since then many unwieldy high-rise structures have been built that have distorted the city's traditional skyline.
A few missteps
Along with Kollek's numerous achievements as mayor, there were some missteps. His unqualified support for architect Moshe Safdie's grandiose development and construction plan for the Mamilla compound, despite the extensive opposition to it, halted the development of the area for years. During Kollek's tenure, several buildings of historic-architectural value of the first rank were demolished, such as the German Talitha Kumi orphanage on King George Street and the Alliance School on Jaffa Street.
One of his most egregious errors as mayor was allowing for a vast discrepancy to arise between the impressive scope and level of renovation in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the neglect of the Muslim Quarter. His failure to convince the government to limit the scope of development in Jerusalem's satellite neighborhoods, which drew a "strong" population away from the city, also continues to reverberate.
Kollek was assisted by key people who worked alongside him when it came to the development and physical beautification of the city. Prominent among them is Ruth Cheshin, who has been president of the Jerusalem Foundation for some 20 years and has run it since Kollek's retirement; Uzi Wexler, who was behind the establishment of the Jerusalem Development Authority; and the historian Dr. Meron Benvenisti, who served for about a decade as deputy mayor for planning and construction affairs. The latter resigned from the municipality in 1978 after clashing with Kollek over the Safdie plan for Mamilla. His efforts eventually bore fruit as in time the plan was amended and substantially changed. At present, construction on the site is at its height.
Throughout his tenure as mayor, Kollek acted in the spirit of the statement made by Sir Ronald Storrs, the British military governor of Jerusalem from 1918-1926, after he was appointed governor of Cyprus. "Jerusalem is unique among all the cities of the world," Storrs declared. "There are many positions that afford their holders more power and fame, but in a sense I cannot explain, there is no promotion after Jerusalem."
Thus, many city residents were saddened this week by the awareness that Teddy Kollek did not groom a successor who would follow in his path and who would carry on in his spirit the enlightened development and beautification of his Jerusalem.