In a solemn ceremony today, the National Council for Planning and Building in Jerusalem is to receive a lengthy list of objections to the western Jerusalem construction project (also known as the Safdie project, after the well-known architect Moshe Safdie).
This time, it's not only the green organizations, which consistently object to building plans, that are involved, but a broad front of residents of the city and surrounding communities, along with a number of groups concerned with social issues.
The plan in question is meant to considerably enlarge the built-up area of Jerusalem and to make possible extensive building on Lavan Ridge and Mount Heret, west of the city. Plans are also being promoted to build above Arazim Valley at the entrance to the city, and adjacent to Hadassah University Hospital in the Ein Karem neighborhood. All told, some 20,000 residential units will be built if the plans are approved. The projects are not being put forward as part of one large plan, which addresses the impact of all the areas of the projects, but as separate plans. The examination of the environmental impact will also be conducted for each project separately.
In no small measure, the western Jerusalem plan means that the Jerusalem Municipality, the District Planning Commission and the Israel Lands Administration have abandoned the possibility of strengthening the existing city. The convenient solution to the many difficulties involved in evacuating areas for building inside the city is to build in open spaces. True, the Jerusalem Municipality maintains that it is continuing to strengthen the city core and that the westward expansion is needed in any event. However, the only possible way to view such a significant enlargement of the city is as an admission that, if the problem can't be coped with, you just distance yourself from it.
In order to save some of the open spaces, the green organizations handed the advocates of building a tremendous achievement by agreeing to a move in which they effectively accept the majority of the building plans initiated by the municipality, in return for the authorities' agreement to preserve part of the territory intact and fence it off as a national park. This will be in addition to the areas in the region that already have a protected status.
Their hope was that the creation of a line of national parks, forests and nature reserves would set a final limit on the expansion of Jerusalem and prevent additional destruction of open spaces in the future. However, the agreement was annulled after the green organizations and the Jewish National Fund discovered that the building plans were changed in a way that eliminated their achievements.
The final result is that Jerusalem is probably going to lose twice. First, extensive open spaces will be destroyed and along with them the city's distinctive landscape, which is created by its very separation from the surrounding hills and valleys. As Environment Minister Yehudit Naot noted recently, the importance of these areas has grown in the wake of the plans to build the separation fence, which further reduces the continuity of open spaces in the region and enhances the importance of the areas inside the Green Line.
Second, the expansion to the west will not solve any of the acute municipal and social problems within the existing city, but will only draw more resources to the new areas. It will encourage an additional strong population to look for homes in new neighborhoods, where the living standard will be higher.
Contrary to what officials in the Jerusalem Municipality maintain, there is no proof that the new neighborhoods will have an effect on the old Jerusalem that has been left behind. Indeed, it's more than likely that the opposite process will occur, because strong populations have a tendency to segregate themselves in order to preserve their quality of life, and they will turn the new neighborhoods into a kind of second, and very different, city.
The officials of the Jerusalem Municipality and the city development authority know the city and its planning and building problems better than others, and they don't forget to say so at every opportunity. However, it's not necessary to be a planning expert to understand the urban and environmental problems that will be created by a westward expansion of the city. It's not necessary to be a planning expert to understand that investment in infrastructure and education, in cleaning up the city, in creating jobs and building parks, combined with an effort to overcome difficulties on the road to getting building plans within the city approved, are the correct methods to strengthen the existing city.
In order not to deprive the city of the possibility of developing into additional areas, it is possible to set up a phased mechanism under the supervision of the planning institutions. On that basis, approval will be given for some of the westward building plans, following progress in utilizing fully the building reserves in the existing city.
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