The Construction and Housing Ministry as well as local and national planning authorities are currently examining controversial plans that would expand Jerusalem westward into still-natural, green expanses. Environmental groups have warned about the serious dangers to flora and fauna posed by the schemes.
The suburban area in question, known as the White Ridge, lies between the Ir Ganim neighborhood and the Yad Kennedy Memorial in southwest Jerusalem, near the Ora Junction. According to the first phase of the White Ridge plan, 5,000 residential units would be built on the green ridge in the area.
While that scheme is still being discussed, the ministry has already begun considering construction of an additional 1,500 units abutting the new neighborhood, also at the expense of the remaining natural areas there, as part of a second stage of development.
Past attempts to build in the vicinity were torpedoed. In the 1990s, after a long fight by environmental organizations, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski ultimately canceled a plan for westward expansion as part of the Safdie project, due to pressure from environmentalists.
However, in recent years, under pressure from the Finance Ministry, proposals for the White Ridge have resurfaced. In July the District Planning Committee rejected efforts to oppose the first stage and gave it a green light, and about two weeks ago it was brought before the National Planning and Building Council. In around two months the district committee will discuss appeals submitted against the plan, and it is expected also to be reach the Supreme Court since a petition from the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council has also been filed.
Today, as in the past, "green" groups and activists in Jerusalem claim that in addition to harming the landscape, the animals, vegetation and natural areas surrounding Jerusalem’s southwestern suburbs, the initial phase of construction scheme would dry out Ein Lavan, a large spring under the White Ridge that attracts many hikers. The committee, for its part, says that the spring won’t be harmed.
The Housing Ministry reports that it has already begun its initial examination of the second-stage proposal. But environmental organizations are furious because they had been told that the first stage of the White Ridge plan was supposed to constitute the last effort to expand Jerusalem into the remaining open areas around it.
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“In all the discussions, they told us that this was the last 'sacrifice' of open expanses in Jerusalem,” said Liron Dean of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. “The plan has barely been approved and already they’re beginning to plan exactly what they said wouldn’t happen.”
According to Naomi Tsur, chairwoman of Sustainable Jerusalem, “Sustainable planning of a city requires development and increased [population] density within the existing boundaries of construction, and preventing the creation of a suburb that destroys natural resources and requires endless additional, heavy infrastructure.”
The White Ridge plan would allow urban renewal entrepreneurs to build some of the new units in the developing areas. Urban renewal programs aimed at upgrading 1950s' housing projects in the adjacent neighborhoods of Kiryat Yovel and Kiryat Menahem are supposed to make them more worthwhile and less crowded. But Tsur said it’s all an excuse to expand the city at the expense of open spaces.
“In effect, we’re replacing yesterday’s slums with tomorrow’s slums,” she said.
The Housing Ministry said: “The plan for building in Jerusalem is in preliminary stages. In light of findings in the coming year and in cooperation with the planning organizations, we will decide whether there are reserves for additional expansion in the area.
“The Housing and Construction Ministry invests a great deal in planning urban surroundings to make them efficient and high quality and invests in the relationship between them and the natural surroundings. For example, the ministry invests in testing by hydrologists and ecologists so that the runoff water won’t cause damage, but will enter the groundwater without harming nature. The ministry is doing a lot to solve the major housing shortage in Jerusalem.”