Jerusalem Committee Approves Master Plan to Preserve Historic Neighborhoods

Moti Bassok
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Jerusalem's Emek Refaim street will be redeveloped under the city's master plan. Credit: Daniel Bar-On
Moti Bassok

Many of Jerusalem’s historic neighborhoods, including the capital’s German Colony, are destined for a comprehensive upgrading aimed at preserving their unique character while making way for new housing that will bring in younger people.

A new master plan for the capital approved last week by the Jerusalem Regional Planning and Building Committee encompasses neighborhoods built from the late 1800s through the 1930s, such as Talbieh, Katamonim and the Greek Colony. The area is home to some 17,000 residents and covers 1,400 dunams (350 acres), bounded on the north by Jabotinsky Street, on the west by Palmah Street and Agnon Street, on the south by Yohanan Ben-Zakai Street and the new Railroad Track Park, and on the east by King David Street and Bethlehem Road.

The idea is to preserve the “spirit of the neighborhoods,” whose history is a major part of the development of the modern city since it expanded outside the walls of the Old City in the middle of the 19th century during the rule of the Ottoman Turks, through the British Mandate in the 1930s.

“The plan that the municipality has worked on is proof that conservation is not the opposite of development, and that design values ​​of the past can strengthen the public sphere and make it a center of interest on a national and international scale,” said Kobi Kahlon, deputy mayor and chairman of the Regional Planning and Building Committee.

Over the past three decades the neighborhoods have had a large number of specific plans approved, but in the absence of a master plan they threatened the area’s overall character. As a result the city decided there was a clear need to provide a solution for the neighborhoods and urban setting as a whole as part of the city’s planning policy, while emphasizing the unique characteristics of each area.

The plan leaves open the possibility of building 1,500 housing units in the area, with the goal of drawing a younger population, as well as to upgrade the public spaces, parks, public buildings and streets, among them the Germany Colony’s Emek Refaim Street, a major hub of Jerusalem’s nightlife.

The idea behind the plan is to create a mechanism for supervising detailed planning. It provides policy directives for each neighborhood that will serve as the basis for the detailed plans on issues such as sustainable development, transportation and parking, open space, urban nature sites and bicycle paths. It will also provide design guidelines for various sites in the area, emphasizing both development and preservation, with a specific focus on Emek Refaim, public structures, commercial areas, entertainment and culture.

The plan was also prepared in coordination with residents and local neighborhood committees, which together defined the characteristics of the areas to be preserved – as well as the problems that need fixing.