The Planning Authority last week approved the expedited development of a new residential area in Acre, on virgin land east of Route 4, which is currently the eastern border of the city. According to the authority’s announcement, the Acre East plan will have more than 8,300 housing units.
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According to the plan, the new areas will have homes, office buildings, commercial areas, a new train station, parks surrounding Nahal Acre, and 280 dunams (69 acres) allocated for “new public buildings for purposes of education, culture and religion.” But although a third of Acre’s 50,000 people are Muslim, the computer renderings distributed to the public – which show the new area’s streets, residential and commercial areas, and public buildings in great detail – don’t show a single mosque.
The plan is to be advanced through the Finance Ministry’s National Commission for Developing Preferred Residential Areas, circumventing the usual planning procedures and saving time. Planning experts, however, warn that fast-tracking this plan will come at the expense of other plans meant to improve older areas of the city, which suffer from aging infrastructure, reduced population and local businesses in financial difficulty.
Architect Gabi Irron, who was among those who submitted objections to the plan that were rejected, notes that erecting an entire new neighborhood would cost billions of shekels and increase the density of the city’s existing neighborhoods via urban renewal. Irron expects the new neighborhood to have the same effect that other new neighborhoods have had on older Israeli cities: It will draw a wealthier population that can afford to buy apartments with high maintenance and real estate taxes, while the veteran neighborhoods will languish.
“The planned construction across Route 4 and the neighborhood’s connection to a separate train station will create a closed, autonomous quarter that will have no link to the existing city,” he said.
Urban planner Cesar Yehudkin of the NGO Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights said, “Along with all the well-known problems with the expedited procedure, which creates new bedroom communities instead of strengthening cities by renewing old neighborhoods, in mixed cities there’s a particularly disturbing element added,” namely that not all the city’s populations can benefit.
The Planning Administration, when asked why no mosques appear in the computer renderings of the new area, said, “The plan leaves a great deal of flexibility in the use of public areas and establishes as broad a range of uses as possible. Religious buildings can be established in most of the public areas, and the local authority determines which buildings will be allocated to which religion.”
The Housing and Construction Ministry, which is advancing the plan, also said that the nature of the religious buildings is determined later by the local authority. The Acre municipality, however, said that plans for public buildings in the new area “are the responsibility of the Religious Services Ministry.”