The Expanding Jerusalem

It will not be possible to make plans regarding Jerusalem without a decision on its political future.

Now that the new year has begun, the time has come for a new index in Israel - the "Safdie test," named after the architect who prepared the construction plan to expand Jerusalem westward. This index will gauge a city's ability to preserve quality of life and prevent its residents from leaving without unlimited expansion in every direction.

The Safdie plan, which was promoted as a master plan on the district level, will come before the National Planning and Construction Council for a decision within a few weeks. The plan allows for the establishment of tens of thousands of housing units on the hills to the west of the capital, thereby significantly expanding the developed area of Jerusalem. The municipality and the Jerusalem Development Authority say the plan is key to creating a stock of apartments in the city. This will make it easier to find housing, help change the trend of migration from the city, and strengthen the Jewish majority there.

The municipality and the development authority say the new plan is needed because of a calculation of existing residential land reserves that was presented to the planning authorities. However, a report prepared by planners Uri Barsheshet and Yael Hammerman undercuts this calculation, concluding that the city is capable of providing the land reserves required to increase the population until 2020, while leaving a significant reserve for construction even in the more distant future. The report, which was prepared for the Sustainable Jerusalem Coalition, a group of environmental organizations, will be presented at a conference in Jerusalem today.

But the dispute over the future of Jerusalem should not only focus on the number of housing units. It should deal with all the problems of the city, which will always have a variety of nationalities, religions and ways of life. The Safdie test for Jerusalem and other cities must determine how cities improve their economic and social power, as well as the quality of life they offer. It should examine what cities are doing to take advantage of the land reserves at their disposal before they spread out to open areas. This is particularly important in an area such as the Jerusalem hills, which have a special mixture of natural scenery and culture.

In the case of Jerusalem, there is also the political aspect; this requires the attention of environmental organizations, which oppose the construction plans in the West. The municipality and the government deal with the demographic problem while ignoring the fact that Jerusalem is located at the center of a political dispute, and the possibility that it could be divided as part of a political agreement. The environmental groups include land in East Jerusalem among land reserves that they have found suitable for residential property, and act as though the political problem doesn't exist.

It will not be possible to make plans regarding Jerusalem without a decision on its political future. If all or some of the Arab neighborhoods end up being part of a Palestinian entity, it will once again be impossible to treat the city as one demographic unit, and calculations of the percentages of Jews and Arabs there will be irrelevant. Even before a political decision is made, the demographic calculation does not have to be the decisive factor.

The basic responsibility of the government and the municipality is to provide a good quality of life, employment, education, and housing options for the ultra-Orthodox, Arabs and secular Jews. Housing solutions for Jews must be found in areas that are not embroiled in political controversy, and housing solutions for Arab residents must be found in areas that were captured during the Six-Day War.

In order to sustain a city according to the Safdie test, the government and municipality have no choice but to cope with the problems of Jerusalem as it exists, and not invent a "Jerusalem of the west" that is cut off from the city and threatens to turn into a kind of separate suburb that steals resources and funding needed by the existing city.

Developing the downtown area, creating employment centers and parks, improving sanitation, building a transportation infrastructure and making parts of the city more crowded (in a supervised manner) to create further housing units - these are the well-known ways of strengthening every city in the world. And for all its uniqueness, when it comes to this issue, Jerusalem cannot be an exception.