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Do something about Rehov Yafo please

by michael September 07 2007
Municipal newsCity planning
Jaffa Road (Rehov Yafo) is beat. Jaffa Road is so beat that as you walk alongside its time-stained, weather-pitted Jerusalem-stone-gone-gray facades you can almost hear in your head the densely coiled riffs of Jack Kerouac's street bop prosody or the sonorous stanzas of Allen Ginsberg's urban verse. The main thoroughfare of West Jerusalem, an unwavering roadway from the western entrance of the city straight down nearly to the mouth of the Old City pilgrim's gate for which it was named, Jaffa Road has been the victim of municipal neglect, tarnished by forces both human and natural, and tragically ensanguined during the dark years of the Intifada. What was once the heart of Jerusalem's shopping district has become lined with interchangeable, low-price "bazaar" stores, grimy shoe shops, dingy kiosks and ephemeral falafel restaurants.

But it was not always so, and an observant walk down Jaffa Road's sidewalks will betray hints of the bygone era when the architects of modern Jerusalem aspired to create a main street redolent of the boulevards of Europe while incorporating elements of Jerusalem's Middle Eastern spirit and its timeless history. Strikingly elaborate cornices, now obscured by years of grime, crown many of the older buildings, particularly in the Zion Square area. Elegant Mandatory-era buildings are turned from boutiques and cafes to mediocre pizza restaurants and chain bakeries. Arab manors and 120-year old residential courtyards sit just off the street. A stately city is hidden under a patina of indifference.

So what's the city doing about it? Welcome to Jerusalem in 2007 where the answer to every problem plaguing the city, from urban decay to terrorism, is the much-vaunted, as-yet-unseen Light Rail. When the Light Rail comes (along with the Messiah), 1.5 kilometers of Jaffa Road in the downtown area will be turned into a traffic-free pedestrian mall with the train shooting down its center. This is all well and good, nonexistence of any progress on the Light Rail notwithstanding, but Jerusalemite has a hunch that the ills of Jaffa Street stem less from the lack of a train and more from the fact that nobody feels any need to go to a street where the shopping options are limited to poorly-stocked, unstylish shoe stores and fashion-free clothing outlets, the dining options include chains that have other branches in the same area (Cafe Ne'eman has two!), and the facades have remained uncleaned since what seems like the War of Independence.

Forget trains. Try zoning.
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