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A greener future for Jerusalem?

by josh December 01 2008
City planningEnvironmentMunicipal news

Stand By Me 2: the Coreys do Jerusalem

Don't let the green grass fool you: this is actually in the middle of Jerusalem

Jerusalemite likes things that are green. We like our falafel green. We like our voodoo juices green. We like our East Jerusalem garbage bins green. We even like our not-pagan-at-all religious ceremonial waving branches green. And our open spaces? Yeah we like those green too.

Though the Safdie Plan has bought the farming co-operative, concerns still remain on how to guard the patchwork of forests that ring the city, as well the creation and protection of green and open spaces inside the city. The election of Nir Barkat as mayor gives hope to many that the grass on this side may be getting greener.

Firstly, he split the construction and planning portfolio in two, giving the green planning half to Naomi Tsur, who founded the Sustainable Jerusalem environmental coalition and has headed the Jerusalem branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The choice of Tsur will probably mean the creation of a number of new initiatives inside the city aimed at making it more friendly to both mother nature and its recreation and nature seeking residents.

One project she has already singled out is the proposal to create parkland out of the unused train tracks running from Emek Refaim to Malcha (see picture above). The strip of land has drawn much attention from neighborhood residents who want to turn it into an urban park and biking path, even spawning a blog (in Hebrew) to push their agenda. Last month, Bezalel students began putting up historical markers along the path telling of the neighborhood's history. The city has been mulling plans to use the tracks for roads and/or the light rail project, which itself is being "reconsidered" by Barkat. But Tsur, who has long championed getting Jerusalem to take off its training wheels and build a place for the iron lunged to ride their bikes, will likely be a solid advocate for bike riders in the city. The city still has a long way to go before it looks like Portland, though.

Whatever does happen with sustainable development in Jerusalem, Tsur told The Jerusalem Post that building needs to be in concert with the little people who actually voted her and Barkat into Safra Square's ivory tower.

One immediate change, however, came through clearly - the municipality could not rule from on high, but rather in a "synergy" with the city's residents and civil society.

"What is really lacking is public participation in planning processes. We need a process to get wisdom from neighborhood residents, so we can solve problems, but in a way that makes sense [for local residents]. There hasn't been enough done in the last two decades," Tsur told The Jerusalem Post.

While democracy and alternative modes of transportation are nice, Jerusalemite environmentanista Karin Kloosterman, who blogs for treehugger and, believes that guarding Jerusalem's remaining green oases, including the embattled Gazelle Valley, should be among the top priorities of the Barkat administration, telling Jerusalemite:

"It's the open spaces within and around Jerusalem that worry me most. Jerusalem has existed for thousands of years as a religious and administrative center, and we can see that in the buildings and the archeological remains we find here today. I am most worried, though, that the beautiful pine forests on the outskirts of Jerusalem will be consumed by development in the not so far future. This is the natural treasure of Jerusalem. And I know that everyone who visits Jerusalem goes to the Old City, the Kotel, the churches, mosques, the museums. But it's in the Jerusalem forests where you can actually smell Jerusalem, and in its pine needles hear the faint whisper of King David. Wild animals, like small delicate foxes, still live there. These characteristics of Jerusalem can never be lost. I know that Naomi has made it a passion to protect Jerusalem's open spaces, and her involvement in the city's 'green' politics gives me more reason to believe that there's a God in the sky."

Image courtesy of RahelSharon from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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