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Paper recycling finally goes curbside for Jerusalem

by michael February 23 2010
Municipal newsEnvironment


It's easy to recycle plastic in Jerusalem. Massive, modern-looking cages brimming with discarded Neviot water bottles (pictured above) are spread throughout the city, but options for paper recycling are more limited and less attractive - unsightly, ancient-looking horizontal barrels, inconveniently located for lugging armloads recyling1.jpgof newspapers or broken-down cardboard boxes.

Fortunately, that's all changing: one by one, Jerusalem neighborhoods are getting brand new paper recyling bins for curbside pickup.

Currently the bins have been installed in outlying neighborhoods Ramat Beit HaKerem, Ramot, Arnona and Ramat Rachel, but more neighborhoods are slated to receive the bins shortly.

The bins can accept just about any paper waste you care to throw at them: white paper, newspaper, colored paper, envelopes and mail, used books and cardboard packaging. No sorting necessary.

Happily, this is yet another addition to the recent parade of green-friendly news coming out of the Holy City - from the Jerusalem Green Map and the new SPNI Jerusalem nature tours to planned electric car infrastructure and urban eco-housing initiatives.

Bottle cage image courtesy of emilie raguso from Flickr under a Creative Commons license; blue bin image courtesy of the Municipality of Jerusalem.

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Making Jerusalem clean...for Bambi

by michael December 08 2008
EnvironmentMunicipal news

Cleaning up Gazelle Valley

Finally, the children are learning a useful trade

Yeah, it's true: we've been talking a lot about Gazelle Valley lately. But this time, we don't have anything to report about the mad machinations of our local robber barons. This is good news.

You see, Jerusalem (as well as the rest of the country) suffers from a terrible litter problem. Despite the love for the Land of Israel drilled into every Israeli kid as part of the public curriculum, not to mention built into the Jewish religion, far too few people make the seemingly obvious mental association between loving the Land of Israel and not throwing Coke cans and falafel wrappers all over it. Sometimes it's the people's fault: many older generations of Israelis hail from countries (or eras) where nobody ever considered the longterm ramifications of tossing trash out the window, and thus transmitted those values (or lack thereof) to their offspring; other times, it's the government's fault, both for not encouraging a green consciousness and for failing to install enough public waste receptacles.

But things are changing. Younger Israelis are increasingly aware of the effects of littering. And the government is throwing its support behind programs like Clean Up the World Day - which brings us back to Gazelle Valley.

Last week, dozens of local schoolchildren descended on the garbage-strewn valley, and under the watchful eyes of representatives from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Jewish National Fund, removed 100 large trash bags full of refuse. Not only is it a nice thing to do for the residents of Jerusalem and the resident gazelles, it sends a symbolic message to the hungry developers hovering around the valley's periphery. It's ours! We cleaned it!

So good on you, children, and try to take the lesson to heart: every time you toss that Bissli bag onto the ground, a baby gazelle probably dies.

Image courtesy of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

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A conversation with Gil Peled, eco-architect

by simone December 07 2008


Born in Jerusalem, environmentally aware architect Gil Peled was somewhat of a gypsy as a child, following his parents, who worked in the Foreign Service, to Germany, Austria and back. After completing his army service, Gil studied architecture in Scotland, in keeping with his cross-cultural roots. Today, Gil works as an eco-architect, and is the founder of Eco-Challenges: Sustainable Architecture and Consultancy. Perhaps his most famous project is his own apartment building, near downtown Jerusalem, which he converted into the city's first Eco-Housing Project, turning the old building green from the top on down. Gil first came on Jerusalemite's radar when we read about him on Israel's eco-blog, Green Prophet. We were eager to hear more about his ambitious project that is helping make Jerusalem a "greener" city.

What is eco-housing and eco-architecture exactly, and how did you come to be interested in the concept? The emphasis in eco-housing and eco-architecture is on ecology and looking at things in a holistic manner. It deals with the building in relation to its surroundings and looks at the materials required for a building's construction and operation. A lot of energy and resources go into a building - there are carbon emissions from heating and cooling; there's building waste and toxic materials. The idea with eco-housing is to take all these resources which have been put into the building and reuse them or limit the initial resource use. In some parts of the world, they are now making not only eco-friendly buildings, but eco-enhancing buildings.

I guess I became interested in eco-architecture because I was brought up in so many dRoses climbing up the Eco-wallifferent places, which made me aware of, and sensitive to, the environment – both socially and physically. Now green is a way of life for me. I've been involved with the Gazelle Valley initiative and many other environmental initiatives such as community gardens and the preservation of heritage sites.

My first real architecture project, which I did while I was still a student, was an eco-architecture project, and then I began to specialize in it. My final project was an eco-architecture project as well, but by that time, eco-architecture was a part of me.

When I came back from Scotland, I needed surgery and had to take a few years off, so I decided to implement what I'd learned and transfer an existing building into an eco-building, the Eco-Housing Pilot Project. This was a big challenge because older buildings were not designed with the environment in mind.

How do you reconcile Jerusalem's older architecture with newer eco-friendly practices and standards? Why is what you're doing better than simply building new housing? The older buildings are already here, and demolishing a building is also an environmental problem – there's building waste, dust, relocation of inhabitants - so the idea is to prolong the life....(For more questions and answers with Gil Peled, Eco-architect click here).

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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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Is Jerusalem still safe for Bambi?

by michael November 25 2008
EnvironmentMunicipal news
You are cute, but must die to make room for a Cafe Hillel


Gazelles versus land developers: the timeless battle rages on.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and a host of well-intentioned artists have been struggling for years to save the titular four-legged ruminant residents of Gazelle Valley, 260 dunams of green space in the shadow of the city's most monstrous apartments, from a host of mustache-twirling robber barons who would like to turn the entire valley into a Zol Po supermarket, or something. And it seemed like they had achieved success when the city government agreed to halt all development plans and turn the Valley into a municipal park. But minor distractions like the law don't matter to the sorts of developers who look at a forest of trees and see a forest of high-rise, mid-income apartments (see under: Plan, Safdie):

The Israel Lands Administration yesterday issued a warning against renting land from a private contractor who illegally took possession of lands in Jerusalem's Gazelle Valley.

The contractor, Zacharia Kahalani, advertised the land in the media. "The advertiser does not hold any right to the land and the Administration has even filed to evict the people who claim to have rights on the land," the Administration's statement reads.
In a telephone conversation with Channel 2's Oded Ben Ami, Kahalani said the property belonged to him. He explained that he had received permission to dig there from the kibbutzim that own the land.

Not only should you not rent Kahalani's land, we also recommend you avoid any barbecues he may invite you to. With only seventeen left in the herd, we can't spare the gazelles.

Also - call Jerusalemite crazy - isn't the illegal seizure of private (or public) land grounds intervention? Not that we're getting any - but, encouragingly, the Magistrate Court has blocked Kahalani's construction in the valley, and that court will hear a case against the developer this week brought by SPNI.

Image courtesy of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

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Slow train coming

by michael November 17 2008
City planningEnvironment
Nahal Yitle
Nahal Yitle: a train-free zone

We've been devoting most of our rail-related attention these past few months to the light rail (or as shiny new mayor-elect Nir Barkat likes to call it, "the blight rail"), but there is another train slowly but unsurely making its way to the Holy City: the long-awaited high-speed Israel Railways line from Tel Aviv. The line, which will replace the hideously slow and outdated current inter-city train, has been beset by constant delays, from the simply bureaucratic to the bizarrely "only-in-Israel" (how many construction projects in other countries get delayed because workers keep uncovering ancient Jewish graves?). In fact, plans hit a major snag just last week - but this is the kind of snag that Jerusalemites can celebrate:

The Council of National Parks and Nature Reserves blocked a route building plan proposed by Israel Railways in the Judean Hills Nature Reserve on Thursday.

The plan was part of the route for the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem hi-speed train.

The Council rejected a plan to build a series of bridges over the Yitle Stream and approved a Nature and Parks Authority suggestion to build a 13-km tunnel instead.

Environmental groups had claimed building and maintaining the bridges would cause serious harm to the reserve. 

The campaign against the harmful (and no doubt aesthetically horrifying) Israel Railways plan was spearheaded by those admirable nudniks at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), a group responsible for much of the green space currently surrounding the city. SPNI's other recent environmental endeavors in Jerusalem include defeating the much-loathed Safdie Plan for heavy development in the Jerusalem Hills and failing to prevent speculative drilling for the Judean Desert's 2.4 barrels of make-believe oil. Hey, you win some, you lose some.

Image of Nahal Yitle courtesy of SPNI.

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A conversation with Dan Birron, mayoral candidate

by josh November 09 2008
InterviewCity planningEnvironmentMunicipal news

Dan Birron and the Green Leaf team

At 68, musician, TV producer and pub owner Dan Birron is the unlikely face of a political party that once espoused legalizing marijuana as the cornerstone of its platform. Then again, given his long, scraggly hair and chilled out personality, maybe he is the perfect face. Born in Jerusalem when it was still part of Palestine, Birron was recently recruited to be Aleh Yarok's - or, the Green Leaf Party's - main man in Jerusalem. As a third- or fourth-party candidate for mayor, Birron has taken a Ralph Nader-like backseat in the race (to Arkady Gadyamak's Ross Perot). he's not just running on legalizing it, though. With a platform that addresses issues like clean streets, 24/7 public transportation and more funding for the arts, Birron is hoping to at least secure a seat on the city council, and maybe even steal the whole damn thing.

What about Jerusalem culturally makes it ripe for a Green Leaf administration? This is a maybe the first thing, the first item, in our platform. Do you know that the Jerusalem budget for supporting cultural activities is about 8 million NIS a year? In Tel Aviv it's 115 million, in Haifa it's about 80, 84 million. In RishonHave a beer on him. get it? beer-on? Birron? forget it. Letzion, the orchestra gets more money than all the activities in Jerusalem. We think it's not luxury. It’s a basic need of every human being. And what can I do, when the municipality ignores it? So the first thing to do, maybe, because this is my field - I am a TV director - would be to take care of this.

Please paint a picture for us of Jerusalem with you as her mayor. What kinds of green spaces would you create? How would you balance that with the city's needs for construction development? I have a vision. I cannot say how far I can go, but I wouldn't allow the building of skyscrapers in town - in the center of town. If they want to do that, then please do it in the periphery. But the city of Jerusalem should be preserved. This is an old city and this our tradition and this is the face of our city. During these five last years the city became so dirty, they clean maybe the main streets, but look at the yards of the houses. There should be a fine on everybody who doesn't clean his own yard. Jerusalem should be clean. It should be light and not dark.

If you were in office, how would you improve the city's cultural, nightlife, entertainment and performing arts landscapes? This is my field. I was a TV producer and director and was acting in Jerusalem for many years. But you have to do everything in spite of the municipality. Not only do they not support you, but they are trying to push.... (For more questions with Green Leaf Party mayoral candidate Dan Birron, click here.)
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Fixing the mistake of the lake

by josh October 28 2008
City planningEnvironmentMunicipal news


yerushalayim shel yarok
Beit Zayit Reservoir

The green space around Jerusalem skews decidedly toward the western edge of the city, where pine covered hilltops create a shaded parkland much more suited to recreation than the arid desertscape that extends from the city’s eastern end. Hidden among the rolling hills between Ein Kerem and the Sorek valley sits the Beit Zayit reservoir, a body of water that seems invitingly out of place near the normally dry (save for a few springs) Jerusalem. But don’t let the pond’s beauty fool you, says the tourism authority’s Jerusalem Mosaic magazine.

Beit Zayit Reservoir was built in the 1950s by placing a dam on the Sorek River. Aimed at helping replenish the Coastal Aquifer, it was pronounced a failure: most of the water it traps instead makes its way towards the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. Its bed is muddy and absorbent, making it hazardous to swimmers and anyone wading into its waters.

The Municipality, with the help of the Mevasseret and Yehuda regional councils, has voted to go ahead with a plan to create a second lake next to the reservoir, this one just for recreation. Boats will be docked on the lake, and swimmers will presumably be able to swim without being sucked into it murky depths. Ancient agricultural artifacts found in the area will also be incorporated into the park, which will be one of four new parks planned to ring the city’s western edge. A 60 kilometer bike track is also planned to cover the four new parks.

The announcement to create the parks comes at a time when many of the country’s environmental organizations are expecting significant drops in donations - a byproduct of the slumping world economy. Even if the government is forced to welch, or postpone, on at least part of its plan, though, Jerusalemites can take comfort in the municipality's claim that the city boasts 85 square meters of green space per resident, making it already one of the greenest cities around.
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Fit to serve? Socially conscious kashrut sweeps Jerusalem

by josh September 24 2008
FoodEnvironmentMunicipal newsShopping
He cares. Do you?

The Social Seal: Because I care

Kosher certification is so passe. These days it seems every Ploni Almony with a deep fryer and some charif has a kashrut certificate (Tel Aviv's Kingdom of Pork excluded). But while rabbis worldwide have universally accepted a non literal translation of not bathing a kid in its mother's, or anyone's, milk, Kashrut certification generally ignores the idea behind those words. Over 100 years after everybody missed the point of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, a small Jerusalem outfit is making waves by showing that eating by God's standards involves more than separating milk from meat and that guiltless gourmet has nothing to do with transfats and everything to do with treating people well.

Bema'aglei Tzedek, a Jerusalem based consort of youths with a mind for social change, have taken it upon themselves to certify restaurants, catering halls, and other food service establishments with a social seal that verifies their commitment to workers' rights and handicapped access. A full one third of Jerusalem eateries now carry the social seal, including 1868, Bar Kochba, Village Green, New Deli and Emil (a full list of participating restaurants can be found on their website here.) A number of kibbutzim have also begun to employ the seal, even this place, which hopefully reformed its chicken stomping ways to get the seal. The Christian Science Monitor describes the movement, which has begun to spread across the country, as growing out of frustrations stemming from the political situation.

The popularity of the social seal, continues [Bema'aglie Tzedek founder Asaf] Banner, is a testament to a growing Israeli appetite for understanding and partaking in these community Jewish values. A shift, he muses, that might have to do with a collective sense of disappointment over the faltering peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

"A lot of young people are beginning to say, 'let's invest our energies internally. Let's fix our own society first,' " says Banner. "Once we know who we are, and what society we want to be – we will stop stammering and might be better able to move forward with peace as well."

A similar movement is growing in America, though one that would concentrate not on restaurants, but on kosher food suppliers. Their desire for change has nothing to do with Palestinians and instead stems from a number of concerns about how socially conscious kosher food is. Kind of like a Green movement for God with Rabbi Morris Allen, the project director, playing the part of Al Gore. One major target of the campaign has been the AgriProcessors plant in Postville, Iowa, the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the world and a Chabad stronghold. The plant was recently raided by immigration authorities for employing illegal immigrants and making them work hours no God would be happy about, even if they aren't on Shabbat. The plant had already come under fire a few years earlier when a religious Jewish couple working for PETA taped animal abuse in the plant, which they said would render the meat unkosher by anyone's standards.

The American effort, being led by the Conservative Movement, has met with resistance from Orthodox leaders, including Chabad, and the kashrut powerhouse Star-K, who say it is not their job to monitor a plant's safety record. That job, they say, falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, that little agency founded 100 years ago after everybody misunderstood The Jungle. It seems when it comes to meat, kosher or not, it all goes back to Upton.

Photo of activist courtesy of Bema'aglei Tzedek

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Jerusalem Strolls: Egged does the great outdoors

by josh September 23 2008
Jerusalem strollsArchaeologyEnvironmentFor the kidsThings to do
Winding mountain roads are the perfect place for buses

Jerusalem Forest, sans Jerusalem

Jerusalem is usually thought of as that place you go to when you're sick of all those waterfalls and mountains that make up Israel's nature reserve scene. Though the city is known for its holiness to three religions, its kicking nightlife (if you're into drunk yeshiva kids) and the fact that it's made out of gold, it is actually also home to some decent hiking. And unlike many of the world's Walden Ponds, much of Jerusalem's varied nature zones are accessible by public transportation.

If you're looking to feel like you're in nature -but not too much - head over to the Gazelle Valley, a 260 dunam reserve within spitting distance of the Trump Towers-esque Holyland. Take buses 19, 31 or 32 to Tzomet Pat, and it will be hard to miss the large plot of (hard fought for) undeveloped land. The Jerusalem Post has a nice play by play of the hike - and we do the same - with nearby Valley of the Cross.

One of the few convenient things about Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital (really, who sticks a hospital on the edge of town?) is that it backs up to the Jerusalem Forest, meaning that any of the plethora of buses (12,27,42,19 or 153) that ferry people to the hospital and attached Hebrew University campus will also get you to a number of trailheads. From the parking lot of the hospital, hikers can take one of three trails, taking them to Hindak Spring, the quaint village of Ein Kerem (and requisite spring) or for just a quick jaunt around the mountains. Getting off before the hospital at Yad Kennedy is also the start of a 5.5 kilometer hike through a number of springs.

Though technically not a city bus, Egged's #183 from Binyanei Hauma to Kibbutz Tzuba will take you yet deeper into the heart of the Jerusalem Forest for a bevy of hikes around Sataf and Har Eitan.

Across town, the Ramot Forest also offers hiking trails up and down the pine treed mountains that surround Western Jerusalem. Buses 11, 7, 35 and 39 all end up at the Ramot Forest entrance in Ramot and from there you can traverse the large open spaces between Ramot and Mevaseret Zion, through Emek Ha'arazim and the recently saved mountaintop lookout of Mitzpe Naphtoach.

Bus 155 from the Central Bus Station will get passengers to the Harel interchange in Mevaseret, which is home to not only a mall, but the beginning of a 3 hour hike through the hills to Ein Harak, a small spring popular with groups.

Jerusalem's unique location and the extensiveness of the city's public transport system means that a few slices of nature are no more than an hour bus ride and 5.60 NIS out of your pocket, a fact that could make even the granoliest hippie (even with their crazy acid trip buses) green - with envy.

Happy trails!

Special thanks to the SPNI for research help - a full list of nature spots around Jerusalem can be found here. Photo of Evan Sapir courtesy of alexkon from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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