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Jerusalem gets free science lessons in pajamas

by ben March 17 2013
NewsCity planningPop cultureThings to doThis week in Jerusalem

Under the framework of the "Science to the People" initiative (official website in Hebrew only), a Ministry of Science, Technology and Space-managed series of fun events targeting everyday Israelis for National Science Day, plebes were recently invited to storm the ivory tower.

Last week's edu-tainment included a talk on science and art over coffee and cake at the Israel Museum, a Hebrew University campus pub presentation on economics, and a series of home lectures called "Professors in Slippers," which saw thought leaders giving over their musings on tactonic plate moments, the emotional experience, public transport and pension scheme sustainability.

And it was all for free. Check it out.

Video by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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Jerusalem of tunnels

by ben July 26 2011
Municipal newsCity planning

shemer tunnel jerusalemite july11.jpg

You can get there from here

This Thursday morning, the Moriah construction concern and the Jerusalem city government are scheduled to collectively host a ceremony to mark the official naming of the Mount Scopus tunnel after Israel's "first lady of song," Naomi Shemer.

Shemer, who lived from the pre-state age through the age of post-Zionism's rise (1930 to 2004), penned classic Israeli songbook anthems like "Lu Yehi" and "Al Kol Eleh."

In 1966, as the regional tensions prior to the Six Day War began to reach a fever pitch, Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek personally pleaded Shemer to write an ode to the Holy City. The result, "Jerusalem of Gold," is arguably the most beloved of all Israeli folk songs.

Ultimately, "Jerusalem of Gold" is far more than a staggering piece of songwriting. It's also inspiration for horrible headline punnery ("Jerusalem of tunnels?" Oy. Remember the wince-inducing "Jerusalem of celluloid," "Jerusalem of prose," or "Jerusalem of green"?), as well as being maybe - just maybe - evidence of urban planning prophecy.

Reflecting on the Israelites' (temporary, in retrospect) longing for a reunited Jerusalem, the song even includes this couplet, which, rhyming in Hebrew, addresses the travel inefficiency disadvantages of Jordanian control over eastern Judea:

And in the tunnels in the mountain
Winds are howling
And no one descends to the Dead Sea
By way of Jericho

A few months after the song was written, among a few other changes that took place, it became possible for Shemer and friends to visit the Dead Sea via the Jerusalem-Jericho route. And in recent years, this road has become even faster, thanks to its circumventing of Jericho altogether, the addition of lanes and the digging of a tunnel which allows travelers to bypass the congestion atop Mount Scopus on the way out of town.

Ignoring the arguments of those who tend to read too much into symbolism, if there were ever a tunnel more deserving of Shemer's name, Jerusalemite defies readers to name it. There sure are loads of other options (like this one, or this one), but this tunnel has her name all over it.

Photo courtesy of the Jerusalem Municipality.

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Traffic in Rechavia possibly headed underground

by michael May 01 2011
City planningMunicipal news

2764656157_a1f02cf59f.jpg

Jerusalem - even modern Jerusalem - is an old city.  Many neighborhoods date back to the horse-and-buggy era, and the street layout is, to put it gently, more "organic" than "thought-out." All of this conspires to create quite the crush of traffic in Jerusalem's more venerable neighborhoods, and with no space to build more roads (all those priceless vintage houses in the way), it seems an intractable problem.

Unless, of course, as Ha'aretz notes, you build a tunnel.

Getting from Sacher Park to Independence Park in Jerusalem today requires a slow crawl through the crowded arteries of the upscale Rehavia neighborhood. A new municipal plan, which includes a tunnel connecting the two parks, could spell an end to the heavy traffic flowing through the neighborhood's Rambam [sic] Street, which connects the city center to the government quarter and the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.

The traffic in what was once a quiet garden quarter is disturbing the residents and some claim it has impeded Rehavia's development. The new plan, long in preparation by architect Nahum Meltzer, was filed yesterday at the municipality so the public can register objections or comments.

After the public comment period, the plan will be hashed over by city hall and assuming passage, will become an binding document for the next decades. The plan does not detail the tunnel but only offers it as one option to alleviate Rehavia's traffic troubles.

That's such a good idea, it's a wonder nobody seems to have thought about it before (well, except for that one under Jaffa Gate, pictured above, which has actually worked wonderfully). It's an exciting time for Jerusalem urban planning these days, what with the Bridge of Strings' walking path, the much-needed initiative for better cinemas in town, and an ambitious plan to better integrate Jerusalem's government infrastructure with the rest of the city. Now, if they could just do something about that light rail....

Photo of Jaffa Gate tunnel courtesy of EagleXDV from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Jerusalem art: it's eeeeeeeeevil

by michael January 16 2011
ArtBridge of StringsCity planning

Hey, remember that "concerned Jerusalem citizens' group" Lemallah (population: one dedicated hombre) that, well, according to itself, stopped the construction of a philanthropist-funded aesthetics-defying eyesore of a public sculpture over Zion Square downtown?

Of course you do.

Well, it turns out that in the wake of that stunning victory against the forces that may or may not be, that "concerned Jerusalem citizens' group" has kept up the fight for a purer, better Jerusalem the only way it (he) knows how: by continuing to hit the pipe really, really hard.

You see, Lemallah-guy, intoxicated with power and powder, has determined that many of the public art installations across the city are the sinister works of Jew-hating Freemasons with a secret and evil agenda.

No, really, everyone in the city government is a Freemason (possibly also an Illuminatus, with a smattering of Knights Templar):

The best is the abstract sculpture deemed "an anal cavity for your child to play in." Clearly he has it confused with the Rav Chen "movie theater." Other amusing conclusions call out Zion Square's hidden Satanic design and the uncircumcised phallus-head of the horse in Horse Park (actually, he sort of has a glans point about that).

Click here to read more and see our photo illustrations of Lemallah's arguments.

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New and easier ways to get to and see the Old City

by michael February 15 2010
City planningMunicipal newsThings to do

jerusalembuses.jpg

Jerusalem is a great city for pedestrians, but it's cruel for the motorist. First-time visitors to Jerusalem who think renting a car might be a great way to breeze through all the sites and landmarks are in for a bit of a surprise - the Old City is not car-friendly, and parking ain't easy.

Fortunately, the city government has actually implemented a plan to address that. The Old City has been closed off to all non-residential vehicular traffic, and to compensate, parking rates have been slashed at three lots within walking distance of the Old City, and a retooled local bus line, the 38, has been inaugurated to take tourists from the lots straight into the Old City's heart.

To see the new route map and find out about deals at city parking lots, read on.

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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 greenprophet.com, 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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Ain't no party like a Chavatzelet party

by michael November 24 2008
Things to doCity planningMunicipal news

Hadassah College

Good times and green rooms at Hadassah College today

Bit by bit, downtown Jerusalem has been getting treated to a low-key makeover, undergoing pedestrianization (and much-needed sandblasting) in preparation for the panacea for all municipal ills, the light rail. First HaHistradrut Street was turned into a pedestrian mall. There there was all that unpleasantness with the torn-up Jaffa Road. And now, it's HaChavatzelet Street getting some long overdue attention.

The short street connects Jaffa Road, the main artery of central Jerusalem, with HaNeviim Street, the main road of the Russian Compound and also the seam line between downtown Jerusalem and the ultra-Orthodox quadrant of the city. In recent years, Chavatzelet has, in the wake of the Russian Compound nightlife district's downfall, become a nexus for two distinct Jerusalem minority communities: Ethiopian-Israelis, whose pocket of the neighborhood revolves around tasty restaurant Ethio-Israel; and young secular Jerusalemites, an endangered breed who cluster together in Uganda, HaTaklit, Sideways, distinctly non-kosher restaurant Chavatzelet and an oh-so-countercultural tattoo parlor. But now that the street has been given the Municipal spitshine, all those cool indie kids may scurry away from the light to find a new, seedier part of town (Musrara is hot these days...).

But now is not the time to consider ramifications - now is the time to dance! With renovations to the street complete, Neviim Street institute of higher education Hadassah College threw a commemorative celebration on Friday. Live music and African dancers from the Machol Shalem Dance Festival entertained the masses, and the youth shimmied their way towards a shinier, cleaner Jerusalem.

But just because that the musicians and dancers have gone home, doesn't mean you have to - you can always walk a block and take in the many attractions of HaRav Kook and HaNeviim Streets nearby as well.

Image courtesy of Shay Shenkman.

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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 light (rail) at the end of the tunnel

by michael November 10 2008
City planningBridge of StringsMunicipal news
Bridge of Strings

No, just kidding. We're nowhere near seeing a completed light rail. But after years of "work" and the curiously rushed, corner-cutting construction of the Chords Bridge, the train inches closer to becoming a reality (or at least to meeting its next major delay) this week with an agreement between the major parties - the Municipality, the City Pass group, the French contractors and laughing-all-the-way-to-el-banco architect Santiago Calatrava himself - to begin structural and technical tests on the Chords Bridge in preparation for track-laying.

Wait. What? It took five months following the completion and dedication of the 220 million NIS bridge for the people behind it to get together and make sure they could fit some train tracks on it? Did anyone ask Calatrava if he made sure during the design phase to accommodate the weight of a fully loaded train as well, or will that require some more tests down the line? 

And while this international gaggle ponder whether the addition of train tracks will cause the Chords Bridge to fall apart into its component spans, cables and misplaced hopes, track-laying work on Jaffa Road has now made it all the way up to the Machane Yehuda market. Perhaps having learned from the terrible effect construction had on the street's businesses in the city center, the Municipality actually bothered to meet with Machane Yehuda merchants to determine the best way to keep the market lively and facilitate pedestrian traffic while the tracks go in. 

And now, Jerusalemite will take bets as to when the Jaffa Road tracks meet up with the soon-to-be-laid tracks that will emerge from the pile of rubble formerly known as the Chords Bridge. 2015? 2020? The Messianic Era? Let us know.

Photo of Santiago Calatrava's Bridge of Strings by Harry Rubenstein for Jerusalemite.

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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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