The newly released findings that the young adult segment of Jerusalem (ages 20-34) has risen on average 35 percent annually over the last five years shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone living here. As a second year student at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, these figures clearly reflect the discourse taking place within the young population of the city – and especially within the halls of Hebrew U.
While residents were once fixated on Jerusalem’s ‘demographic threats’ and its declining popularity among young families, especially within the Zionist sector, today the more common conversation is about the music, arts, culinary, and nightlife options that are popping up like mushrooms after the rain.
There is a feeling in Jerusalem that something new is stirring in the air, a new vigor, and a new push to put Jerusalem in its rightful place as both an ancient, holy city, as well as one with a young and renewed spirit.
Whereas it used to be embarrassing to try to show visitors to Jerusalem what the city had to offer when it came to leisure activities, nowadays things are different. One simply has to walk down the newly renovated Yaffo Rd and the revival of the city center – with its pubs full of young people enjoying life and the reinvigorated atmosphere – it suddenly becomes clear as day. Jerusalem has seen a new wave of hip shops and restaurants in the Mahane Yehuda market, high-end shopping and restaurants in the Mamilla district, and will soon see another recreation and cultural area developed in the old Ottoman train station, in addition to other hidden gems spread throughout the city.
We should not take these changes for granted in Jerusalem, as development is challenging and the political landscape complex. For example, the old train station – which is currently in the process of transformation from an abandoned nineteenth century Ottoman rail station into a new center for leisure in the city – will consist of privately owned shops and restaurants, meaning it could be open on the Sabbath. While this may be difficult for some religious residents of the city to accept, this option is critical for Jerusalem’s secular population – tourists and residents alike – who are continuously challenged to find recreational activities on Saturday. To the South, the city is expanding the national sports complex to include a newly renovated Teddy Soccer Stadium (with seating for 34,000), as well as a new 380 million shekel basketball arena (which will be the largest in Israel), an Olympic swimming pool and aquatic center, a skating rink, shops, and more.
A new Cinema City movie complex is being built near the entrance to the city, a skate park is being added to Liberty Bell Park, and a 42km bike path around the city is nearing completion. The development of a new commercial and business center at the entrance of the city is moving forward rapidly. This space will include 35,000 offices, add over 10 new skyscrapers to Jerusalem’s skyline, and dramatically increase the number of employment opportunities in the city. In addition, Jerusalem hopes to attract the IDF headquarters from Tel-Aviv to Pisgat Ze’ev, which would be an incredible infusion of jobs, not to mention Zionist families, to the city.
Assisting in the goal of revitalizing the city are the numerous non-profits and community empowerment projects working in Jerusalem today. One well-known example is New-Spirit – an organization that seeks to retain and attract young residents to the city. Their projects include a very successful internship placement program and “Young Communities” – a project that places communities of young students in struggling neighborhoods to help in the renewal process and increase pride in the neighborhood.
Mayor Barkat and the Jerusalem Municipality, New Spirit, and other committed lovers of Jerusalem are truly turning this city around.
Having said all of this, my position as an intern – through New Spirit – for the Mayor’s Advisor for Foreign Affairs and Media has exposed me to the city’s nerve center and I am constantly learning of new initiatives and partnerships to revitalize the city and make it a place we are proud to call both our capital, as well as our home. With so much going and even more being planned one cannot only help but feel that, as Bob Dylan so eloquently put it, “The Times they are A-Changin’!”