“It’s a disaster”, “a travesty”, “What’s going on verges on the criminal.” (Architect Moshe Safdie on a visit to Jerusalem some years ago)
Safdie was shocked by what he saw. Were he to visit the city today he would see a situation a thousand times worse. 175 destruct / build plans are expected to change the face of Jerusalem forever with new towers along with two million square meters of commercial and offices.
David’s City is being destroyed. Jerusalem under Mayor Moshe Lion’s tenure has been subject to the most explosive growth ever seen in its long history.
Architect Moshe Safdie, Born in Haifa, a resident of Jerusalem and a renowned architect of the highest stature, has designed major building projects world-wide. To name but a few, in Israel: Modiin, the Mammilla Pedestrian Mall, the Children’s Memorial and Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem. Years back he served as the Director of Urban Design at Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
He thought it a grave error to glut the city with towers, diminishing its uniqueness and beauty, the plan for the entrance to the city as damaging its image as well as impacting the OId City’s visual basin. Safdie pointed to Paris, Rome and other historic cities not resorting to towers, limiting building heights. He proposed that instead of building upwards, new satellite towns should be built to Jerusalem’s west where there is space.
Among his many recommendations was the establishment if an international summit on Jerusalem with the participation of architects, urban planners, conservationists, politicians and mayors of cities whose historic identity was preserved. Needless to say, the chances of that happening under Lion are nil.
Within the City Planning Department of Jerusalem Municipality today the situation is untenable. Mayor Lion’s City Engineer is a civil engineer who hasn’t the faintest idea as to what urban design is about. Most positions in the City Planning Department are filled by graduates of the Faculty of Geography of the Hebrew University, who know nothing of architectural design. The unsurprising result: several “urban renewal” monstrosities have already been built, a great many more are on their way.
Little wonder far fewer statutory plans are being prepared. There are no defined rules. This leaves our politicians free to decide as they like relative to the greedy real-estate developers forever barking at their doors. Heading the Local Planning and Building Committee is a former Haredi journalist. Heading the District Committee, which has the final say, an advocate.
The Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem and the Technion in Haifa are today the only schools of higher learning in Israel offering a Master’s Degree in Urban Design. More such programs are urgently needed to train an adequate supply of professionals with the ability to tackle urban complexity comprehensively, their education interdisciplinary. The incompetent technocrats in the City Planning Dept. must be replaced as soon as possible. Called for is a new generation of generalists knowing how to transform these complexities into true communities, varied, continuous, unified, and having visual order.
Whereas a healthy culture welcomes argument and dissenting views, Mayor Lion over the last five years has shown himself to be insulated and immune to criticism, substituting his power as mayor for truth.
Unforgiveable are the long term consequences of his tragically mistaken planning policies (it appears that Lion, an accountant and economist, has as his goal the transformation of Jerusalem into a second Tel-Aviv) that will be with us for generations to come. He and his cohorts, having abused their power, will surely be held responsible.
Jerusalem Gerard Heumann – Architect and Town Planner