Gerard Heumann

Urban Renewal’s social and environmental impacts

In their mad rush to replace gentrified public housing, building in their place as many new apartments as possible, municipalities have entirely ignored the serious negative impacts of urban renewal, the most important government building program in Israel today. Most of the projects being built display a criminal disregard for the capacity of the site in question, their neighbors and human scale.

A single case in point; two “shicunim” built in the sixties in Jerusalem’s Yefe Nof neighborhood – four story walk ups, comprising some 70 apartments that well-define the recently redesigned park opposite, stand along quiet and protected public pedestrian ways. Children feel safe here. Young families meet their friends in the park. More than 20 bicycles line the pedways, alive due to the buildings eight entrances. Planned in their place are two luxury towers, each of them 25 stories in height comprising some 200 apartments, no less. Deep shadows are sure to be cast on the park and neighboring buildings afternoons and evenings. Year-round shadow studies should be demanded before approving tower projects.

300 cars are planned underground. Vehicular access to the towers is problematic as cars must traverse narrow historic streets getting in, one of them sharply sloped. With 600 cars planned for the nearby Haarazim Street destroy/build project, the neighborhood’s main arterial roads – Herzl Boulevard and Ish Shalom Street will be backed up, traffic severe.

Given the economic benefits of obtaining a larger apartment in a modern building, most apartment owners were quick to sign up for this project but the high maintenance costs of these luxury towers, unrelated to their budgets are very likely to be beyond their ability to pay. For the elderly the prospect of having to move is extremely difficult, not to say positively frightening.

The costly headache of having to evacuate and relocate apartment owners during the extended period in which their building will be torn down and a new building built in its place has driven proposed residential densities sky high. Those living in adjacent buildings will be subject to the noise of construction for years.

Some residents ask what sort of neighborhood will they be leaving their children and if they themselves would want to continue to live here. Will these new buildings destroy the neighborhood’s delicate existing social fabric? People don’t meet in elevators or underground parking garages. The present intimate character of the neighborhood and quality of life is sure to be destroyed.

This is not at all the simple problem in multiplication that grossly ignorant politicians and bureaucrats approving these projects think it is. Needless to say, given the present economic and social climate of “every man for himself”, the critical negative social and environmental impacts of urban renewal have been disregarded. The case described above is of course no different from hundreds of others nation-wide. Time for a major policy review is long overdue.

Gerard Heumann – Architect and Town Planner, Jerusalem

About the Author
Gerard Heumann is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.