The first line of the Jerusalem light rail – the red line – took nearly a decade to construct, was mired in controversy, disturbed residents, increased traffic on bus routes and impacted many businesses negatively. Despite that, the train has run smoothly overall, decreased air and noise pollution, invigorated the downtown area and serves nearly 150,000 passengers every day. It should therefore come as no surprise, and perhaps as a welcome bit of news, that the current red line is being expanded and an additional green line has just been approved for construction by the municipality.
The aforementioned red line currently runs from Mount Herzl to Neve Yaakov. The project was stopped just short of Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem, but the line is currently being lengthened and the roads leading up to the hospital are already being prepared for the addition of track.
Last week I attended a two day conference in Jerusalem called City After Dark. The conference covered a range of topics about lighting in a city – from economics to health effects to design. One speaker in particular stood out: Roger Narboni. Mr. Narboni is a lighting designer based out of France. He and his team at Agence Concepto are responsible for many large scale lighting design works in France and China, and Narboni now hopes to bring his talent to Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem nightscape is characterized mainly by high-pressure sodium lighting – an outdated technology which was first employed more than thirty years ago. Sodium bulbs create strong illumination, but do not create ambiance or cater to the specific needs of an area. In Jerusalem, the unique topography of the city is ignored and the lighting disjoints the landscape. This results in a night landscape that lacks flow and beauty and is full of unnecessary light pollution.
The Old City
Mr. Narboni envisions a city with a “night silhouette”: one that creates shape and flow, highlights nature and landmarks, and that serves citizens and tourists alike. His plan for the Old City demonstrates specific use of light and an appreciation for the darkness:
The Old City is characterized by landmarks and is completely self-contained. But what about what lies beyond those city walls? Narboni’s vision covers the greater Jerusalem area as well, maintaining the design principles employed in the lighting of the Old City:
The Jerusalem Theater garnered specific attention by Narboni for its lack of specific lighting. It is an important cultural area, but it lacks the lighting necessary to indicate that from the streets. Even within the plaza, it is difficult to know exactly how to enter the building.
Another area that was specifically called out by Mr. Narboni was Emek Refaim. The street offers an abundance of restaurants and shops, but at night it becomes a pedestrian’s nightmare, awash in harsh lighting that does not flow.
The primary flaw in Narboni’s plan, which he himself is aware of, is the lack of rules in place for limits on private lighting. Many components of his plan for a more subtle lightscape rely on lighting guidelines that currently do not exist. At night there is often a race to be the brightest, most noticeable shop, hotel, mall, etc. This mindset is not conducive to creating beauty and disrupts harmony in the skyline. This doesn’t mean that a happy medium cannot be reached:
Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, prides himself on his efforts to increase tourism. Studies show that lighting can be a major boon for tourism. The annual Jerusalem Light Festival attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists from within Israel and from abroad every year. Aside from creating an infinitely more attractive environment, the plan highlighted above would prove to be lucrative and even energy and money-saving. It’s an investment in Jerusalem and the people who live here.
Of course Mr. Narboni’s design is just a presentation of what is possible in Jerusalem. There is no plan to implement his or any other vision yet, but it’s an illuminatingglimpse of what is possible.
In February 2015, the Jerusalem Municipality announced a massive plan to develop Katamonim (Gonenim 8 and 9). Katamonim is a neighborhood characterized by low-cost housing projects built in the early years of the state to house new Olim. It is also situated directly across from Jerusalem’s newly opened Gazelle Valley.
The project will renovate and create a total of 5,230 housing units, up from the current 2,290 units, 30% of which will be designated as small and affordable units intended for young couples. The plan is broken down on this map:
Dark Blue – Land Allocated to Developers (300 units)
Light Blue – Construction Ministry Pilot Area (300 units)
Brown – Public Buildings (schools, etc.)
Green – Open Public Areas (parks, etc.)
The neighborhood will be kept mostly free of towers through smarter usage of plots of land, as illustrated below:
There is no time frame for the plan, but it is clearly quite expansive and will take many years of continued planning and building (and debating and arguing). Some day, though, Katamonim will be a very different neighborhood.