WATCH: The Innocent Door

Today, Jerusalem is constantly forced to grapple with issues surrounding its ancient history and future growth. This is not a new phenomenon, however, as demonstrated by this short documentary from 1973.

In it, the viewer is given a first-hand look at the very beginning of the transformation of the city’s architectural character through the eyes of its residents and planners, including Moshe Safdie.

Of note is how similar today’s conversation is to that of days past.

WATCH: The Innocent Door

Petition in Favor of the Light Rail on Emek Refaim

Blue Line on Emek Refaim and Rachel Imeinu

Jerusalem Construction News recently revealed the municipality’s plan for the addition of the light rail on Emek Refaim as part of the future blue line. Since then, a vocal but small group of individuals have spoken out against the plan. Local shops and homes have become a platform for an anti-train campaign, with signs petitioning passersby to help prevent the addition of the line to the once-popular street.

It is not outside the realm of possibility that the vocal minority will have an impact on the municipality’s decision to go forward with their proposal and therefore it is incumbent upon those who are in favor of the project to make their voices heard. As a result, I have created a petition for all those in favor of the light rail on Emek Refaim and the positive effects it can have on the street. These include:

  • A reinvigorated economy. It is no secret that Emek Refaim is slowly dying. Many long-standing businesses have closed and more continue to leave the street in favor of greener pastures. It is debatable as to why this is occurring, but the addition of the light rail will bring more people to the street and create improved walkability and openness. The Yafo model has proven this.
  • A cleaner and greener experience. Emek Refaim is used as a main artery for commuter traffic, but it was never designed for this purpose. As a result, the street struggles to find its purpose. Is it a place for pedestrians and neighborhood shopping or is it a road for cars, trucks and other heavy polluters? The addition of the light rail will define the street by making it a streamlined pedestrian experience with an abundance of greenery and cleaner air.
  • A safer environment. There is nothing more disconcerting than having to share a road with cars and busses barreling down at 50 kmh. Pedestrian safety is paramount, but often it feels as though the cars are favored on the street. The fact that the town recently renovated the asphalt on the road but left the cracking and obstructed sidewalks is proof of this.
  • A future-ready reality. Perhaps the most compelling reason to implement the alternative public transit option is that cars are not the future. Citizens globally are being weaned off of cars and the question of when it happens is reliant solely on brave and unpopular decisions made today. Applying the old way of thinking to a future project is harmful. As the city grows, a car-reliant model will create worse congestion, parking issues, pollution and numerous other problems.

When considered rationally, the light rail is a good decision. It will greatly benefit the local businesses and residents of Emek Refaim, and its branching streets, in the long run.

Please sign the petition to show the municipality and local council that you are in favor of the addition of the light rail on Emek Refaim.

Petition in Favor of the Light Rail on Emek Refaim

Jerusalem 2015 – A Year In Review

chords bridge jerusalem fireworks.jpg
Courtesy: Israel GPO

At the end of every year, people tend to become introspective, assessing what they did and did not accomplish. Our cities deserve the same analysis because, after all, they are a part of us.

I began this blog with several intentions. The first was to change the discussion of Jerusalem from a political one to a practical one. Outsiders tend to forget that Jerusalem is a city like any other, whose residents have needs and desires and expectations. The phrase ‘Jerusalem construction’ needs not only conjure up images of settlements and UN meetings.

Construction in any city affects everything from traffic to pollution (be it air, light or noise). Creating an outlet that provides transparency — in an otherwise less-than-transparent environment — was another factor in my desire to write about this subject. It is my hope that readers will begin to look at new projects and assess for themselves how they might be affected. Nothing exists in a vacuum and we’re all bound to be directly impacted at some point.

In the beginning of the year I posted the 2015 Jerusalem budget. It presented some lofty goals, but many were goals that one might generally expect from a city. Instead of going through the list one-by-one, I encourage readers to determine for themselves whether the goals were met. I will provide my overall thoughts, though.

In my 6+ years of living here, Jerusalem has never been a better place to be. In 2015 I noticed more effort than ever to make the city cleaner, increase public projects and events, add bus routes and improve overall livability. I give a lot of credit to Mayor Nir Barkat: a man who genuinely cares about the city.

By the same token, there have been many frustrating developments (or lack thereof). The biggest issue facing the city is affordability. On one hand, Barkat has expressed a desire to bring young students and couples into the center of the city. On the other hand, it seems that every time a new project is announced for the area, it is either impractical or unaffordable or both.  The city is increasing construction and taking initiatives to create inexpensive housing, however, the effects of these initiatives could take years to realize and even then may not work.

This brings me to my final point. A city is a constant work in progress. No one plan will make things better. It takes an amalgam of ideas and experiments. I believe the city is heading in a good direction, but we should never consider our work done. I’m looking forward to what 2016 has in store for Jerusalem.

Jerusalem 2015 – A Year In Review

EXCLUSIVE: Lighting Up Jerusalem

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

The Old City of Jerusalem as seen at night.
The Old City of Jerusalem as seen at night.

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:

jerusalem old city at night plan

old city lighting master plan

jaffa gate lighting plan jerusalem walls lighting plan

Greater Jerusalem

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:

jerusalem night

israel museum knesset

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.

jerusalem theater

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.

emek at night

Limits

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:

lighting guidelines

Conclusion

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 illuminating glimpse of what is possible.

EXCLUSIVE: Lighting Up Jerusalem