Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jerusalem 2020

As reported by Sami Ershied in today's Huffington Post, the Israeli government is about to release a long awaited urban development plan for Jerusalem. We will track the document and the public debate of the plan as it becomes available.

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Tuesday presented a city master plan for the next two decades that envisions the capital becoming the greenest city in Israel, and includes affordable housing for young residents, thousands of new apartments for Arab residents of the eastern neighborhoods, and the expansion of tourism and employment.

The JPost reports further that the report is currently held up for review by the Interior Ministry, which highlights one of the major obstacles to rational city planning in Jerusalem, namely, the intersection of urban planning with national political concerns of the state. This, in a nutshell, explains why Jerusalem has been an urban planning nightmare for the past forty two years.

Official Palestinian responses to the mayor's proposal have been critical since it does not sufficiently address the severe housing crisis in the Arab sector. (See the report in Haaretz.)

Sami Arshied, a lawyer from Jerusalem who, according to the by-line, specializes in land use and planning, concludes that only a political solution can correct the long-standing housing and development inequities between the Arab and Jewish sectors of Jerusalem:

Today, 42 years since the annexation of East Jerusalem, it seems that the future of Palestinian Jerusalemites is gloomier than ever, and that their pathways of existence are narrowing. Jerusalem 2020 utilizes seemingly professional tools to respond to the growing needs of an urban populace, but the plan is ultimately designed to serve a political purpose that marginalizes one of the populations most in need of a master plan. As long as Jerusalem sits at the heart of a historical conflict it seems that there is no magical solution based on master plans, creative as they may be. A true solution for Jerusalem will be bound with political negotiations and agreements between the two nations and three religions which call the city home.

There is, of course, another possibility, though admittedly it would require courage. Namely, instead of playing into the hands of the political establishment the residents of Jerusalem could take back the initiative. For example, the Arab residents could end their boycott of the municipal elections and participate in municipal governance, as they used to do until 1967. This could make a real difference, too.

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