That is the message of about a dozen city planners in Jerusalem, who are working together to transform the city landscape by the year 2050. They call the project Jerusalem 5800 for the Hebrew year that roughly translates to 2050.
According to Jerusalem 5800 Director Ziva Glanz, the project was founded about two years ago as a private initiative to enhance the present and future city of Jerusalem and the lives of its residents. Through proper urban planning, the team plans to uncover Jerusalem’s innate potential as a true world city and a tourist destination.
“It is the first plan to include projected statistics and proposals up to the year 2050, making it the only long-term plan and the largest collection of plans ever compiled for the city,” said Glanz.
The crux of the initiative lies with the notion that tourism to the Middle East will increase tenfold in the coming years, and Jerusalem must be poised to accept those visitors.
“Tourism trends show … that as baby boomers age … tourism numbers are growing. They also show that … tourism trends are leading toward emerging markets with a strong focus on areas of spiritual and cultural tourism,” Glanz explained. “The Middle East in general is set to be one of the fastest-growing markets. … Jerusalem is very much at the religious and cultural center.”
The United Nations World Tourism Organization forecasts the number of tourists who travel internationally will double to approximately 1.6 billion by 2020; Jerusalem 5800 projects 12 million tourists in Israel by 2050. (For current tourism statistics, see related box, “Who Is Visiting Israel.”)
Glanz said tourists currently don’t like to stay in the Holy City. The roads are congested, and there are minimal mid-level accommodations available. This robs the city of low-hanging resources that Jerusalem 5800 hopes to capture, improving the 38 percent poverty level in the city by adding jobs specifically geared toward trained but unskilled (or without a degree) labor.
First on the improvement platform: Jerusalem transportation.
“Access to the Old City will need to be through an underground ‘metro,’” Glanz contended during a recent interview with the JT. She said many make the uniformed assumption that this metro would harm important antiquities and holy burial grounds. This, she said, is not the case.
“Due to the topography and hilly nature of Jerusalem, the bedrock level of Jerusalem is often only a dozen meters below today’s street level. … With a simple elevator shaft, you can reach the bedrock level and create … a subway system,” she said.
This new system will work off the assumption — like New York City — that the suburbs are essential for a thriving urban hub. Jerusalem 5800 planners are working with the surrounding city councils. One idea recently posed was to create the “Gates of Jerusalem;” physical gates over highways would mark the entrance into Jerusalem from suburbs like Mevaseret Zion, Ramot, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion.
Other transportation enhancements include new, high-quality routes from all national airports and seaports, such as a national high-speed light rail, extensive networks of buses and other public transportation, the additional of numerous highways, the expansion of existing roads and an express “super highway” that transverses the country from north to south.
A highlight: a second international airport.According to the team’s studies, Israel’s only current international airport, Ben Gurion, is expected to exceed capacity within the next five years. Jerusalem 5800 is proposing an airport in the Horkania Valley between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. A full proposal already has been submitted to the Israeli government and is currently being reviewed. The airport would enable service for up to 30 million passengers per year.
Glanz noted there are also plans to increase the number of hotel rooms from the current 9,300 to 63,000.
To offset the city’s carbon footprint, the Jerusalem 5800 plan suggests ecological construction methods to enable denser building and rooftop gardens and parks. A main ring of parks, green corridors and paths, incorporating remnants of the city’s biblical heritage — excavations, ancient agricultural farms, historic roads, temples, gravesites — would surround and be distributed throughout the city.
It seems more like fantasy than reality, Glanz admitted, since no long-term city plan for Jerusalem has been put forth and carried out since 1959. The most recent attempt, the Safdie Plan, was initiated by the Israel Land Administration and the Jerusalem Development Authority during the term of Ehud Olmert as mayor of Jerusalem. It called for the construction of 20,000 housing units on
undeveloped land to the west of the city. Environmentalists mobilized to have the Safdie Plan scrapped, and it was suspended by Mayor Uri Lupolianski in 2007
Glanz does not see Jerusalem 5800 dying so easily.
Jerusalem 5800 has a team of the best city planners in all areas, including transportation, economics, environment, antiquities and conservation. It is in active communication with all government agencies, as well.
“We work in conjunction with every relevant municipal and government office, but we are not bound by the internal process and therefore have been able to accomplish in three years what it would take a governmental authority … upward of 10 years to accomplish,” Glanz said.
Furthermore, she explained, unlike previous plans, Jerusalem 5800 is divided into a number of independent projects, each of which may be proposed and adopted on its own merits.
If it all goes through, it will cost approximately $300 million in private investment per year, $7.5 billion over the course of 40 years just to complete the hotel rooms. But this is not a deterrent. The team contends that these improvements will result in net growth of the Jerusalem and Israeli economy from $178 million to $1.65 billion, 3.3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The plan has the backing of Kevin Bermeister, a leading philanthropist and technological innovator. In fact, it’s his brainchild.
From Sydney, Australia, Bermeister is the founder of Brilliant Digital Entertainment Inc., as well as one of the founding investors in Skype.
Said Bermeister of his plan: “This will produce a higher quality of life for the city’s residents and serve as a pillar to build lasting peace for the entire region.”