From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
URBAN GROWTH THREATENS HISTORICAL LEGACY OF JERUSALEM
05 May 1996 15:18:56
95117 URBAN GROWTH THREATENS HISTORICAL LEGACY OF JERUSALEM
by Elaine Ruth Fletcher
Religion News Service
JERUSALEM--"Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem," declare Jews at the close
of the Passover Seder. In Christian tradition, Jesus looked down upon the
holy city from the Mount of Olives shortly before his Crucifixion and wept
over its fate.
Jerusalem, the city whose stark mountain landscape, cradled in
sunlight, has inspired prophets and poets for nearly 30 centuries, today
faces the most banal of threats to her powerful spiritual appeal.
Population growth of Third World dimensions, burgeoning traffic,
rampant land speculation, development fever and the Arab-Jewish political
battle for control of the city are all conspiring against this urban jewel
in the crown of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
"There must be international oversight on development or otherwise
political pressures on the city will bring about its destruction," declares
Jerusalem's chief city planner, Uri Ben Asher, who is deeply disturbed by
the development patterns being prompted by Israel's political leaders. "The
subject of preservation of the city is an issue for all of humankind."
While the world's Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities have worked
feverishly to preserve their respective rights to the city's holy sites,
little thought has been given to how the city, as an urban entity of
worldwide religious importance, can be preserved, says Rabbi David Rosen,
an Orthodox Jew who lectures frequently on Judaism and environmental
Almost every element in Jerusalem's classic 41-square-mile landscape
is at risk. On the Mount of Olives, where Jesus prayed before his
Crucifixion and, in traditional Christian belief, later ascended into
heaven, city officials recently refused to approve plans formally
designating most of the area for green-space preservation.
Jerusalem's new mayor, Ehud Olmert, has plans to develop a high-rise
capital of office buildings, housing and hotels in Jerusalem's 19th-century
downtown area that sits adjacent to the holy sites of the ancient walled
Internationally respected Jerusalem architect Michael Turner says that
such new development will dwarf the city's historical and religious sites.
"The quality of Jerusalem is that of a world spiritual and historical
center. That is what gives the city meaning," says Turner.
"Tall buildings generally represent money-grabbing speculative
developments. What kind of values will we be projecting to the world in a
skyline where these high-rises dominate?"
Meanwhile, road expansion and growing auto traffic in a city bereft of
any modern mass transit system is polluting once-pure mountain air, which
at sunset takes on the golden hues of Jerusalem's stone.
And in green spaces within the city and on its perimeter, plans for
some 30,000 new apartment developments could forever erase the last
remaining images of a biblical landscape in which shepherds' flocks still
graze and olive groves are tended much in the way they were centuries ago.
Olmert sees rapid development of Jewish neighborhoods as a way to
strengthen Israel's claim on Jerusalem as its capital and also preserve the
present 75-25 Jewish-Arab demographic split in the city in the face of
rapid Arab population growth. ...
Turner, the Jerusalem architect, says that a far more desirable plan
of growth -- but one not yet examined by Israel's politicians -- would be
to preserve the city's classic proportions, both urban and architectural,
while building rapid-rail links to farther flung satellite towns. Those
towns would provide ready access to Jerusalem, while avoiding destructive
"By opening up the hinterland of Jerusalem via really good
rapid-transit connections, you could increase the space of the city," says
Turner. "And you could preserve the priceless value of Jerusalem's green
space, holy sites and architecture for priceless use by Israel and the
peoples of the world."
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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