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Heavenly and Earthly Jerusalem: Can Pilgrims Leave a Positive Footprint?

By Naomi Tsur

NAGOYA, Japan — Jerusalem faces unique challenges and opportunities. Conservation of our natural and built heritage is a solemn commitment, but we must also assess and implement the potential for urban revitalization. We need to expand our mass-transit system (the first of its kind in Israel), encourage active transport (biking and walking) and focus on development of the city's strengths, such as cultural and religious tourism, while not neglecting to address its weaknesses, in order to provide comprehensive solutions for solid waste and sewage in a transboundary area of geopolitical conflict.

 

None of the goals we set can be achieved without engaging in dialogue with the diverse cultures, ages, political orientation, socio-economic and other cross-dividing community stakeholders in Jerusalem. We cannot fulfill everyone's expectations, but we can listen to all the voices and reach wiser conclusions as a result. Looking to the future, the geopolitical constraints of the region create unusually stiff challenges for Jerusalem, given that cities can achieve sustainability only through planning that incorporates transmunicipal / transboundary considerations, when dealing with environmental and economic issues.

 

An example of the dilemmas facing Jerusalem can be found in the case of Wadi-Nar, or the Kidron Valley, on the southeastern slopes of the Old City. The Kidron Valley opens up into a river basin carved in ancient times by floods, rain and water from the Siloam Spring. The Wadi-Nar basin feeds directly into the Dead Sea, its route marked by monasteries and biblical sites, against the backdrop of one of the most important heritage landscapes in the world. For several decades, in the context of geopolitical indecision concerning Jerusalem, the Kidron River Basin has been the city's "backyard." Urban development has proceeded (for the most part illegally), without investment in infrastructure, public institutions and green space. In addition, raw sewage in Jerusalem's eastern watershed continues to constitute a major hazard for health and for the environment, while hampering any hope for economic and cultural sustainability for close to 200,000 residents living in the neighborhoods in and adjoining the Kidron Valley.

 

The current administration is attempting to confront the issues in the area, in a multi-stakeholder process which will address the challenge of sustainable development, including purification of the raw sewage, legalization of most of the existing structures, addition of much needed housing units, and last but not least restoration of the scenic and cultural heritage of the most important pilgrim route in Jerusalem, from the Dead Sea up to the Old City. This route is significant for Christians, Jews and Moslems, and it is our hope and prayer that through creation of common ground in this process, we may be able to lay the foundations for future prosperity for an area that has suffered so much neglect.

 

A year ago Jerusalem, together with other world cities, became a founding member of a network of pilgrim destination cities, in a global initiative that creates a meeting ground for cities and faiths. All the cities in the newly established Green Pilgrim Cities network are of special significance to a world religion, but the case of Jerusalem is unique. Christians, Jews and Muslims all over the world see Jerusalem as a spiritual destination, and it is this triple identity that provides a special challenge on the one hand, and a remarkable opportunity on the other.

 

As we look ahead to an uncertain geopolitical reality, it is clear that the City of Jerusalem will not be able to achieve environmental sustainability, unless any future agreement specifies not only joint management of sewage and garbage, but also a shared public domain that ensures access for all to transportation, communications, healthcare, employment options, public open space, commercial areas and places of worship. This applies not only to the city itself, but to the metropolitan area around, which naturally relies on Jerusalem for services.

 

The City of Jerusalem seeks partnerships with cities, institutions and organizations all over the world, looking for ways to promote sustainable development on the one hand, and dialog with Jerusalem stakeholders all over the world on the other hand.

 


 

Naomi Tsur is an advisory-board member of the Green Zionist Alliance.

 

 

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