Jerusalem's new western entrance may hasten decline

Shaar Hair, simuation:  Farhi Zafrir Architects

The Israeli capital's planned new business zone and railway station will make it easier to commute and spend less time in the city.

Jerusalem is emptying out. In 2014, 17,000 people were removed from the population register and in 2015, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, more than 18,000 left. More figures: 50% of people working in Jerusalem are public employees and 60% of employees under 35 are commuters who do not live there.

In the rest of world, commuting characterizes families who moved to a more spacious and permanent housing in the suburbs and commute to work in the city. Young people, on the contrary, flock to the city centers, because they are willing to settle for less convenient housing and be close to work and to the socioeconomic opportunities offered by city life. This takes place in London, in Paris, in San Francisco and in Tel Aviv; but not in Jerusalem, where, after hours, younger employees return to their homes and occupations outside of the city.

When you add this to a shaky security situation, a religious tension that reflects on commercial and leisure activity, neighborhoods with exorbitant apartment prices that are barely inhabited, you get a city whose permanent residents make their living as low-ranking officials or from low-paid tourist services. Pretty disturbing.

Stopping people from leaving

This situation probably also disturbs Mayor Nir Barkat, who marks eight years in office this week; last week, he laid the cornerstone of the new business zone at the entrance to Jerusalem. Barkat believes that 24 office buildings, built on a 2 square kilometer plot at the entrance to the city, near the railway station, will save Jerusalem and stop people from leaving.

This is a somewhat strange assumption - today, commuters crawl their way through traffic up the mountain in order to reach their jobs inside the city and leave in the evening. Will a fast train that brings them from Tel Aviv to the office at the station's doorstep in 30 minutes make them stay in Jerusalem? On the contrary, these new conditions will only make escaping to the center of the country immediately after work easier and this time without even passing through the city.

Moreover, companies situated in veteran industrial zones in Talpiot, Givat Shaul and Har Hotzvim, will become interested in moving to this new, shining, area; it will have improved infrastructure, compared with neglect in older zones, as well as better PR, but its main advantage will be easy access to the heart of business in Greater Tel Aviv.

As a result, Jerusalem's new business area will turn into a fence that keeps those coming to the offices of successful firms in Shaar Hair, while abandoning Jerusalem's poor residents, failing businesses and tourist attractions. And, if we already mention tourists, you could spend two days in Jerusalem, while staying the night in the safety of Israel's coastal region, which will be only 30 minutes away using the fast train.

A wasted business zone

Business zones provide betterment and property taxes, but their economic contribution lies in their buying power as well as their entrepreneurship and commercial contacts with local businesses. For this end, they must be part of the city; otherwise they will be wasted like Matam industrial park in southern Haifa, the northern train station area in Beersheva and Ramat Hahayal in Tel Aviv. You can see an opposite example in the area between Rothschild Boulevard and Kibbutz Galuyot in Tel Aviv. For several years, the municipality has been encouraging IT companies to open offices in old industrial buildings, and their presence is already being felt - in the renovation of buildings, growing commerce and the first signs of business tourism.

The project at the entrance to Jerusalem will be built as planned. If Barkat wishes to reduce the harm caused, he should take some of the revenue from this venture and invest them in the renewal of public areas in veteran industrial zones. This way, he might be able to leave some good companies and businesses there, which will provide more reasons to enter the city than just tourist attractions.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 2, 2016

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016

Shaar Hair, simuation:  Farhi Zafrir Architects
Shaar Hair, simuation: Farhi Zafrir Architects
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