Jerusalem is a relatively poor city. It is the home of a large ultra-orthodox population that is characterized by men who study Torah and women that produce very many children and work to support their families. It is also the home of government employees. Although there is a high-tech industry in Jerusalem, many of its employees reside outside city limits.
For many years now, policy makers in Jerusalem have targeted ways to attract new, young and professional population to the city. One of the means that has been proposed is to create a new stock of housing for these families, away from the religious neighborhoods. It was hoped that by so doing the stigma of Jerusalem as a place dominated by "blue laws" will be replaced by an image of comfortable suburban living in the midst of nature in the Judean hills.
A land- use plan was commissioned from the Israeli/Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. The plan proposed 20,000 housing units west of the city around the main road connecting Jerusalem with the center of the country.
Today, the Israel National Planning Board rejected the plan after a prolonged debate to the sound of vocal protest from various groups wishing to preserve the green areas around the city. The mayor of Jerusalem has adopted the view that it is possible to create a sufficient stock of housing within the current city limits. Based on a new study he claims that it is possible to build 40,000 housing units within the city.
There is no doubt that dense urban fabric is to be preferred. It creates a smaller environmental footprint by encouraging the use of public transportation facilities and lowers CO2 emissions. However, there may be a significant cost associated with the new policy. It is my suspicion that Jerusalem will find it difficult to attract young, upwardly mobile families and that the outflow of young people to Tel Aviv will continue. It is likely that we will have a green , non-pluralistic and relatively poor capital city.