Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Uniting Jerusalem through architecture?

On a cheerier note, today I visited a new pedestrian mall in Jerusalem that has positively beautiful architecture. It's an outside mall in the neighborhood called Mamilla, which is between the Old City and west Jerusalem. Before the 1948 war Mamilla St. was a lively commercial street, but then for 19 years (from 1948 to 1967) it was located in the no-man's-land between Israeli and Jordanian Jerusalem. After Israel took the rest of the city in the 1967 war, it retained its no-man's-land look (sans road barriers and barbed wire) for a very long time. When I first came to Jerusalem to live, in the summer of 1987, it was a mess. In fact, it was a mess up until last year. Now, the whole area is being vigorously redeveloped. The new pedestrian mall includes the facades of buildings on Mamilla St. that were painstakingly moved, stone by stone, from Mamilla St. to the new mall. You can still see the numbering on the blocks.

It took me a little while actually to find the entrance to the walkway (which was quite unpleasant because it was so hot today) but it was definitely worth when I did. This new walkway provides a very useful service, in addition to its inherent worth - it creates the first real architectural connection between west Jerusalem and the Old City since 1967. Prior to this, if you wanted to walk to the Old City from west Jerusalem, you had to start at the end of Jaffa Rd. (near the old Jerusalem city hall), cross one of the busiest intersections in the city, and then walk along the outside walls of the Old City until you reached Jaffa Gate. When I first came to Jerusalem in 1987, this wasn't a bad walk, but there really wasn't anything there on the sidewalk - no stores, houses, nothing. In the last few years, every time that I've visited, there's been construction going on that's made the walk quite unpleasant.

They've now finished reconstructing the giant intersection and it's much more pleasant. It's possible to see what the goal of all the mess was - to create the connection between the eastern and western parts of the city.

Unfortunately, architecture alone has not managed to actually unite the eastern and western parts of the city. The divisions between east Jerusalem (Arab-Palestinian) and west Jerusalem (Jewish-Israeli) are deeper than ever - only underscored by the terrorist attack last week.

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