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November 27, 2015 / 15 Kislev, 5776
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Jerusalem of (Real Estate) Gold

The romantic skyline of Jerusalem is disappearing. The sights of the beautiful churches and minarets of the ancient mosques will soon be eclipsed by high-rise office and apartment buildings. Is Jerusalem on its way to becoming a modern city? Or is it losing its special character?

A reflected Jerusalem skyline in the city's center.

A reflected Jerusalem skyline in the city's center.
Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/FLASH90

Despite protests and legal challenges by the Interior Ministry’s National Planning Council and the Supreme Court, the plan was approved. Today, the building is a 24-floor tower with 127 apartments.

“The Society for the Protection of Nature has in the past been involved with many legal battles over the construction of high-rise buildings in Jerusalem, talking about this supposedly holy skyline that mustn’t be changed,” said Shaked Avraham, a member of the SPN who also represents environmental agencies in the various planning councils. “This is history, a thing of the past because there has been a realization that there is no such thing as a holy skyline. People also realize that the most precious commodity is land, and it needs to be utilized efficiently. High-rise buildings serve this end. Now the main question is where, how, and how much.”

“In the past, high-rise buildings were constructed without any comprehensive vision in mind,” Avraham said. “In the last five years, however, a cogent policy has been formulated for high-rise construction in Jerusalem. This policy is manifest in the new Jerusalem master plan (despite the fact that it has yet to be approved formally) that serves a guide for both the municipality as well as for the District Council.”

“Unfortunately, however, the greed and avarice displayed by many contractors and builders who are trying to get as much land as possible and to build as many stories high as possible, results in very thick, ugly constructions that have little connection to the surrounding landscape,” he said. “We have quite a number of problems in this regard. The tall buildings that were initiated and approved in the 1990s are a good example of this.”

“Architects and builders want more and more, even at the cost of producing a catastrophe planning-wise,” he said. “It’s not the height of the towers that is disastrous, but the insane, gargantuan building and the wide spaces that they take up that create problems in the public landscape from an aesthetic standpoint. Take for example the towers that are slated to be built near the Mahane Yehuda market. These towers were poorly conceived, and they are being constructed as per the gargantuan whims of the builders and excessive generosity on the part of the planning institutions as opposed to proper urban planning considerations that also take into account the preservation of the special, historic fabric of the area.”

Holy balance

The master plan that has been advanced in Jerusalem in recent years lays out clear criteria regarding high-rise construction. They include accessibility through public transportation, proper integration with the historic fabric of the area, and a minimum of 2.5 dunams on which the property would be built. In the coming years, we are likely to see many residential towers crop up in neighborhoods like Arnona and on major thoroughfares like Hebron Way and Herzl Street. There will be also a number of boldly conceived plans for the area surrounding the Mahane Yehuda open-air market.

One of the few towers built in the city as part of a concerted effort to rehabilitate the Katamonim neighborhood is the Ganei Tziyon tower, which was built by Hasid brothers (Ahim Hasid) real estate company five years ago. These are one of the few real estate ventures of this kind, which is why it received the blessing of all the main protagonists: the planning institutions, the municipality, and the local residents. Ganei Tziyon encompasses two low-rise buildings six-to-seven stories tall as well as one tower with 18 floors.

Ganei Tzion

“The Jerusalem skyline has been altered in recent years by towers that were built without any clear policy in mind,” said Zion Hasid, one of the owners of Hasid Brothers, which has been involved in real estate projects in Jerusalem since the 1970s. “This project was built with the proper balance in mind and through the joint planning of all the relevant parties, so in that way it also meets the needs of the longtime residents of the area. It has managed to attract a socioeconomically advanced demographic to an area that was thought of as a rundown, distressed region, and it has re-branded the Katamonim neighborhood into one of the most sought-after places in the city with regards to real estate opportunities.”

About the Author: Ranit Nachum-Halevi is a consultant to real estate companies, and former senior real estate correspondent for The Marker, Haaretz's daily financial supplement. She has been working in Israel's media for more than 15 years. You can reach her at ranit.nh@gmail.com.

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