Follow the Light-Rail: The Plan for Greater Jerusalem

Jerusalem Day 2024, and the plan to change the face of the city is at its peak: from Hebron Road to Jaffa, from Herzl to Kiryat HaYovel. Almost every main thoroughfare where the light rail is expected to pass becomes a focal point for planning towers up to 40 and 50 stories high. District Committee Chairman: “The towers are not the goal, but they are a tool. If Jerusalem wants to increase the supply of apartments and preserve open spaces, it must build within.”

By Nimrod Bosu, Nadlan Center


Anyone who has been walking around Jaffa Street in the center of Jerusalem in recent months, at the entrance to the Mahane Yehuda market, can already see the change. More and more towers are beginning to rise above the area, characterized by low urban construction, mainly for residential and hotel uses, changing the city center’s skyline.

But in planning terms, Jaffa Street is already history. In the pipeline of planning institutions – the local committee and the district committee – dozens, if not hundreds, of additional projects, are already being promoted, including the construction of towers, mainly along the planned routes of the city’s light rail. This is an extreme facelift for the city, which most of the public has become accustomed to thinking about mainly in historical and conservation terms.

This planning policy has several factors, including the desire of planning authorities to strengthen the level of urban intensity, to preserve strong populations, and to mitigate, as much as possible, the damage to the green and quality open spaces in which the city is surrounded.

“Jerusalem has run out of land, and if it wants to encourage people to live here, it needs to build itself internally. This is a moral decision to preserve the open spaces and build inside,” explains Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee Chairwoman Shira Talmi Babay, “The towers are not an end in themselves. Still, they are another tool in the planning toolbox that allows us to create economic and urban renewal projects and increase the supply of apartments. So in the end, many of the new plans include towers, and they are taking up a growing place in the cityscape.”


Do you limit the growth to specific areas in Jerusalem?

“First, there is a buffer in the areas surrounding the Old City. Up to a certain distance, it is impossible to build to a height beyond the height of the Old City walls. Later, it is possible to build up to 8 stories high, and as you move farther away, the restrictions are removed. Beyond that, we focus on areas where the light rail route passes since mass transit systems are essential to enhance rights.”

 And that’s the crux of the matter. Anyone who examines the areas where most of the towers’ plans in the city are being promoted will find that almost all of them are being promoted along the three light rail lines in the city – the existing one (red) and the two whose opening is planned later in the next decade (green and blue). “Along the route of these lines, we identified the main arteries suitable for intensive construction,” explains Babay. “There are areas, such as Emek Refaim, which, despite its location on the route, have a strict level of preservation, and therefore 3-story buildings and a tiled roof will remain. On Jaffa Road, there is a vast area with a limit of up to 8 floors, and in the historic Beit HaKerem, there is a restriction of up to 10 floors.

“But when you take these areas out of the picture, you’re left with the streets where you can build high, which are characterized both by being wide, meaning a main road, and by the fact that the lots along them are large, which is another characteristic required for towers, and also relatively level streets because the light rail is less suitable for traveling along sharp inclines.”

10,000 housing units on one of the most important roads in the Christian world

One of the routes expected to undergo the most interesting transformation is the Hebron Road route. At its northern end, the arterial road reaches the historic station compound in the city center, and at its southern end, it reaches Gilo Junction, near the northern entrance to Bethlehem.

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This axis has geopolitical significance, with its southern part located outside the Green Line, social significance because it connects peripheral neighborhoods of the city, such as Gilo and Givat Hamatos, to the city center, and also has religious-historical significance, since the axis that connects Bethlehem, and the Old City of Jerusalem, it is a road used by pilgrims who have been visiting the Holy Land for hundreds of years. In this context, it should be noted that the road is also paved with archaeological sites of religious significance to Christianity,  Like the Kathisma – an ancient Byzantine monastery, and other sites.

About 10,000 housing units and 200,000 square meters are planned along this route for income-producing uses – hotels, commerce, and employment. Plans for about 1,300 housing units have already been approved. All this at a construction height of up to 40 floors. “It’s a very strong route from a tourist point of view because it leads from the outskirts of Bethlehem to the Old City of Jerusalem. Therefore, a quarter of the total rights along it will be for non-residential uses, and some of the developers have sought to strengthen the hotel aspect,” explains Talmi Babay, “I am happy that this road is regaining its status.”

A series of real estate developers are also active along the route, including the construction companies Tidhar and Azorim and Jerusalem businessman Rami Levy, who is promoting a huge project for the construction of two 30-story residential towers and a 20-story office or hotel tower, which is expected to include 298 housing units.

Tidhar Group is expected to build a huge project along the route, including about 3,500 apartments alongside four hotels with about 1,300 hotel units. This is part of the “Strip through Hebron-South Talpiot” plan, promoted on a 140-dunam complex west of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel and near the Givat Hamatos neighborhood. The architectural firm Studio Yigal Levy designed the complex, and at its center stands a historic pilgrimage village designated for preservation. The buildings are expected to be used for commerce in a manner reminiscent of the Sarona complex in Tel Aviv.

The deposit plan was approved a few months ago, and Tidhar estimates it will be valid by the end of the year. According to Tomer Alfasi, CEO of Tidhar Development and Income-Producing Properties, “As far as we are concerned, the project expands the boundaries of the city’s demand. This location is also on the Harkal route, which is close to tourist and leisure centers and enjoys high accessibility.”

This area is also located beyond the Green Line and near Givat Hamatos – one of the city’s isolated neighborhoods. Not exactly the type of location identified with Tidhar. Alfasi said, “What’s special about this neighborhood is that it still has no character; it’s not a new project in an existing neighborhood. It’s an area we’re rebuilding, so it’s hard to say whether the population will be secular, national-religious, or ultra-Orthodox. If you rely on nearby Givat Matos that combines all these populations, the answer will probably be both.”

The State-National Axis and the Controversial Tower

Another prominent axis expected to grow according to the advanced plans is the Herzl axis. One end of the axis is located at the western entrance to Jerusalem from Highway 1, with millions of meters currently being built as part of the city’s entrance project. From there, the axis stretches southeast, through Hantke Street to Kiryat HaYovel.

“It’s a national axis, which begins at the entrance to a city that will be monumental in terms of construction and continues along the national institutions – Mount Herzl, Yad Vashem, the campus, and Givat Ram’s employment area,” says Talmi Babay, “Due to its state character, this axis is paved with areas with building restrictions, for example, adjacent to Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem. In large parts of the city, urban renewal is promoted up to 30 stories high, as in Kiryat HaYovel, where thousands of housing units are planned to be built as part of the renewal processes.”

Also located along is one of the most talked-about plans of recent months – a spectacular 50-story tower designed by architect Gordon Gill, the same architect who signed the Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai. For this reason, this tower was also nicknamed ‘Burj Khalifa’ until an official name was found. The tower has recently been at the heart of mostly critical coverage, due to claims that its proximity to Mount Herzl is not respectful of the character of the place.

Talmi Babai is not deterred by the criticism and continues to stand behind the plan. “The tower stands near other towers that are already being built at the height of 30-35 floors, so its deviation in the landscape will not be as dramatic as claimed, and on the other hand, it will add a lot of beauty to an area characterized by standard residential construction. This is a large plot of seven dunams, and concentrating the rights in one tower will create a spacious urban square. This tower is expected to be a gift for the city.”

Plans are being advanced along Herzl Route for 3,300 housing units and 125,000 square meters of commercial and employment space. Of these, 1,000 housing units and 10,000 square meters for commerce, employment, and tourism have already been approved.

The contents of this article are designed to provide the reader with general information and not to serve as legal or other professional advice for a particular transaction. Readers are advised to obtain advice from qualified professionals prior to entering into any transaction.

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