Jerusalem's Biggest Environmental Threat Still Looms

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While we love to show images of Israel as a land where camel transport is a viable option, the truth is, that the country is over-run by single driver commuter traffic. Last week while "busing it", we were struck in the urban choke hold at 3 in the afternoon going from one city to the next; every environmentally-conscious person around these parts knows it is far faster for one to a bike from one end of Tel Aviv to the other than to drive or take a taxi. Jerusalem is a bit harder to navigate because of the hilly terrain, but some time in the last year or so, a green group had a cross-town race in Jerusalem to show the city that biking in the perennially car-packed streets of Jerusalem is much faster in getting from point A to point B. Lately a bone of contention among the green groups in Israel has been the Safdie Plan—what some say would be a "death blow" to Jerusalem if it went ahead. The plan entails a new housing construction project and a highway that would create a ring around the city of Jerusalem. Pollution from added traffic, say environmentalists would choke the city's residents, which are already suffering from high levels of air pollution getting trapped in the Jerusalem hills. But Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski recently said he has plans to cancel the Safdie Plan, named after internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie. The plan called for the construction of 20,000 housing units on more than 26 square kilometers of natural woodlands west of Jerusalem, in one of the largest construction projects ever proposed in Israel. According to the Jerusalem Post, the controversial plan has generated opposition from environmental groups, scientists and politicians. All argue that the plan would cause irreparable damage to the Jerusalem hills and to the city of Jerusalem by diverting stronger populations into the newer neighborhoods. In a potentially far-reaching precedent, the plan also calls for the cancellation of an existing national park, the Mount Heret National Park. The Nature and Parks Authority opposes this decision but does not have the authority to veto decisions taken by the council.

"Lupolianski is no Green," says Anshel Pfeffer, a Jerusalem Post reporter. "It's enough to stroll through the capital's rubbish-strewn streets to realize that. As the former holder of the planning portfolio before becoming mayor, he eagerly authorized every plan presented by rapacious contractors, blighting Jerusalem's skyline with eyesores like the Holyland project. Development in the Prihar Valley, one of the last major green areas within the city, was blocked only due to vigorous public opposition."

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The mayor's decision to can the Safdie plan, which was immediately lauded by green groups as "courageous," followed burgeoning protests, including a petition signed by 50 members of Israel's Knesset from across the political spectrum. For some reason, many people in the world love to know what is going on in Jerusalem. If you are one of those, you can go deeper into one of its most important green issues via the JPost ::here ::here and ::here.

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