Jerusalem’s Train Track Park

 

Renewal and revitalization

 

Jerusalem’s historic railway line runs along the Refa’im valley (Emek Refa’im), which cuts across the south-western part of the city. The route of the tracks passes through an array of diverse urban elements - from the Malcha shopping mall and the new railway station, through the rustic-agricultural neighborhood of Beit Zefafa, it crosses between the industrial zone of Talpiot and the streets of Gonenim, the Oranim junction, the Baka neighborhood and the recreational zone around the old Railway station, and concludes its journey at Givat Hatanakh (Bible Hill), a site of untouched nature within the city that offers a panoramic view of the Old City and the Ben Hinom valley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today there is no functional connection between these various localities along the abandoned railway line and the tracks form a neglected urban rift, a kind of “backyard” for the residential neighborhoods and industrial zone. The fence between the track and the various urban elements prevents free passage. This proposal suggests a way to fuse together the elements along the route of the railway, facilitating urban renewal of south-western Jerusalem. A number of particular points highlight the potential of the old Railway Line in this regard:

1. Continuity it is rare to identify an opportunity to create an unbroken series of open spaces that can serve recreational functions at the heart of a developed urban area. Yet the entire length of the Refa’im Valley presents us with precisely such an opportunity, due to the historical process that reserved the right of way for the steel tracks that run through it. We should take full advantage of this potential.

 

2. Connectivity following the valley’s path and traversing its breadth allows one to pass in a matter of minutes, on foot or by bicycle, between residential neighborhoods, public institutions (schools, community centers) and the industrial, commercial and recreational districts developing in Talpiot and along Emek Refa’im Street.

 

3. Wide Open Spaces Along the route of the old railway line are a number of segments of open spaces (together totaling 140 dunams) which constitute the last reserve of open spaces in the south western part of the city. The location of these open areas on the slope of the valley, at the heart of a dense urban area in the midst of a process of renewal, presents an opportunity for intensive urban renewal.

 

4. An urban valley this proposal raises the idea of a linear park, stretching the full length of the Refa’im valley, as an urban valley, allowing the flow of water and strengthening the infrastructure of urban nature for the benefit of the residential neighborhoods that already exist and are developing alongside it.

 

5. A range of attractive functions development of the edges of the industrial zone as a recreational and cultural area. It is extremely important to designate the borders of the park and create optimal connections between the various neighborhoods and the existing and proposed cultural and recreational areas. As part of the inclusive concept of the proposal it suggests development of the edge of the Talpiot industrial zone facing the park as a recreational and cultural center, using existing building facades opposite the park. Similarly, a potential focal point exists around the Oranim junction, connecting with the recreational zone of Emek Refa’im Street and its many restaurants.

Aim 

Renewal and revitalization of long-standing urban fabrics along the route of Jerusalem’s historic railway line. Jerusalem’s urban development is characterized by a process of decentralization. This has resulted in disintegration of the urban fabric: a series of disconnected residential neighborhoods, commercial zones and cultural and recreational centers. The path of the city’s historic railway line exacerbates this situation, dividing and separating the urban elements on each side of its tracks and along its length. This proposal seeks to transform the old railway line from a dividing factor into a uniting feature that connects disparate urban elements, bringing them together and binding them into a new, harmonious and functional urban texture.

 

 

 

 

Background

 

Over the course of time a varied urban texture has developed along the route of Jerusalem’s historic railway line, including residential neighborhoods, industrial and commercial centers, civic centers and recreational areas. The disused railway track is closed and fenced off, crossing the city but not part of it. The urban elements alongside it terminate at the railway tracks and the border between them has become like a withered and neglected back yard. The railway line, which for many years was a fast, closed artery, separated from the rest of the city, has retained this character, even after the trains ceased to thunder along it. Both sides of the tracks are abandoned, clogged with garbage, the scenes of incursions and illegal activities and at complete odds with the surrounding urban texture. To this day signs along the fence warn of the dangers of approaching the railway line. The same is true all along the border between the established neighborhoods and the railway tracks. The residential neighborhoods of Pat and the Katamonim turn their backs upon the railway line. Talpiot’s commercial zone uses the tracks as a depository for garbage and junk, while its recreational and shopping centers face away from the railway line. The lively urban area of Emek Refa’im Street overlooks the road while behind it, the railway tracks are used for parking, illegal activities and garbage dumping.

 

Urban Renewal

 

The concept presented in this proposal draws upon ideas, planning approaches and experience accumulated from projects of urban renewal. This idea has played a central role in the urban development of many cities in Western Europe which have experienced deterioration of their urban texture, for the most part in central urban zones, but also in failing and rejected areas. The aging population and the flight of the young, energetic population, physical deterioration of buildings and infrastructures, lack of access, closure and separation: all these have led to a deterioration of the socio-economic status of the population, resulting in decline and decay. Tackling the challenge presented by these problems is difficult and complex, requiring many different disciplines, including urban planning, economics, social factors, infrastructure and transportation. One of the common and accepted methods of urban renewal is to focus on developing an urban space, artery or area. It involves renewed planning, developing connections and opportunities, providing a link to surrounding urban textures, participation of the local communities and recruiting their support for the process of rehabilitation, along with encouragement of enterprises and activities that will provide a stimulus to renewal and independence.

 

External Influences

 

The new urban system will have an influence that extends far beyond the limited range of the average city street. The route of the railway line will become a linear artery, connecting the existing and renewed centers and thus its effects will reach many parts of the city. Sites of commerce, recreation and culture along the railway line, which until now were disconnected, will come together to aid the city’s advancement. Access to the cinema complex in Talpiot, for example, today requires an exhausting journey between garages and junk yards, which most certainly contributes to its unattractiveness. By connecting it to a new road, the complex will be opened up and directly linked to the residential neighborhoods of Pat, Katamonim, Bak’a, the German Colony and more. It will be possible to reach it on foot from all of these areas. This is also true of the Malcha shopping mall, the Teddy Stadium, the Malcha commercial center and the new train station. In the urban consciousness these are all located at the edge of the city, but in fact they lie on the suggested route, within walking distance of the city’s southern neighborhoods. An example of positive development of the ideas raised in this proposal are the changes around the old train station at the end of the railway line, where a new recreational center has sprung up including an experimental theater (The Laboratory) together with coffee shops and restaurants. This location, bordering the route of the railway tracks, is also a meeting point between the city center and the basin of the Old City. The development of the route and its connection to Givat Hatanakh, which looks out over the Old City, the green area of the Liberty Bell Park and the gardens throughout the neighborhood of Yemin Moshe, as well as the major roads running through the city center (King David and Keren Hayesod Streets) constitute an important step towards creating the muchneeded continuity between Jerusalem’s central tourist and recreational sites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

​It’s the end of the summer holidays. I got up, got dressed and ran outside. Our house is full of dust because of the renovations we are doing. Lots of people in our neighborhood (the Katamonim) are doing renovations and no one has a computer or internet. So my mother lets me wander around outside all day.

 

I called Ori and we went to Salem’s stall in Beit Zafafa to buy falafel. From there we went to visit Yonatan who lives in Abu Tor, to play on the computer at his house. They’re not doing renovations. In the past we weren’t able to get to him because we had to cross lots of roads, but since they made the new park along the old railway line we are allowed to walk to his house because we don’t need to cross any roads.

We made a lot of noise at his house so they threw us out and we walked to the valley at the other end to pick figs. Yonatan was stung by a bee and started to moan, so we went to the clinic next to Salem’s in Beit Zafafa, and we ate some more falafel, and from there we went to see a movie at the cinema in Talpiot. In the evening I went home. My mother suggested that we go to buy ice cream on Emek Refa’im Street and watch the street shows.

 

I wanted all of us to ride there on our bicycles but my mother said that at that time of day it is very busy on the bicycle path and the day before yesterday another bicycle ran her over. My dad started to laugh and she got offended. In the end we walked. There were a lot of people on the way and it was terribly crowded, especially next to the food stalls, and my sister got lost. I said that it was for the best and got a smack. We couldn’t find her among all the people. In the end my dad found her. It’s a shame.

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