Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Greenbelts in London and Jerusalem

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Greenbelts in London and Jerusalem

Article excerpt

WHEN Ebenezer Howard put forth the idea of the garden city in 1898, he was looking, in part, for an antidote to the ills of urban life. His solution, idyllic in concept, called for a town set against a background of the country. Various sources contributed to the thinking of Howard and his contemporaries, as the search for an improved community was not new. Part of the inspiration may have been the Levitical city of the Bible (Osborn 1969, 167). Howard (1966, 1) began his classic "Garden Cities of To-morrow" with a reference by the poet William Blake to the preeminent Biblical city. "I will not cease from mental strife/nor shall my sword sleep in my hand/till we have built Jerusalem/in England's green and pleasant land."

It is a fitting coincidence that the work which stimulated the use of the greenbelt, "one of [the] most enduring and widely supported planning instruments" (Munton 1983, 1), opens with Jerusalem as a foil to industrialized Great Britain. British planners, under the authority of the League of Nations mandate in Palestine, set about creating a greenbelt for Jerusalem. Their work was contemporaneous with the conceptualization and codification of a greenbelt to combat the urban sprawl of London. Although the two cities and their planning characteristics differ markedly in many respects, there is some parallel in the use of open space as a tool in shaping them.

On the whole, greenbelt policies are seen as a useful and often successful means to contain or direct urban expansion. At the same time the open spaces and their advocates face various pressures--and herein lies one of the principal differences between the application in Jerusalem and in London. Although both cities are growing rapidly, pressure on the Metropolitan Green Belt, as it is officially known in London, is largely a result of a constellation of economic issues common to urban expansion. In Jerusalem the pressure also comes from the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians over the political future of the city, which in some respects follows the lines of landuse competition played out in London and elsewhere.

To reveal the similarities and the differences between the two greenbelts and to describe their common origin, the evolution of this planning tool is related in both urban contexts. This discussion entails a review of issues relevant to planning law and practice, as well as practicalities in bringing a greenbelt into being. The varied uses and the interrelationships among the issues illustrate the versatility and constancy of the underlying concepts. The current state of these greenbelts is discussed in terms of recent history and draws on the elements that have caused the British example to be challenged and that have wrought fundamental changes in the Jerusalem greenbelt. The long-term effectiveness of greenbelts as a way to curtail urban sprawl in the British context is assessed.


The vast differences between Jerusalem and London affect the form of their greenbelts. The London greenbelt dwarfs that of Jerusalem, as is to be expected from the different magnitudes of the two cities. Confusion about the definition of greenbelt is also important. It is more of a problem in Jerusalem than in London, but in neither place is there a hard-and-fast definition. The London greenbelt comprises a 4,850-square-kilometer zone from ten to twenty-five kilometers wide in which planning restrictions limit the types of landuse. In Jerusalem no statutory status distinguishes the land included in the belt or its use. Instead, the title greenbelt is applied by the quasi-governmental agency responsible for afforesting and maintaining a portion of the public land in and around the city. The Jerusalem greenbelt ranges from several kilometers at its broadest to as few as twenty meters at its narrowest and covers an area of approximately thirteen square kilometers.

The origins of the concept of greenbelts long predate the initial use of the term (Thomas 1970). …

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