Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Splintering Skylines in a Fractured City: High-Rise Geographies in Jerusalem

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Splintering Skylines in a Fractured City: High-Rise Geographies in Jerusalem

Article excerpt

Abstract. This paper examines the production of contested and mundane spaces in Jerusalem. So far, scholarship has focused primarily on the turbulent ethnonational relations in Jerusalem, while paying less attention to struggles over issues of growth and development that do not touch directly upon Israeli-Palestinian controversies. In this paper we consider late entrants to the Jerusalem scene, tall buildings, to investigate how planning policies and practices have shaped some contested and mundane spaces in the city. Through the examination of planning documents and in-depth interviews, we outline the high-rise geographies of 'Three Jerusalems': the Old City, Israeli Jerusalem, and Arab Jerusalem. In each of these cities diverse planning approaches, values, and motivations contribute to the transforming cityscape. The Old City remains a protected space of immense significance in the long-lasting visual image of a Holy City. In Israeli Jerusalem, exceptional tall buildings have become more acceptable, as entrepreneurialism gains power; in Arab Jerusalem, enduring exclusion and discrimination against the Palestinian population makes taller buildings possible, provided that they are built within the informal development path. Overall, high-rise geographies demonstrate the different dimensions of Jerusalem relating to ethnonational rifts, capitalistic ambitions, and to formal and informal processes of reproduction and transformation.

Keywords: tall buildings, planning policies, Jerusalem


Few cities in the world fascinate and puzzle scholars like Jerusalem. As a city with historic and spiritual magnetism, it is well known for multiple controversies and fissures which are clearly inscribed into its historic and modern built environment. In the past half century, overt ethnonational rifts and Israeli actions to establish its sovereignty over occupied Palestinian land have yielded extensive urban research (eg, Allegra, 2013; Benvenisti, 1998; Boano and Marten, 2013; Busbridge, 2013; Cheshin et al, 1999; Chiodelli, 2012; 2013; Dumper, 1997; Hasson, 1996; Klein, 2001; 2005; Romann and Weingrod, 1991; Shlay and Rosen, 2010). One vivid marker of Israeli rule on the city is the Separation Wall, which draws physical boundaries between Israel and Palestine, dramatically affecting the urban landscape and people's lives. To a large extent, the predominance of ethnonational splits and contested sovereignties has sidelined or at least downplayed mundane urban debates over growth and development. However, 'ordinary' conflicts over urban development (eg, sprawling development on the urban edge, inner-city redevelopment, and the provision of affordable housing) are understudied topics in the case of Jerusalem.

In this paper we argue that the study of high-rise geographies in Jerusalem provides a valuable vantage point for analyzing contested and mundane spaces. To this end, we analyze how tail-building policies and practices have been played out within the local context. Traditionally, the notion of preserving Jerusalem's picturesque cityscape was enforced through restrictive planning codes and regulations, which paid tribute to its hilly topography, panoramic views, and the dominance of the Old City and its environs; large-scale and conspicuous structures remained contentious and exceptional. Recently, differential development policies (more permissive planning and development policies in certain parts of the city and a restrictive policy in other parts) have reflected new types of urban reproduction and transformation.

The examination of high-rise geographies assists in exposing two key facets of Jerusalem: entrenched spatial divisions and the (re)production of contested spaces. First, a heterogeneous space composed of three distinct and dominant parts/cities within Jerusalem has emerged: the Old City, Arab Jerusalem, and Israeli Jerusalem. These 'three Jerusalems' make up a set of spatially differentiated but interconnected cities shaped by conflicting dynamics, mindsets, and values. …

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