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April 9, 2005 Press Release

April 9, 2005

Center for International Studies and
Department of Urban Studies and Planning


Twenty leading architects, city planners, urban activists and other intellectuals from Jerusalem gathered at MIT Friday and Saturday to envision a “city of peace” for mid—century Jerusalem. Brought to Cambridge by the MIT project, Jerusalem 2050, the natives of the holy city and several prominent Americans involved with the Israeli—Palestinian conflict grappled with the tasks of recasting the city to enable coexistence, prosperity, and peace.

“This affirms that those with the technical skills also have the vision to make the city work for everyone,” says Diane Davis, MIT Professor of Urban Studies and Planning and the director of Jerusalem 2050. “We are bringing the practical together with the visionary, the exceptional knowledge at MIT in tandem with the active Arabs and Israelis in the city to make this happen.”

The project will take the guidance of this “Visionaries Conference” to mount an international, juried competition to provide a detailed design of Jerusalem for the year 2050. This weekend's conference links those in the city, many of whom work on urban planning and “final status” issues, with MIT designers and planners. MIT's provost, Robert Brown, underwrote the costs of the conference as a sign of MIT's commitment.

“In a time of fractious and turbulent Middle East studies programs at American universities, this is a breath of fresh air—a positive, cooperative, productive, and galvanizing project of education and action,” says MIT Political Science Professor Richard Samuels, Director of MIT's Center for International Studies (CIS). “We have here the people in Jerusalem who are, day-in-day-out, trying to make it a more open, integrated, and tolerant place. This is an exceptionally exciting and innovative endeavor.”

The gathering was temporarily set back by Israeli airport security's refusal to allow a key activist, Huda Imam, from traveling last week, a decision that was subsequently reversed. Ms. Imam is director of the Center for Jerusalem Studies at Al-Quds University. Another participant, Bizreit University Professor of Architecture Jamal Amro, failed to secure visa approval from the FBI and could not attend.

At the conference itself, former deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti set the challenge by declaring Jerusalem to be a “dead city,” being abandoned by its natives, sprawling uncontrollably without a sense of definition. A number of Jerusalemites joined Benvenisti in saying that the city should be demystified, made unexceptional, in order to reach solutions more easily.

The current conflict was front and center, however, and affected nearly every exchange. “The city evolves, reflecting the needs of just one group, because only one side is doing the planning,” says co-convener Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds, the Arab University of Jerusalem, and a co-convenor of the conference. “The situation cannot be worse. The people are aggressed by the side with power, and the side without power.”

City design and planning are fraught with such facts on the ground. For Daniel Seidman, the founder of the non-profit organization Ir Amim, even the definition of “public space”—which is important to creating opportunities social cooperation—is difficult. “There are two publics, and they are binary and separate. In East Jerusalem, 35 percent of the land was taken for ‘public' space, but it was taken from one public, the Palestinians, and given to the other, the Israelis.”

But a number of breakthroughs, or suggestions for future development, came from a group that has been involved with the peace process and all its disappointments. “This is a transformative experience,” says Naomi Chazan, the former deputy speaker of the Knesset and a co-convenor of the MIT event. “Through the eyes of politicians, artists, historians, urban planners, lawyers, philosophers, and social scientists, this proved an exercise in subversion, reconciliation, and strategic rethinking.

“By bringing the future to bear on the present through different scenarios of an open, pluralistic, vibrant, and democratic Jerusalem, participants defined ways to alter the divided reality of the city in these images,” Chazan added. “They also left feeling, perhaps for the first time in several years, with hope and some ideas about how to proceed.”

Americans such as author James Carroll, architect Michael Sorkin, sociologist Richard Sennett, and urban historian Christine Boyer added insights. Carroll, who has been deeply involved with Jerusalem issues through the Hartman Center in the city, spoke of religious reconciliation as a key to the future, and cited Pope John Paul II's extraordinary visit to the Western Wall in 2000 as an epic step forward.

Leila Farsakh, a CIS Research Associate, warns that some economic trends make an economically sustainable city problematic, especially in viewing the prospects over decades. “We must think about Jerusalem becoming a ‘dormitory'—a place where people live but do not work, which is not a viable future.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that a number of the conferees raised the possibility of a political future of Jerusalem embedded in a bi-national, single state, not the two-state solution that most observers (and most political leaders) now expect to be negotiated.

The group also sharply criticized the divided nature of the city today, including the wall along the green line, as inimical to the goals of an open city honoring pluralism and economic integration. Artists Gannit Ankori and Samir Srouji provided striking visual images of how poster artists, filmmakers, painters, and others were now lampooning the closed and divided city, and seeking “third” spaces and “bubbles” for interaction, new thinking, and places for the outcasts.

The Jerusalem 2050 project will proceed over the next 18-24 months to the worldwide competition with an anticipated prize of $200,000 for the most compelling entry. Several architectural and planning schools in the region are participating with MIT.

The visionary quality of the weekend's proceedings were captured best, perhaps, by the longtime educator Alice Shalvi. After charting a political vision embracing the neighborhood councils as a tried-and-true way of encouraging broad participation, Shalvi spoke of how the city of peace could also be known as the city of the rainbow. “The rainbow is in fact a fitting paradigm. It comes into existence when contrary elements—light and water, sun and rain—occur simultaneously. It fills the sky with glory, but its ‘feet,' as it were, is based on the earth. It contains a variety of distinct colors, yet together these merge, blend into one glorious, heart-lifting vision. The rainbow is the emblem God used when he vowed never again to destroy his own creation, a vow made before Abraham to all humankind. Let it become our emblem, too.”


Jerusalem 2050

Diane Davis, Director
Professor and Associate Dean
School of Architecture and Planning
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Building 9-637
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

phone: 617-452-2804
fax: 671-253-9417
Diane Davis