Photographer: Ariel Jerozolimski/Bloomberg

Jerusalem Envisions Highway Roof to Help Solve Land Scarcity

  • Plan creates space for technology park, housing, bike paths
  • Proximity to Hebrew University could attract tech companies

Hemmed in on the north, east and south by political issues limiting construction, and on the west by environmental considerations, Jerusalem has to get creative to find space to build.

Mayor Nir Barkat has a plan to conjure up valuable building space almost out of thin air: By building a rooftop cover for the city’s main traffic artery, with enough room for a technology park, housing, and a green space with bicycle and walking paths.

The area, located over a section of the Begin Highway, the north-south expressway that runs the length of the city, is close to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. That’s a similar arrangement to technology parks built near research centers like Harvard University and Stanford University, the municipality said in an emailed statement. The plan didn’t include a proposed price tag.

“Jerusalem has tremendous comparative advantages in academia and high tech,” said Barkat, a former venture capitalist. “To overcome the land shortage, we thought out of the box.”

Densely Packed

City planners are seeking alternative spaces to provide housing and employment opportunities for young residents. More young adults are leaving than moving to Jerusalem, which has the second-highest housing density of the 14 largest cities in Israel, according to a Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies report. At the same time, job opportunities in the private sector are scarce, with 44 businesses per 1,000 residents in Jerusalem, compared with 162 in Tel Aviv and 64 on average for Israel, according to the report.

David Kroyanker, an expert on Jerusalem architecture and planning, said the idea of roofing a highway to build above it has been tried abroad -- and even to a small degree on the Begin Highway itself, where a bridge over the road helped make room for a building.

“The idea in principle is a correct one, as long as you find the right proportions for the various uses -- residential, commercial and open spaces,” Kroyanker said in a telephone interview. “It’s a better use of land.”

The area in question, in western Jerusalem near Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus, is far from the political disputes that accompany Israeli building plans in other parts of the city. Construction proposals in neighborhoods Israel won in the 1967 Middle East war, which the Palestinians also claim, are often controversial internationally.

The plan, which needs the approval of two planning panels to proceed, includes 70,000 square meters (753,500 square feet) of office space. Some 1,830 housing units, half of which will be small and intended for young families, are included, as well as a 17-acre park.

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