Connecting Palestinian Cities and Citizens

Connecting Palestinian Cities and Citizens

Sebastien Goethals was part of an ISOCARP Urban Planning Advisory Team (UPAT) that together with UN Habitat, sought to propose urban planning solutions for the challenges of Palestine. The intensive project led to plans that will guide UN Habitat’s development efforts there. As Metropolitan Collective’s mobility expert, Sebastien created a mobility plan to enhance connections between Palestinian cities, and the people living in them. Read is report, published in ISOCARP’s Plan Magazine, below:

Connecting Palestinian Cities and Citizens

High walls on each side flank the Highway from Jerusalem to Bethlehem: concrete walls that seem more like noise barriers than separation walls. Those highways, called Apartheid-boulevards by the Palestinians, who are not allowed to use them, cause major detours, long travel times and uncertainty.

Beyond the contextual complexity of the West Bank and its division in to A, B, C zones that limits the mobility and the local economy, several issues related to the current rapid urbanization in Palestinian cities have been pointed out:

  • There is a clear lack of urban centralities, existing or emerging, that catalyse economic growth and social cohesion;
  • The nature of the urban development process doesn’t follow specific spatial directions;
  • The current process of sprawled urbanization is mostly driven by residential projects in areas disconnected from economy;
  • There is no clear strategy and management about urban transport and mobility.

On the regional scale a railway system that connects the cities of the Metropolitan Region seems a suitable solution, even though the geomorphology and given natural preconditions are more difficult than in other regions. During the planning process of the railway system at the regional level, it is essential to work in parallel with a spatial strategy on the city level that will integrate the interaction between the new railway station and the urban development process. Not only urban centralities must be identified and localized but also the connectivity between them and the new railway station should be planned to achieve urban liveability through high quality public spaces and the implementation of complete, green streets. In order to propose an adapted response to the lack of mobility of Palestinians in the con- text of the West Bank, a multi-scale approach that links urban and regional accessibility and connectivity and combines them with economic and urban development has been addressed. In the case of the West Bank, an early coordination between regional and urban development planning is essential in order to successfully integrate Palestinian cities in a metropolitan region. The regional railway system, which is the backbone of the Metropolitan Area, should be paired up with strategic city planning that integrates the railway infrastructure with a multi-modal urban transport network and suitable urban mobility plans. Together, both would create a fruitful and beneficial approach on the city level that mutually adds up different qualities. This integration is important to ensure that single interventions, like infra- structure provisions, do not remain as stand-alones but blend well into a bigger structure that is also linked to other policy and urban planning domains (housing, urban green, public spaces).

The achievement of a multimodal transport system is based on a regional railway network combined with local (urban) transport modes and smart mobility services connecting the railway stations with the urban centralities and communities that support stronger spatial cohesion. Building up spatial cohesion and structure for Palestine needs a suitable phasing at different levels.

We propose to build transit orient- ed spatial structures for Palestinian cities, based on multimodal trans- port connectivity, multifunctional centralities, intensification of urban linkages and preservation of green areas from sprawled urbanization, where single features can be in- dependently implemented, without waiting for the utilization of the rail- way infrastructure, and therefore incrementally building up to spatial coherence. One way to achieve spatial coherence could be the following: (1) Combining polycentric city planning with transit oriented development can create a positive environment when it is connected on lower scale to complete streets, green and public spaces. This combination offers a vibrant context for social cohesion, job accessibility, urban entrepreneurship, green spaces for everyone, smart mobility and smart parking management. (2) This novel urban structure pro- vides an active urban environment that will quickly connect to the new railway stations once the infrastructure is achieved. The train station as new urban nodes and the at- tractive urban environment will form new focal points that trigger regional cohesion at the economic and social levels. (3) Smart and innovative urban mobility appears here as a tool for better quality of life, improved conditions for economic activities and a more elaborated identity for Palestinian cities and communities.

Get connected – stay in touch with the capital
Our first exercise of implementation of the railway infrastructure at the regional level taught us that Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem potentially belong to the same metropolitan area, if a suitable trans- port system connects the different urban patterns and the three major cities Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem. This North-South oriented Metropolitan Region needs to be connected by a sustainable transport system in which the rail- way plays an important role for the metropolitan mobility but also for an integrated spatial organization of urban growth. The ‘double finger plan’ embeds the transit ring axis that is circling Jerusalem into an urban green infrastructure net- work: the fingers of the land hand (brown) are 4 main axes of urban development, that are completed by green infrastructure, which are the fingers of the right hand (green). The integration of urban development along the mobility axis and green infrastructure is forging the cornerstones of the future sustainable development of the city.

In such a scenario, the railway plays a multiple role at the region- al and the metropolitan scales, namely (1) the spatial organization of urban growth for Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem together; (2) a metropolitan dimension to Jerusalem’s development, and (3) the emergence of a national and inter- national transport hub.

The new railway infrastructure running around Jerusalem-East is a combination of a transit ring axis and a green belt for the agglomeration. The spatial planning strategy related to the railway system in Jerusalem leads to the achievement of a “double fingerplan” that combines urban development with the provision of a suitable urban green infrastructure, acting as a frame- work for sustainable city development.

The finger plan links Jerusalem downtown with the three main train stations. These urban linkages are “axes of urban intensification” connecting Palestinian communities to each other and to the economic activities. Tramways and BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) run along these avenues to connect the city centre and the regional train stations. Urban transit stations along these avenues will quickly become meeting places and, beyond that, economic and social hubs of dynamism conected to the rest of the city and to other cities. Urban intensification along the axes and around the train stations, also mean mixed-used and transit oriented densification, which can become a reference for future urban development in Jerusalem. Complementary to the urban linkages, the green fingers are securing the natural heritage, recreational green, and natural areas. The three train stations serve as metropolitan gates that are bundling the green and brown linkages and function as economic hubs in the greater Metropolitan Region. “Green Fingerplan”, fitting with the natural relief, can be planned be- tween the urban linkages, in order to combine urban intensification and land preservation for recreational green spaces and natural areas. The three metropolitan gates combine economic hubs of high density and are linked to surround- ing green spaces. The opportunity of tramway lines and stations is not only to improve accessibility and urban development. A tramway can also ride on railway-tracks and its network can be extended to the peripheral areas without addition- al investment. This hybrid solution, called tram-train, has been successfully developed in Karlsruhe (Germany), where existing suburban villages found a new accessibility to the central city. The vision map also shows that the new Eastern railway opens the opportunity to connect with the existing Western railway system as a further step, in order to achieve a completed, national and international railway network.

Connectivity, identity and diversity for Ramallah
The current process of urbanization in Ramallah doesn’t provide the city with a spatial structure and urban fabric that forms a distinctive de- sign character and urban identity. A smart and phased implementa- tion of the new railway system that is embedded in an innovative multimodal transport system and a pedestrian friendly streetscape could bring the city development to another level. In fact, Ramallah’s urban development needs to be accompanied by the pursuit of a stronger urban identity. Ramallah has the potential to become a place for innovation, knowledge and smart economy. The advantages, weaknesses and challenges of the city make it an ideal urban laboratory to think and build the Palestinian city of tomorrow. Innovative urban mobility is a tool to build a smart city, where people feel inspired and connected to each other and to the rest of the world. The new train station on the Eastern edge of Ramallah, between Kafr’ Aqb and Al-Bireh, will be connected to Ramallah’s city centre with different transport modes that are adapt- ed to the existing conditions, i.e. Ramallah’s hilly topography. Trains, city buses and urban cable cars are connecting the city with the multi- modal transport hub, which has the potential for an economic hub and subsequently for the emergence of an urban sub-centre.

Street life

Developing the public transport and improving the mobility of Ramallah citizens by a dense web of different opportunities for mov- ing through the city also means giving more space to pedestrians and urban street life in city centre. The integrated supply of innovative transport services like urban cable cars and the multiple possibilities offered by smart mobility applications help to mitigate the presence of the car in the city centre and give more space to pedestrians, street merchants, pocket parks and equal access to mobility. Multimodal stations that integrate e-bike parking, cable cars, buses and pedestrian connections with real-time information will quickly become out- standing landmarks for the city of Ramallah and future sub-centres in a logic of polycentric development. Ramallah’s hilly topography demands innovative solutions that easily connect the different neighbourhoods and establish new urban connections and linkages. The cable car brings the advantage to directly connect communities and neighbourhoods which are naturally disconnected by topography. Moreover, Ramallah needs bigger green spaces and more pocket parks. We propose to give to the inhabitants a large green space that would replace the former airport strip in the South.

Moving smarter with more options and real-time information
Smart mobility applications like Citymapper support citizens to choose the right transport mode and improve individually and collectively their accessibility to services, shops, work and people. Traditional transport stations are windows of opportunity to develop sharing hubs where people share public spaces, transport modes, co-working spaces and parking.

Stay connected in Bethlehem

Bethlehem acts as the southern cornerstone of the Metropolitan Region, housing 26.000 inhabitants. Outside its historical centre, Bethlehem is characterized by a trend of sprawled urbanization following topographic issues. Road 60 surrounds the Western Part (Beït Jala and al-Khadr) of the agglomeration. The route of the railway proposal runs on the Eastern edge

of the agglomeration, around Bayt Sahur. One main train station will be located in Beit Sahour and a local one close to Asakra. Four urban axes of intensification are identified along existing roads and avenues that can support a local bus network well connected to the train stations. These axes of intensification share the same principles with the finger-plan for Jerusalem. City buses will be connected to cable car connections around the city centre in order to connect communities separated by the hilly relief. This vision of infrastructure improvement provides a spatial framework for Bethlehem’s urban development. Following the same direction as Ramallah’s vision, the city centre is better protected from car traffic and parking, and be- comes more friendly to pedestrians with new opportunities for community oriented development.

Preserve and reconnect Jericho

Considered as one of the most ancient inhabited towns of the world, Jericho has now a population of 27.000 with an economy mostly oriented to tourism and agriculture. Its world-known heritage and its proximity to the Dead Sea make it the first tourism destination of Palestine. Developing and connecting Jericho will bring several challenges and threats on the preservation of its historical characteristics and agricultural land preservation if no integrated vision comes upstream. A regional railway connecting Jerusalem and Amman will not only better integrate Palestine with the Middle East but also connect Jericho to the metropolitan area of Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem. By running parallel to the route of Road 1, the railway line will be completed by a train station located at 5 km on the South of Jericho’s centre. The location of this train station will permit the development of a new core of development, preventing the alteration of Jericho’s heritage and agriculture, where the train station will play a role of local hub redistributing tourist and com- muter flows to the city and to the Dead Sea.

Connecting Palestine

Following a multi-scaled approach of urban and regional development, the railway network acts as cement and a backbone full of new opportunities for development, connectivity and innovation for Palestinian cities and citizens. It provides clear directions for a sustainable urban development in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jericho, gives a metropolitan dimension to the region and offers Jerusalem the role of an international trans-

port hub, connecting countries and cities of the Middle-East. This rail oriented urban development, coordinated at the national level, gives new perspectives of development for cities like Jericho, Nablus and Hebron, with opportunities of ex- tension to Amman and beyond. The main factor of success for such a rail network will be to integrate the train stations well in the development process of each city at the earliest possible stage of the planning and the implementation of infrastructure systems, with a suitable approach for urban mobility. Connecting Palestinian cities is about connecting people, communities, and economic, cultural and social activities at every level of the Palestinian society and territory.