The two largest municipal authorities in Israel, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, decided to help their train stations regain their former glory from the Ottoman period (a period that was definitely better in terms of urban planning). Unfortunately, instead of using the money to improve the convenience and operation of the actual train stations, they have spent an enournous sum of money on defunct stations that serve no trasportation purposes.
The city of Tel Aviv has revamped the Hatachana Compound (literally – The Station) and turned it into an open air mall, but its usage is rather low and the market that opened there has already closed down due to slow business. This came as no surprise, since the compound sits on the remnants of Manshiya (a neighborhood of Yaffo which was completely destroyed in the 1960s in a slum clearence scheme that created a lot of surface parking while diminishing housing supply). This compound is relatively inaccessible, and can only be reached by car, but since parking lots are not that interesting to visit this compound is not succeeding.
The Station Compound in Tel Aviv. On the road to nowhere.
Not to be left behind, the municipality of Jerusalem decided to turn its deserted old train station to an open air mall, too. In contrast to the Tel Avivian compound, the Jerusalem station compound (which is called The First Station) is slightly less disconnected from the city, even though its hiding behind the German Colony neighborhood, which has its own successful commercial street. The common featrues of both these stations is that no trains have pass by them in years. The station in Tel Aviv has been defunct since the establishment of the state in 1948 and the station in Jerusalem has been deserted for 15 years.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Many cities in the world are renovating major transport terminals that are actually used for transportation and not just for consumption. Train station are obvious examples – the Utrecht central station is undergoing a major renovation. Another good example is the Antwerp central train station, which may be the most beautiful station anywhere in the world, and has undergone a major renovation in the previous decade. Even in North America there are more than a few examples. For instance, we can look at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. This building was opened at the same year as Jerusalem first station (1892). It was never completely abandoned, but it was run down for many years, due to the highway that ran over it and came down in 1989, among other things. In 2003 this building was reopened after a massive overhaul and the ferry service came back and was expanded. On top of the maritime accessibility that this building has, it is also situated near a major intersection of the San Francisco light rail system (which is rather flimsy).
The Ferry Building in San Francisco. (cc-by Bruce Turner)
Another good case is Lonsdale Quay in a city called North Vancouver (which actually lies north of Vancouver). This is another main station of ferries leading from Vancouver’s northern suburbs to the city itself. Before the conversion to a ferry station, this place was a dockyark. This is another fancy transportation hub, which not only cater to tourists, but also to many locals who pass there every day.
Public space in Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver
I haven’t been to the station in Tel Aviv since its renovation, but I have recently visited the Jerusalem station compound and I was very pleasantly surprised. The compound is vibrant and provides much-needed public space in Jerusalem and the old track has been converted into a hugely popular walking/cycling promenade. In Jerusalem, a new main railway station is being built, next to the existing central bus station, that will serve a future high speed rail, so there was no pressing need to re-open the old station. The locals I’ve spoken to see the renovation as a major success and its definitely not just tourists but mostly locals who are using it.
Yes. It is an improvement for Jerusalem, but for a city with so little money and so many problems they could have done better things. Maybe the most important aspect is that this compound operates on Saturday – a day in which the city of Jerusalem almost entirely closed for business.
Ah the Saturday issue – a big one in Jerusalem, and one that can and should be tackled with (among others) city planning. I’m not sure I follow your reasoning on the money allocation – I think that revitalizing a previously dilapidated area and upgrading it to provide a range of community services is an excellent long-term investment. I’d like to hear your suggestions as to what you think would be a better allocation of the resources.
It’s a bit tough making suggestions for spending money in Jerusalem. Especially at the current situation where the city seems to be goind re-division and the light rail partially broken since the summer due to clashes. One would think that improving East Jerusalem would make the whole city a better place, or that reconnecting the lousy susburban extensions built in the 1970s would help, but those are very hard tasks to accomplish.