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Sustainable Design for Palestine

The Arc's infrastructure corridor and its lateral transit boulevards are designed to support sustainable development - “green cities” - in existing Palestinian urban areas, and in a prospective Palestinian state. This is especially important because the new state will be relatively small in size with a large population; and it will have to import any oil that it uses. Sustainable urban design includes: public transportation at both national and municipal levels; vibrant, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with traditionally dense housing and shops; restoration of historic buildings and sites; preservation of agricultural land and open space; creation of new parkland; the widespread use of renewable energy; building designs which reduce energy consumption; water conservation; and integration of urban growth with overall cultural and economic strategy. This blog will report on developments in the region and from around the world that offer useful models and lessons.



Tourism and Palestine

With Gaza back at the top of the news, “Tourism” and “Palestine” seem like an incompatible pair: in areas of conflict, tourism is usually one of the first casualties (along with the wellbeing of families whose livelihood depends on it). Yet the New York Times Sunday "Travel" section just published a major “Next Stop” story on Ramallah, the defacto Palestinian capital (article and slideshow)

Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise. Because of its climate and culture, the Mediterranean is one of the world’s greatest tourist magnets - think Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, and pretty much everything in between. There’s no reason that, if the conflict could be resolved, the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank shouldn’t put their beaches, ancient cities, archeological sites, and stunning landscapes at the disposal of visitors from around the world.

In fact, they already do. The Times reports that the West Bank had more than 1 million visitors in 2009. A new hotel by the Swiss chain Mövenpic is due to open in Ramallah this year, and the Palestine Investment Fund is trying to develop a resort along the Palestinian edge of the Dead Sea.

RAND’s  Arc project recognized tourism as an important sector of the economy in a prospective Palestinian state, and the Arc itself was in part designed to accommodate visitors arriving at an international airport in Gaza and linking them to the cities and sites of the West Bank. While conflict makes it harder to imagine, it should be remembered that places once synonymous with conflict – Berlin, Beirut, Cyprus, Croatia – are now magnets for international travelers. Planning now for Palestinian tourism – especially by providing a modern public transport system rather than relying on rental cars – makes environmental and economic sense, and is a key part of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s Two-Year Statehood Plan.

Modern café in Ramallah



Revitalizing Historic City Centers

One of the key goals of the Arc is using new infrastructure to accelerate the revitalization of the historic centers of Palestinian towns and cities. The media rarely provides images of these commercial and civic centers. A visitor sees people going about their daily lives on busy streets with a mix of historic and modern buildings. Here are four views - two of Ramallah, one of Jenin, and one of Hebron.




All photos © Suisman Urban Design 2010


New Neighborhood for Ramallah

The Palestine Investment Fund, which is the sovereign wealth fund for the Palestinian people, has for several years been investing in new affordable housing projects and other urban developments in the West Bank. One of special relevance to the Arc is the new neighborhood being built north of Ramallah, near the town of Birzeit, home of Birzeit University. It's called Al Reehan, and will have 2,000 housing units along with shops, schools, day care and parks. It accords nicely with the principles of the Arc. It extends an existing city, rather than creating an isolated new town, which makes it easier to develop public transit to serve it. It leverages public infrastructure to encourage private development. It has a mix of housing for different incomes, and a mix of different uses to encourage walking and reduce automobile trips. It has generous provisions for public space. And it has been attractively designed by well known regional architects. Check out the very cool website here, in English or Arabic: http://www.alreehan.ps

Rendering of new neighborhood of Al Reehan (www.alreehan.ps)


Historic Preservation in the West Bank and Gaza

Though many people may associate the West Bank and Gaza with buildings that have been damaged or destroyed, many fewer people know that there is an exceptionally sophisticated movement for the preservation of historic monuments and sites. The leading organization is called Riwaq, and they have been doing a remarkable job of documenting and preserving historic structures since 1991. They have a beautifully designed website which you can visit in English or Arabic: www.riwaq.org. They also publish a range of books on their historic preservation projects.


Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Istanbul and Haifa

The Arc project proposes the extensive use of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for the east-west lateral branches of the Arc railway and infrastructure corridor. This evolving transport mode began in Curitiba, Brazil almost 25 years ago, and was upgraded in Bogota’s advanced Transmilenio system, seen here:

Bus rapid transit systems are now being developed all over the world, but until recently, there were none in the Middle East. That is changing.

First, Istanbul developed its first two BRT lines, called Metrobus, which opened in 2009:

Now, Haifa is planning and building its first lines. According to Wikipedia: “The Metronit (Hebrew: מטרונית‎, pronounced Metro-neet), will be a new bus rapid transit system in Haifa, Israel, using the Phileas concept. This bus line is unique to Israel in that it will use bi-articulated buses on specific routes. The choice of this mode of transport was due to the advantage of limiting damage to environment, increased capacity on existing roads and lower operating costs than a standard bus line or light rail line. The buses, operating with hybrid engines, will follow set routes along a magnetic or optical strip embedded in the road. The project is being developed by Yefe Nof, owned by Haifa city hall, involved in planning public transportation, infrastructure, and other building projects in the Haifa metropolitan area. The Metronit is set to be completed in 2011, and a tender for its operation was published in September 2009. The system will employ about 100 high-capacity buses on three lines.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metronit

These nearby examples should provide helpful precedents for the development of BRT in the West Bank and Gaza.