Coexistence on the train tracks in Jerusalem?
Last weekend, when the weather was still unseasonably warm, we took an extended walk on the new Train Track Park in Jerusalem. The Park is a stunning achievement – an urban redevelopment project transforming the formerly weed and garbage strewn train tracks that dead ended at the abandoned old train station in Jerusalem’s Germany Colony into a 7 km long family friendly mixed use park, ideal for casual strollers, bikers, joggers, kids and dogs of all ages.
The new park, which has been compared with Manhattan’s re-imagined High Line Park, which was also built on the site of an out-of-use railway, has been beautifully landscaped; there are benches, water fountains, already flourishing trees, and separate marked paths (this being Israel, usually ignored) for walking and bike riding. There are even plastic bag stations to encourage canine cleanliness. In the summer on a warm Shabbat afternoon, the Park is so crowded it can be hard to saunter at a reasonable clip.
And come spring, the Park stands to become even more popular, when the old train station re-opens as an eating/entertainment/shopping complex.
The Train Track Park has the potential to serve another function: coexistence. As the park winds its way through the German Colony, Baka and the Katamonim in southern Jerusalem, it eventually reaches the Arab village of Beit Safafa. That section was recently completed and we directed our weekend walk that way for the first time.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Would the character of the Park change once we crossed the line (delineated in grand fashion by a busy vehicular bridge above)? Would the Park be less well developed and kept up on the “other” side? Would the different communities use opposite sides of the tracks?
To its credit, there has been absolutely no discrimination on the part of the city planners when building the park – the same attention to detail seen in Baka has been given to Beit Safafa, from signage to shrubbery. At the entrance to the neighborhood there is a gorgeous soccer field, impeccably maintained and well lit (there’s no financial or planning connection to the Park). If not for the sounds of the muezzin from the next-door mosque, it would not be out of place in Ramat Aviv.
There were plenty of Jewish walkers in the Beit Safafa section, although there wasn’t a lot of interaction going on – the locals were mainly kids on bikes and the kind of surly teenagers you find anywhere. We seemed to attract the most attention with our white Maltese puppy in tow.
On our return to the Katamonim section of the Park, we passed two Arab women in full head covering out for a power walk, as well as a couple of Arab men walking their own dogs.
Does this signify a hopeful trend for concurrence? Ilene Prusher wrote about her own stroll on the Train Track Park through Beit Safafa this week on Haaretz, saying that she was
…filled with a sense that there are some beautiful things happening in Jerusalem. Thanks to the track, people from Beit Safafa and Baka are crossing paths, and not just at the mall.
What exactly this means remains to be seen, she added. But coexistence has to start somewhere. And a park that straddles two cultures with no barriers between suggests that the train may well be leaving the station.
The weather is supposed to be warmer over Shabbat. Why not check out the Train Track Park yourself and leave your comments at the end of this post.