Jerusalem Project


As the culmination of the many activities of the Jerusalem 2050 Project, we are pleased to announce the launch of the Just Jerusalem Competition. The goal of this competition is to generate new approaches to, and potential solutions for, the many complex, seemingly intractable problems that the residents of Jerusalem face on a daily basis. By looking at future possibilities for a pluralist, just, and sustainable city shared by Palestinians and Israelis, we hope to encourage new ways of thinking about the many difficult issues and hardships faced by Jerusalemites, regardless of their faith or ethnicity.

Competition Intent and Values

Just Jerusalem is an international competition calling for innovative visions for the city of Jerusalem and what it might be if justice and urban livability, rather than competing nationalist projects, were the principle points of departure. The goal of the organizers is not to produce a contemporary master plan for the city, but to solicit entries that envision Jerusalem, real and symbolic, as a just, peaceful, and sustainable city by the year 2050. The year 2050 is not an arbitrary point in time so much as a metaphor for a future far enough from the present conflict to allow some freedom to imagine a different situation, but near enough to generate serious deliberation. Entries are not limited to architects and urbanists, but rather, will also be elicited from artists, historians, poets, political scientists, philosophers, economists, engineers, and all others who have ideas for the future of the city. We strive for a plurality of voices and encourage multi-disciplinary teams.

Why Jerusalem?

Jerusalem holds special meaning across the world. It occupies a unique symbolic place in global politics, history, religion, and culture. Yet Jerusalem is also an arena of conflict and contestation over space, land, resources, and sovereignty. It is one of the most contested locales of our times. Its location as a possible capital for a Palestinian State and an Israeli State raises the question: which nation has a right to the land? How many states can claim the same territory as a capital? Can this small space ever be used in a peaceful and humane way?

Many scenarios for a solution have been proposed – a united Jerusalem as the capital of two states; a divided Jerusalem as two capitals for two states; Jerusalem as an international city (the Corpus Separatum option); a united Jerusalem as the capital of one bi-national state; and a united Jerusalem as the capital of one state for one nation (exclusive of the other). Each solution has champions, drawbacks, and dissenters. The question of Jerusalem continues to raise tensions, fears and animosity. The unresolved status of Jerusalem continues to cause conflict.

As an urban locale, Jerusalem is a site of resource scarcity, ecological degradation, deeply flawed urban design, and ungainly or dysfunctional/segmented areas of built space. The local economy lags behind those of many neighboring cities. Socially, the metropolitan area is divided by occupation and marked by profound inequality, injustice, and violence. The city continues to construct boundaries that segregate its space and its inhabitants, making many residents immobile, insecure, and excluded. Religiously, Jerusalem is central to the three monotheistic religions but is not equally accessible to all of them.

For all of these reasons it is imperative that new and imaginative visions for Jerusalem are created. Jerusalem presents the unique and unavoidable tensions between the local and universal nature of the city. Jerusalem forces us to face the challenge of reconciling the divine with the mundane. It requires us to address Jerusalem’s universality as well as its unique identity. The challenge is how to recognize the exceptionality and the urban quotidian of Jerusalem outside the confines of a narrow nationalist framework.

Why Visioning?

Just Jerusalem is a “visioning” competition. Vision in its literal sense, is the faculty of sight or ability to see. Vision can also be understood to be an unusual competence in discernment or perception; intelligent foresight. In this competition we ask participants to prioritize the latter definition and to capture their more creative insight and foresight. In doing this we ask participants to see the city as it would be if it were a just, peaceful, and sustainable city defined by universal human values. Working from this mandate, we can acknowledge the present nationalist and religious discourses in and over the city even as we seek to go beyond them. We seek neither to ignore the importance of nations and religion, nor to undermine the reality of multiple identities in the city, but rather, to recognize, articulate, and strengthen the human dimension of everyday life in the city of Jerusalem. Visioning is distinct from utopia and imagining. Utopia, as depicted by Sir Thomas More, is a perfect social, legal and political system that exists in a non-place. Its realization can only be mental, never materialized in a concrete reality or construction. Imagining is the art of representation, of giving forms to concepts.

Visioning is the process of challenging the ordinary sight and suggesting material alternatives. Visioning differs from imagining in so far as it projects into a realizable future. It is different from Utopia in so far as it recognizes the conflicted mundane rather than seeking to transcend it.

While Jerusalem is not unique in being a city divided by religious, ethnic, or racial conflict, it is specific in so far as the nature of these conflicts and their socio-physical reality continue to be tied to theIsraeli-Palestinian struggle over land, power, resources, and sovereignty. Perhaps because of this, the traditional cycle of negotiations and political processes has failed to create a better Jerusalem for all its inhabitants. Likewise, the way in which the city functions —meaning its municipal institutions, neighborhoods and the interactions of its inhabitants—contributes to the conflict as well. The goal of “visioning” is to transcend the nationalist trappings of the conflict and reflect on the problems of daily reality for the city’s inhabitants. Stated differently, to call for new visions for Jerusalem, and to ask how everyday life can be made more viable and livable for its inhabitants, is to understand that what is best for the inhabitants of a city does not always coincide with nationalist aspirations or the realities of sovereignty.

In order to break out of the stalemate that has reinforced despair and conflict in Jerusalem, the Just Jerusalem Competition bypasses the standard route of negotiation between “representative” peoples on national and local levels, and asks the city’s own inhabitants as well as a larger community of scholars, professionals and others who care about Jerusalem, to envision a future of peace, security, openness and livability. We believe that the mere act of “visioning” will help redefine the relationship between the institution of the state and civil society, a task particularly significant and thought provoking given the peculiarity of Jerusalem and the multiple meanings it has locally and even globally. The question we seek to answer is how can Jerusalem be universal and local, sacred and profane, mundane and exceptional?

We hope that submissions will combine the “ability to see” what currently exists, the reality of today, with a unique ability to look into the future and develop new ideas about the relationships between the inhabitants of the city, their social and spatial activities, and the infrastructure and formal institutions within which the quotidian unfolds and everyday life has meaning. Just Jerusalem not only intends to be the vehicle for the production of imaginative and innovative ideas; it also seeks to be the catalyst for discussion about what it would take to create such a just and peaceful place. It calls for a redefinition of the right to the city, and seeks to find ways of sharing Jerusalem and making it livable for all its present and future residents, thereby ending the proclivity to compete for land, resources, and recognition.

Why A Competition?

Why introduce the idea of a competition to a situation that is already so hotly contested?

The competition format presumes that the nature of the city, and the way out of its conflicts, cannot be reduced to a single, negotiated view. It rejects the “consensus-building” approach to urban policy and problems that is common in city planning practices. In the case of Jerusalem, such consensus-building strategies are often part of the problem, leading to conflict over the terms and outcomes— not to mention perceived betrayals—of negotiation. The process of negotiation pretends that all parties are brought to the table as equal partners; yet this is rarely, if ever, the case. We seek to bypass the standard route of negotiation between “representative” peoples and turn instead to the liberating and regenerative potential of imagination and vision. Our assumption is that only through such processes can we achieve an understanding of the basic urban conditions on which most inhabitants—no matter their religious or ethnic identity—can agree.

Just Jerusalem differs from most traditional design competitions because it embraces many disciplines and is actively soliciting submissions from a wide variety of fields including architecture, urban planning, sociology, political science, and engineering, among others. The competition format that has been chosen does not seek a single solution to a problem, but multiple ideas to address a problem. We are calling for submissions that may entail a building, but could equally entail an institution, a neighborhood, and the physical or infrastructural framework that can sustain a livable city and a just urbanism. Just Jerusalem wants to enlarge the ways people can imagine making a change in Jerusalem.

Finally, this competition allows entrants to tackle current problems, but starting from an imaginative place. It asks entrants to describe what Jerusalem could be in 2050, given a commitment to envisioning the city as a place of peace, security, justice, and livability for all of its residents. Normally, architectural competitions take the concrete and create the imagined; Just Jerusalem begins with the imagined so as to move towards the concrete.

What Will Be Achieved?

The introduction of new voices engaged with the issue of Jerusalem
The generation of new and unique ideas for civil debate as well as discussion among policy makers that can stand as alternatives to those emanating simply from politicians
New mechanisms for reconciling competing claims and ideas, especially with respect to conflict, justice, security, and humanity
Alternative educational products that increase knowledge of the specificity of Jerusalem and its issues

This competition will be controversial. It does not seek to erase disagreement or produce homogeneity in vision, but rather, to accept difference and encourage dialogue. It is premised on the assumption that recognition of differences in outlook can be knowledge-generating and constructive. As such, this competition offers a format in which it is “safe” to disagree and where airing differences (rather than straining for consensus) is the first step toward reconciliation.

Thanks to: MIT