Jerusalem's main thoroughfare Jaffa Road has been transformed by the light rail. But while cars have been banished and most of the street is a pedestrian precinct, large numbers of shoppers have failed to materialize.
Jaffa Road was historically the main highway linking Jerusalem to Jaffa port 65 kilometers to the west on the Mediterranean coast. Jaffa Road itself stretches from the western entrance of the city along to the Jaffa Gate. In 1869 it was paved for the first time ahead of the visit of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef.
As the main east-west axis in the city outside of the Old City walls, new neighborhoods sprung up in the late 19th century just off the road - Nahalat Shiva, the Russian Compound and Mahanei Yehuda. In 1898, the road was upgraded for the visit of another European monarch – Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. The walls of the Old City were breached at Jaffa Gate, so Jaffa Road could be extended and Kaiser Wilhelm could march in horseback.
In the first half of the 20th century the road consolidated its position as the main commercial thoroughfare of the city. The market expanded, Shaare Zedek Hospital was built, consulates were opened along the street, the central post office and municipality were built. At the western end of the street the old Bus Station was built. After independence the street retained its Ottoman architectural character and became the bustling center of the city.
The street began losing its soul in the 70s. Old buildings like the Alliance School and the Ezrat Nashim hospital were demolished while grandiose commercial developments like the Clal Building failed to consolidate the street's pre-eminent position.
The traffic situation deteriorated even though the street was made one way, infrastructure work for the light rail caused havoc and the second intifada and a spate of major suicide bombings persuaded shoppers that the area was unsafe.
The situation has improved since the Jerusalem light rail began operating in 2011 and some shoppers have returned.
Jerusalem's leading architect and architectural historian David Kroyanker once described Jaffa Road as, "All soot, smoke, noise and chaos." Kroyanker concedes that the situation has improved but that it has not changed much since Ottoman times. "The ramifications of Jerusalem's poverty are reflected in its main street. There is a basic problem because most of the stores are precarious businesses catering for Jerusalem's average shoppers. The best stores have moved to the Mamilla Mall. You might not like the architecture but the management and maintenance are excellent and there is parking."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 18, 2017
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