Roundtable Discussion: How the Coronavirus Affects Jerusalem
| 2020 | 09:00
Roundtable Discussion: How the Coronavirus Affects Jerusalem
- Invites Only
- Invites Only
The Jerusalem Institute has initiated a discussion on the effects of coronavirus on the city of Jerusalem. Evidence of urban changes that have occurred so far and their implications were presented, as were professional predictions regarding the effects that will remain in the city – both in the short- and long term. The online discussion brought together, for the first time in months, a variety of municipal and regional players who have been dealing with managing the corona crisis since its outbreak.
The Effects of the Coronavirus – Discussion Topics:
- What are the long-term effects of the corona pandemic? What patterns of behavior will it leave in its wake?
- Will the city center, and employment and commercial centers, undergo changes (such as offices shutting down, shops closing, and consumers changing their buying habits) due to the corona pandemic, and if so, how can we prepare for such changes?
- How can the corona crisis lead to realizing the potential existing in the city’s neighborhoods, and how can this be further improved (for example, by extending neighborhood and local services, creating co-working spaces, enhancing neighborhood micro mobility).
We Are Not Destined to Repeat the Past
Lior Schillat, Director General of the Jerusalem Institute, led the discussion. He explained that the discussion was convened in light of the fact that we do not know how long we can expect to live with the coronavirus, even though it is thought that some of the effects experienced over recent months will continue to be felt long afterwards.
Research Fellow, Valerie Brachya, presented a survey of the issues and effects arising from the coronavirus in Israel and the rest of the world. Brachya is a partner in an international comparative research dealing with the effect of COVID-19 upon cities around the world. See a background paper prepared for the discussion (in Hebrew).
“Prior to COVID, We Were Headed in a Good Direction”
According to Brachya, in the period preceding the corona outbreak, there was a great deal of municipal renewal, an increase in economic activity, an influx of young people to the city center and a trend toward urbanization alongside aspects of sustainability, savings in resources, and increased efficiency.
Around the world, the coronavirus brought about a decrease of 80% in the use of public transport, a reduction in office rentals, and closure of businesses. In the initial months of the crisis, it was thought that the coronavirus would disappear, and things would return to be as they were prior to the outbreak. But it now appears that this is not the case. One reason has been the rapid advance in digital tools: of course, such tools existed prior to the virus, but they have leaped forward significantly, and the world will not go back to its former state: consumer habits have also changed irrevocably.
The Most Significant Change: Modes of Employment
According to Brachya, prior to the pandemic, there were some countries, such as The Netherlands, which led in working from home. Israel was not among them: in Israel in 2018, only some 3% worked from home, and this rate has now jumped straight to 50%. The OECD estimated that even with the passing of the pandemic, some 30% of work will still be done from home. Trends and barriers which have been in place for decades have been broken – both by the workers themselves and by employers.
The Possible Implications of the Digital Era on the City
Modes of digital consumerism existed prior to the coronavirus, but the current pandemic has tilted the balance significantly:
The negative implications are mainly likely to impact city centers – with a reduction in street buying, a cut in purchasing power, and a reduction in the demand for office space. If these negative effects occur, what will become of the now-empty offices and commercial areas? How should they be utilized?
We do not know: does the coronavirus influence considerations such as where to live? If our default assumption is that people are working from home, then it is likely that they will wish to work in a spacious area, perhaps with a garden. If so, those well-off with high incomes will not need to come to the city to work – and will become digital nomads. In practice, it is reasonable to suppose that most people will wish to come to the office at least from time to time. A hybrid model is being developed in some parts of the world which combines partial working from home with partial working at the office. In Israel, we do not yet know what will be the implications on trends towards moving further out to the suburbs; the Planning Authority has done some valuable work on how to make urban dwelling units suitable for working from home.
As stated, we do not know how coronavirus will influence people’s choice of where to live. There is potential here to look at the neighborhood not merely as a place to live, but as a place for all one’s activities – work, leisure, open spaces, culture, aנnd services. Positive implications may include reinforcing the neighborhood – neighborhood shops and work spaces, students who remain in the area in which they live (even though this may pose a difficulty for Jerusalem). Not separating between different land-uses, but strengthening them. In this way we move to a model which has already been adopted in many cities around the world – the so-called 15-minute model – where everything has to be in close proximity to one’s home, either by walking or cycling. Paris has adopted this model and has worked in recent years in line with this.
The State of Employment and Businesses in Jerusalem
According to Amir Chachamian, Manager of the Business Promotion Division in the Jerusalem Municipality, there is no doubt that there are currently many threats to the city’s business sector. But opportunities also exist. We must understand that we are not looking at a V-shaped graph, but at one that is W-shaped – we are experiencing ups and downs, but returning to normality will happen, albeit slowly.
The Business Promotion Division: Three Paths to Regenerating Business
- Supporting businesses in the city center: The city center is Jerusalem’s barometer. The Machaney Yehudah street market is currently suffering, but is expected to rebound rapidly. In the city center – from the Jaffa Gate to the Central Bus Station – the Division fears a snowball effect of properties being shut down. The percentage of shut down properties in the city center is currently 6.5%, in itself not a very high figure. But we have noted that the smaller streets, such as Chavazelet, Shlomzion Hamalka, Hahistadrut, are more at risk, with 10% of their properties shut down. Our division is acting to prevent a flood of closed businesses, which would be difficult to cope with. One way to deal with this was by implementing an initiative of Tamir Mansour-Carmel, planner of the central quarter – the ‘pedestrian precinct’ initiative – one in which the local authority placed tables on the sidewalks, and encouraged the sale of food from the businesses in the area. This grew out of the realization that when the local authority is involved in economic activity during the pandemic, there’s a psychological boost to people’s awareness that it is permissible to get out into the streets and shop. In general, It is also important to promote cultural events aimed at encouraging business. Not events such as ‘Front Stage’ which place barriers across the city and bring people into the city on Fridays at 15:00, when businesses are already closed, but instead, pedestrian precincts and daily and weekly cultural events which merge well with local business.
- Supporting businesses working from home: the municipality was previously unaware of the existence of most of these small businesses, not least because they were not paying commercial property tax. Today such businesses are seen as potential users of neighborhood work spaces, and as they expand, they are expected to occupy large office areas. The municipality understands the need to create urban value for those currently working from home; this is to cope with the problem, mentioned above, of a possible exodus to the suburbs – if the city does not find a way to create value for its business-owners, they may leave or at best have a weakened commitment to stay.
- Restaurants and cafes: the restaurant sector, which was already suffering, was hit hard when the coronavirus struck. On the one hand, Jerusalem had experienced a culinary peak and the sector was flourishing, but on the other hand, those businesses had been working on cash flow, based on payment 30 days after the current month, and were confronted with a long crisis for which they were completely unprepared. Restaurants and cafes are an anchor for people walking and wandering around the city, and the key to the city center returning to normality.
Preparation for the Era of E-Commerce has Become an Immediate Emergency Necessity
Chachamian explained that prior to the coronavirus it was already clear that the city center was in a battle with e-commerce, and that some 5-10 years would be needed to implement a hybrid model enabling brick-and-mortar business activity in parallel with e-commerce. The Division developed principles by which the municipality can actively intervene to maintain residents’ involvement with the city center, using tools such as street installations, photography, and social media contests.
The arrival of the coronavirus necessitated an immediate response: within 24 hours, the Division had launched a program to set up commercial online websites for businesses. Although we expected to reach hundreds of businesses in Jerusalem, in practice, we reached only eight. This was clearly a failure, but taught us that businesses were simply not ready to embrace e-commerce – setting up websites for them is not enough, websites have an aim, and businesses need to know how to sell: to photograph items for sale, and define and plan delivery logistics. We changed our approach and now build websites for businesses, assisted by industrial management students. There has also been a significant change in the attitude of East Jerusalem businesses to these moves: at the outset of the corona crisis, these businesses chose not to set up e-commerce websites due to the need to connect to credit-card agencies. Business-owners had been used to doing business on a cash-only basis. However, many of the businesses which currently cooperate with the Division are from East Jerusalem.
Jerusalem’s High-Tech and Bio-Tech Industries Have Not Been Hit
Itzik Ozer, Business Development Manager for the Jerusalem Development Authority, noted that some high-tech companies have closed down, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given that, even before the coronavirus struck, the demand for personnel in the sector could be described as hectic, second in salary only to Silicon Valley. Moreover, in the third quarter of 2020 (July-September), we saw a return to an increase in high-tech salaries. In bio-tech we witnessed an increase in research grants and government investments, and there is potential for increased market share. There are also examples where companies recruited dozens of workers during COVID-19.
Innovation as a Code-Word for the Future Elimination of Jobs – and the Need to Provide Jerusalemites with an Academic Education
Ozer described the very large investments made in ‘innovation’ in the banking, insurance and technology sectors. This appears to be a good thing – but will bring about a dramatic decrease in the recruitment of workers in what can be called semi-technological services. Ozer estimated that within 5-10 years some professions and roles will cease to exist, and that investing in technology will cause many people to lose their jobs. These semi-skilled roles will not survive and it is important to note this particularly with regard to the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) community.
“The notion of bootcamps – technological training that takes place over some 3-4 months, can be expected to disappear. Israel has a very expensive employment market, and we will be the first country where these training and jobs will disappear. This is an issue that will occupy us in the decades to come. We need to energetically encourage the large Haredi ultra-orthodox community in Jerusalem toward academic studies.”
Sectors Likely to Develop: Pharma and Technological Design
Ozer expects many ideas in two main areas to emerge soon from academia, and transfer to the business sector: pharma, and technological design (gaming / development of products based on design). This is based on integrating design from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, with technology from the Hebrew University.
There has Been No Dramatic Office Closure in Jerusalem
According to Ozer, after checking with the five largest rental bodies in Jerusalem – there has been no dramatic rise in office closures (less than 2%). We are currently seeing a very high occupancy rate, of over 90%. While in commerce there have been closures, for offices this has been negligible. The largest renter in Jerusalem is the public sector, which shows no change. This can be compared with a 20% rate of office closures in Tel Aviv. The difference lies in the type of offices located in the city. Within the high-tech sector, there are some inflexible aspects which are harder to transfer to a home-working environment, as opposed to lawyers’ and accountants’ offices. In Jerusalem, both Mobileye and Lightricks invested in independent test stations to enable their workers to come to work at least 3-4 times a week.
Ozer also explained that there has been no reduction in the future demand for office space currently being built at the Har Hotzvim high-tech industrial park.
A Rise in Working From Home – Good News Regarding Lessening Congestion on the Roads
Udi Horowitz, a transport planner in the team dealing with the Jerusalem Transport Master-Plan, commented that the rise in working from home has had a positive effect on the amount of traffic on the roads. One use that has declined significantly is meetings’ attendance, and this is clearly a welcome development. Horowitz shared that the Jerusalem Transport Master-Plan Team finished building five conference rooms just before the pandemic broke out, and suggested that in the future a better balance would be to hold actual physical meetings only once every three meetings. He also stressed that the simplest degree of micro mobility, but the most important one, is walking.
Horowitz also mentioned two factors which complicate transportation planning and an increase in the future use of public transport:
- People were buying cars during the corona pandemic – a potential community of public transport users was thus lost
- Transportation planning needs data. If there is a lack of activity in a given area, it can be extremely difficult to obtain data, and determine whether certain patterns of behavior will persist over time.
Making Advances in the Transportation Infrastructure is Relatively Easy
According to Horowitz, after a delay of several years, one of two bus tenders has now been released. In addition, work on Jerusalem’s transportation infrastructure has been accelerated in the last few months:
“I couldn’t sleep at night due to the plan to route all traffic to a single lane at the Pat Intersection (in the southwest of Jerusalem), but it is now functioning almost completely smoothly – due to the coronavirus. Road works that were expected to cause severe problems in the Jerusalem transportation network – went unnoticed, and progress turned out to be extremely rapid.”
Jerusalem Cannot Allow Itself Do Without its City Center
Dana Burstein, City Center manager at Eden – Jerusalem Economic Development Company, stated that Jerusalem is extremely separated due to its topography; the city center is the only area where there is an authentic lively connection between the city’s communities. Although strengthening the neighborhoods is both important and the right thing to do – this should not be at the expense of the city center. The city center was weaker in the past, but has been revitalized: after many discussions, the light railway was realized in Jaffa Street, and though there have been criticisms it has been highly successful, due to successfully making the communal space in the city center accessible and specifically establishing quality public spaces: integrating bicycles where possible, and turning the city center into a quarter oriented toward pedestrians.
Having No Choice as Opposed to Convenience – and the Importance of the Other to People
Burstein noted that culture is not the same as entertainment, and cannot be consumed via the internet. The City Engineer asked the city’s architectural team to check whether it would be possible to transfer culture to the neighborhoods, and the team is currently working on this. Tamir Mansour-Carmel, town planner of the central quarter, said that people are social creatures – and their social needs cannot be met through Zoom. Dan Keinan, deputy regional planner for national programs, expressed this in a similar way: humanity has not yet reached that point in its evolution which makes others unnecessary.
Mansour-Carmel proposed separating between two effects of the coronavirus: those which led to actions currently being taken out of necessity – compared with those which were done, initially, out of necessity, but turned out to be more convenient.
“People return quickly to normality – public transport will return, tourism will return, people will begin frequenting restaurants again, and as for where to live – people will not decide to move to the country. When the world experienced a pandemic a hundred years ago, the cities were not affected; suburbanization began only 30 years later. In the long term we can expect both online buying and remote working to remain. This will have a large effect on city centers and thus we need an influx of people to those areas. People seek both experiences and community. Perhaps fewer people will go to shop at supermarkets but they will continue to go to markets and neighborhood shops, where the seller knows them. Businesses must offer an experience, a sense of community and belonging, somewhere with a personal touch.”
Itzik Ozer, of the Jerusalem Development Authority, stated that he expected the restaurant sector to rebound to its [former] peak – people will go back to going out and enjoying themselves, even if tourism continues to be slow for the coming 1-2 years. Kuti Gilad, planner for Jerusalem’s Haredi Central Business District, made the point that in the most urban neighborhoods in Jerusalem – those of the Haredim, an urban lifestyle is stronger than any epidemic:
“It may not look like it, but taking an overall view, this is a positive situation. It has shown yet again that the general principles of good urbanization do work: high population density and a deliberate mixture of functions.”
Mixed-Use in the City Center
According to Burstein, in the plans for the city center, more resources should be allocated for apartments, and flexibility should be built into the planning. Ayelet Kraus, planning manager in the Jerusalem Development Authority, said that the entire discussion revolves around issues of dynamics and hybridization, and the need to remain dynamic in municipal planning should be emphasized.
Burstein gave a number of examples of how to deal with the need to involve different needs in the city center:
- In the early 2000s, the municipality promoted tourism needs and the city center filled up with hostels, a positive outcome. But with the onset of the coronavirus, these facilities were left standing empty. Burstein commented that “the business market is always smarter than we are”: the Abraham Hostel chain tried to modify their hostels’ use, but ran into difficulties since their sites were categorized as tourist establishments.
- The issue of apartments for accommodation has been repeatedly looked at and is still not fully figured out. At first, people tried to deal with ghost flats in the city center, and as there was no demand for them, the response was small apartments and a varied mixture of apartment sizes – but a satisfactory solution for this problem was still lacking. It is important to understand that making apartments available in the city center does not drive out business, quite the opposite.
- Eden is currently working on a long-term rental accommodation project on land officially allocated for public building use on the Kikar Menora campus.
Dan Keinan pointed out that the corona pandemic strengthened pre-existing planning principles – mixed-use, and active frontages. According to him, in “the next pandemic” – within the coming five years, the city will be filled with many commercial active fronts, since this is where the planning is directed. The exodus to the suburbs is marginal and he does not expect this to be a significant trend – things will return to normal.
Yossi Klar, CEO of New-Spirit, described how the NGO has been operating deserted shops in the city center since before the corona outbreak. The NGO also runs the co-working workspace Re-Street on Shlomzion Hamalka Street. He, like other speakers in the discussion, believes that strengthening Jerusalem’s neighborhoods and strengthening the provision of neighborhood services, will not weaken the city center, rather they will open up further possibilities. Tel Aviv is also scattered with neighborhood pubs, and this does not weaken their city center. Although the street market is unable to move to the neighborhoods, Maccabi Motzeri Square (colloquially called Kikar ha’Chatulot) and its bars will have to provide more value to visitors to the city.
Dynamism and Hybridization
Mansour-Carmel forecast that future employment would be hybrid in nature – people will wish to work from home, but also to go to the office – and so, our role will be to determine how to maximize spending a day a week at the office, to benefit street life.
Shlomo Levy, CEO of the Jerusalem Youth Authority, spoke about future events as hybrid in nature, combining a physical and an online presence. The way in which people will produce and participate in events is changing. Online events are, today, conducted mainly free-of-charge, but there is a need to think how to make people pay for such events, and to continue providing content for events that also benefit those outside the city.
The Neighborhood – Protecting Communal Mental Health – and the Spread of the Digital Era
Moshe Atik, Jerusalem regional manager for the Israel Association of Community Centers, added the communal angle to the discussion, by again noting that humans are socio-emotional beings:
“Last week we conducted talks with the 30 community council managers, accompanied by professional guidance from the Israel Trauma Coalition. For the last nine months, managers have had to work under stressful and difficult conditions. The need to guard people’s mental resilience must be a central concern.”
The Neighborhood at the Center
According to Dan Keinan, deputy planner for the Jerusalem region, the term ‘neighborhood’ needs to be revisited: in Jerusalem, we identify neighborhoods by the signs placed there by the municipality some years ago. In practice, neighborhoods are far more fluid – there are neighborhoods which span main roads and there are also sub-neighborhoods.
Moshe Atik presented evidence for the development of the world of the ‘digital neighborhood’ – moves to help communities progress, which were undertaken by the community councils in Jerusalem, and additional moves that show the seeds for advancing urbanization within the city’s neighborhoods.
- The Yuvalim live channel broadcasted live performances from the ‘Mifletset’ (the Monster) pub – with thousands of viewers.
- Beit HaKerem’s “Beit Ha-Va’ad” local cafe – conducted an online sale of local products.
- In Armon HaNatziv (East Talpiot) the Armon pub is expected to open shortly.
- Even before COVID-19 it was realized that East Jerusalemites were avid users of Facebook. During the pandemic, several online events took place which were viewed by a remarkable 15,000 men and women.
- A digital revolution has begun among the Haredi community: thousands of tablets have recently been distributed in the various ultra-orthodox communities.
Digital Revolution in the Haredi Community? Replacing the Internet
Kuti Gilad shared his experience as a planner for Jerusalem’s Haredi Central Business District. According to him, during the corona pandemic a completely new sector of alternatives to the internet began to develop:
- The Community Council has developed ways to provide services remotely, with an emphasis on telephone services; for example, in involving the public in planning the route of the light railway at Bar Ilan Street, a large number of the Haredi community chose to take part and listen to a telephone ‘Zoom’ discussion. In a similar fashion – the public was also involved in a telephone demonstration of those opposing the plan.
- Telephone lectures and workshops for the Haredi community are also taking place.
- A network of “Neighborhood Trustees” was established, which would allow contact with the wider community: providing that on the one hand this would not be through physical contact within the Community Council and on the other hand, not via the internet.
The discussion took place on the initiative of Research Fellow Valerie Brachya, and Racheli Hacohen, Government Relations Manager of the Jerusalem Institute, and represents the first stage in the Institute’s research and data collection for this topic.