Monday, April 9, 2012

Beit Shemesh:Urban planning for chareidi cities

The city of Beit Shemesh lies some 20 kilometers west of Jerusalem. Established in the early 1950s, it was just another depressed development town with a population of 20,000, when work on a master plan for its expansion, which called for the absorption of 130,000 additional residents, began, in the summer of 1990. That a large and unified block of land, most of it under state control, was available south of the existing town, and the central location of Beit Shemesh between Jerusalem and the coastal plain, were key factors in the government's decision to plan and build what is now called Ramat Beit Shemesh. Since that time, the city's population has soared: Today it stands at some 80,000. Once a backwater, today a boomtown. [...]

The special requirements of the Haredi community pose significant problems for town planners. Their high birth rate and great number of subgroups, as well as the fact that boys and girls attend separate schools, results in an inflated number of educational institutions, which are an immense burden to finance, build and maintain. In Beit Shemesh today, no less than 70 percent of all schoolchildren are ultra-Orthodox. To avoid halakhic problems regarding Sabbath elevators, building heights are often restricted to not more than four stories, limiting urban densities.

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