Landmark Zion Square to become a centre of tolerance

February 27, 2016 Agencies
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The historic Zion Square, in the heart of downtown Jerusalem, the site of dozens of protests and demonstrations, will soon become a square of tolerance and mutual respect in the spirit of the late Shira Banki, who was murdered at a Gay Pride parade last year.

Zion Square

Zion Square

The Jerusalem Municipality has launched an architectural competition for the redesign of the Square through the Eden Jerusalem Centre Development Company. The competition will award prizes for plans to redesign the historic Zion Square, which will serve as part of the city’s strategic plan to strengthen the city centre.

The family of the late Shira Banki, who was murdered at a Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem, heard about the architectural competition. The family contacted Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat with a request to consider how to use Zion Square, which was a main center of mourning for Shira Banki during her shiva, to promote tolerance.

Following a conversation with Shira’s mother, Mika Banki, the Mayor decided that entries into the architectural competition should include plans for how to develop the Square as a place for connectedness, tolerance, and mutual respect, as represented by the late Shira Banki. Mika Banki will also serve as a special adviser to the Mayor and the judges’ panel, which will pick the winning proposal.

Zion Square is a commercial and entertainment hub that links two of Jerusalem’s main Streets: Jaffa Street and Ben Yehuda Street. Its name comes from the historic Zion Cinema, which began operating in 1912, before the Square existed. During the British Mandate, the British decided to move Jerusalem’s commercial center to the area, and planned the Square.

Zion Square has become a central Jerusalem attraction, and, for many years, was the stage for Independence Day performances and celebrations, as well as important events in the country’s history. Notable events include demonstrations by the Black Panthers, which drew thousands to the square calling for an end to ethnic discrimination, and a right-wing demonstration in 1995 against the Oslo Accords.

Mayor Nir Barkat

Mayor Nir Barkat

Mayor Barkat said, “This Square has more than once been a stage for our country’s sharpest national divisions. Now, together with the Banki family, we have decided to turn Zion Square into a place that will promote connectedness, tolerance, and mutual respect, as represented by the late Shira Banki. I am sure that this will be a captivating, important, and valued challenge for the architectural competition.”

Barkat added, “During the days of the British Mandate, Zion Square was the pulsating heart of the city center, and there was no Jerusalemite who did not spend time there, enjoying the city. I am pleased to announce the architectural competition to renew the face of Jerusalem’s most important square as part of our larger plans to renew the city center.”

Alon Spitzer, the CEO of Eden Jerusalem Center Development Company, said, “The objective of this competition is to create an urban icon. The new designs for Zion Square should be innovative and demonstrate creative ways to expand the Square’s use in Jerusalem. The central local of Zion Square gives it great urban and economic importance in the development of the city center.”

In recent years, the Eden Jerusalem Center Development Company has moved forward on the urban plan for the renewal of public space, starting with the light rail, which turned Jaffa Street into Israel’s longest pedestrian mall. Renewal plans have included the addition of commercial space, building and preserving the square’s boutique hotels, and upgrading and developing central streets. While there are many plans in various stages of completion for the environs of Zion Square, planning for the square itself has not yet begun, making this architectural competition all the more relevant.

Prizes will be awarded in the architectural competition, which will be launched next week in cooperation with the Israel Association of United Architects. The first place prize will be NIS 60,000, the second place prize will be NIS 20,000, and the third place prize will be NIS 10,000. A NIS 5,000 commendation prize will also be awarded.

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