The social dilemma: how Jerusalem is turning residents’ expectations and behaviours into real life mobility changes

Impact StoriesELEVATE

Artistic rendering of the Bak'a Green Path, with a pedestrian boulevard lined with trees

Image by HQ Architects

Over the next several weeks, we will share stories from CIVITAS projects on-the-ground that implemented sustainable neighbourhood planning and SUMP solutions, both as news items, and later in a podcast episode, compilation publication and infographic.

This story zooms in on the SUNRISE project, whose innovative approach lies in its concrete involvement of citizens, stakeholders, and users throughout all phases of the policymaking process, from the early identification of problems to the implementation of solutions and their evaluation.

Read all short stories as they are published at:



Try to imagine the ideal environment in which to engage in community-led transformative mobility action at the neighbourhood level – one made up of a varied population with different cultural backgrounds and abilities, with all ages represented, wealthy and low-income families, those born in your neighbourhood and new migrants. Now picture the vast potential of engaging this group to work through the as of yet unsolved tension between planning for cars and for people. Then you may be picturing Bak’a, a neighbourhood in southern Jerusalem, which is one of the pilot areas of the CIVITAS SUNRISE project.


In the late 19th century families began to create a commercial centre in Bak’a. Today, the neighbourhood and Old City are connected by two markedly different paths: one along Hebron Road, with multiple lanes and a public transport corridor, while the other is a former railway track, transformed into HaMesila park, with a 7km walking and cycling path – the longest in Jerusalem.

The Greater Bak’a Community Council functions as “mini municipality”, while neighbourhood activities, such as communal committees, forums of pensioners and cultural events, are diverse and reflect the multi-cultural make-up of residents. In general, there is a common sense of commitment to sustainability principles that cuts across all social groups.

Despite this idyllic picture, Bak’a faces challenges with respect to mobility and accessibility. The number of private vehicles among residents is quite high; car ownership is seen as a status symbol even in neighbourhoods like Bak’a with its culture of sustainability. Parents in Bak’a continue to use private cars for neighbourhood school drop-off and pick-ups.

Furthermore, drivers from other parts of Jerusalem use Bak’a for long-term parking, transferring from there to public transport routes. This increases congestion at rush hours, and creates situations in which cars are parked irregularly, often occupying part of the sidewalks. Some streets have no sidewalks at all, and accessibility is lacking at certain road crossings.

Congestion, car occupancy, accessibility and safety concerns together create a self reinforcing cycle that stops locals from seeing walking as a normal and easy practice. As a result, rights of way for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers are not clear, and it is not common for kids to walk or play in the streets.

This neighbourhood has one more distinctive quality. Due to Bak’a’s participatory heritage, residents have high expectations with respect to results. Residents have been involved in a number of consultations and participatory activities on how to transform the neighbourhood. Now they expect such processes to be followed by real action.

The solutions in sum

SUNRISE worked closely with the community council and the different municipal departments to solve physical challenges, such as fixing road crossings and sidewalk cracks, and establishing two small placemaking projects to improve the main walking paths. These small interventions were activators of change, with visible outputs that attract local interest.

Kids are the future

Acknowledging the importance of perceived safety, SUNRISE led a “Walking to school” programme, in which kids were both beneficiaries and architects of change.

Parents had expressed that they would be willing to have their older kids walk alone to school if certain areas were safer. The local police thereby agreed to provide police officers at four crosswalks during rush hour. Young residents then became ambassadors, walking to school and bringing other pupils and parents along, contributing to changing the local culture.

“Our greatest success is that residents today recognise walkability as their civic right”, says Maya Tapiero from the local SUNRISE team.

The programme’s impacts moved beyond the schools, with young ambassadors spreading the benefits of walking, leading to changes among public institutions, shop tenants and residents. Taking the time to pay attention to children’s advice was the crucial success factor in Bak’a.

Redesigning public spaces

SUNRISE also worked to involve local people that were not previously part of the formulation of sustainability goals and activities in the neighbourhood. The goal was to build a truly representative community vision, and to translate this vision into a clear work plan with shared responsibilities among stakeholders.

The focus of action was the creation of a low-motorised “Green Path” to link residential areas, community institutions and businesses. This project was identified decades ago by the neighbourhood council and residents, but was never fully developed. That is where SUNRISE came in.

A firm was brought on to use new collaborative tools to design the Green Path in a way that prioritised pedestrians and cyclists, resonated with residents, and accurately translated their vision for the neighbourhood.

What resulted was more than a physical intervention. The Green Path features kiosks and cafes, outdoor libraries, picnic areas, outdoor cinemas and theatres, and playgrounds. A simple and effective circulation scheme works as traffic filter to keep the path safe.

Ensuring lasting impact

An important legacy of SUNRISE was the creation of a platform for residents to make careful, collective decisions, which allows them to show strong consensus. Furthermore, SUNRISE’s work in Bak’a demonstrated that working closely with locals ensures the right conditions for mobility transformation.

Further reading



Photo Credits

HQ Architects



Read all short stories as they are published at:




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