It’s a truism that urban pedestrian tunnels tend to be trafficked by the homeless and out-of-work musicians, both seeking shelter and perhaps a shekel or two from passersby making their way from point A to point B.
In Jerusalem’s best-known pedestrian tunnel (except for the 2,000-year-old tunnel linking the Western Wall with Via Dolorosa), which connects the central bus station to the International Convention Center, all of the above tended to be true, in addition to the garbage, stink and bad lighting that existed for many years.
Then two different groups of community-minded residents, one a group of teens that are active in a local community council organization, the other a group of young artists, both decided to turn their collective minds to the tunnel.
“We came and checked it out and saw that it was just gross,” said Katherine Leff, a 17-year-old high school student at Jerusalem’s Sudbury School, and one of the forces behind “Saving the Tunnel.” “It was full of garbage and graffiti, the lighting was all broken. It was in bad shape.”
Besides connecting the city’s main bus station with the convention center and the city buses that stop outside the center, the tunnel is adjacent to a major construction project, the train station terminal being built for the high-speed rail link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Leff and her fellow activists had worked on several other projects, including Braille-friendly ATM bank machines and better public bus access by making videos and disseminating them to the powers that be in the municipality. They began working with their contacts in the Ginot Ha’Ir community council, which connected them to the relevant municipal departments.
Meanwhile, local art entrepreneur Uri Yariv, who had worked with UK street artist My Dog Sighs on a social art project in Tel Aviv, was contacted by city hall about doing something similar in Jerusalem.
With the choice of cleaning up the tunnel or doing something similar on the pedestrian Ben Yehuda Street downtown, the city chose the tunnel, “exactly for the purpose of making it nicer and better for the thousands of people crossing there,” said Yariv, “and because it is a high profile location.”
Within weeks, the city had cleared out the garbage, painted the rough walls white and fixed the lighting, and My Dog Sighs volunteered to paint the murals, working through Yariv, who had become deeply involved in the tunnel cleanup project, and funded part of it as well.
My Dog Sighs painted several murals in the tunnel, working with local art students.
Leff and her friends are more than pleased with the end results. And Yariv, who said he never gets emotional, thinks it is “more than beautiful.”