Visions for a Place of Peace - Austrian Team Top Winner of MIT's "Just Jerusalem Competition"

bridges vol. 19, October 2008 / Feature Article

By Caroline Adenberger

The German politician Helmut Schmidt once said, "Wer Visionen hat, sollte zum Arzt gehen" (People with visions better consult a medical doctor). This advice is not quite true.  Their vision of a peaceful Middle East led two Austrian architects, Siegfried Atteneder and Lorenz Potocnik, straight to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT ). Through a project proposal called "HUMMUS: East Mediterranean City Belt 2050" submitted by them to MIT's international Just Jerusalem Competition , they were granted one of the four top awards of the competition - which took them a step closer to their vision.

Map of the East Mediterranean City Belt, 2050 (click here to enlarge)

Atteneder and Potocnik's "HUMMUS - East Mediterranean City Belt 2050" project or "process" (how Atteneder and Potocnik actually prefer to call it) envisions a metropolitan alliance of cities in the East Mediterranean that form a corridor of urbanization along the coast from Turkey to Egypt (see map on the right, click to enlarge).

As a top winner of the Just Jerusalem Competition, Atteneder and Potocnik were awarded a semester-long "Visionary Research Fellowship" at MIT. There, the two Austrians now focus on advancing their ambitious idea to the next level. Until January 2009, they are participating in university seminars and workshops with MIT faculty, engaging in interdisciplinary discussion and working out a plan on how to proceed with the implementation of their project.

About the Jerusalem 2050 Program:  
Jerusalem 2050 is a joint initiative of MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Center for International Studies. It is a visionary and problem-solving program that seeks to understand what it would take to make Jerusalem (or Al Quds in Arabic) a place of difference and diversity in which contending ideas and diverse citizenries can co-exist in benign ways. By working with Palestinian and Israeli scholars, activists, business leaders, youth, etc., the program seeks to find sustainable solutions for the city.

Diane Davis, director of MIT's Jerusalem 2050 Program , in which context the competition was held, explains that the competition sought "to address one of the greatest challenges of our times: the elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians. To that end, we wanted the winning entries to envision hopeful, creative, and passionate ideas for potentially altering daily life in Jerusalem in small and large-scale ways." 

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Four different entry categories were defined for the Just Jerusalem Competition, each addressing particular aspects of the city's urban life: physical, economic, civic and symbolic infrastructure. Some 1150 people from 85 different countries took on the challenge and registered for the competition. An international jury blind-reviewed over 125 eligible proposals. In the civic infrastructure category, Atteneder and Potocnik‘s entry was eventually selected by the jury as the winning project.

Siegfried Atteneder (above) and Lorenz Potocnik

"By focusing our entry not only on the mere city of Jerusalem but on the whole region, we first were a little worried that this "expansion" might actually risk missing the point of what was asked by the jury," said Atteneder and Potocnik, "but it was simply not possible to focus solely on the future of the city of Jerusalem since it is intrinsically tied to the whole region, as is the region tied to Jerusalem. We believe that without a peaceful and economically thriving East Mediterranean region, there can be no vital city of Jerusalem."

(Re)mapping the future

The vision of an East Mediterranean City Belt is based on the assumption that over the next decades, national borders will gradually lose importance and global governance will take over national policies. Thus, by 2050, the envisioned East Mediterranean City Belt would develop to its full potential, with its cities and regions cooperating in a cross-national way. Atteneder and Potocnik estimate about twenty cities to be part of their envisioned city belt by then, and its population becoming the driving force in creating new geo-economic space. One important economic factor Atteneder and Potocnik are describing in their vision for the region is the development of a sustainable tourism profile; for example, the creation of cross-national natural parks, tapping into the wide range of tourist potentials the region offers.

Atteneder and Potocnik's geographical "re-figuration" of the region is based upon occurring and expected urbanization and urban concentration, and with this a rising influence of metropolitan regions. To the architects, such a future regional development is something easily predictable for anyone with an interest in the region and a feel for spatial properties. Giving an example, Atteneder points out the successful European metropolitan regions that constitute both model and proof for the feasibility of such an idea. Available data also underlies this assumption: The East Mediterranean region had only two cities with a population of more than one million in 1970. By 2002, fifteen cities of this size already existed. In terms of population concentration, over 90 percent of population in Israel, and over 87 percent of population in Lebanon were already living in urban areas by 2007.


The map of the metropolitan alliance “East Mediterranean City Belt”, including the corresponding desert hinterland. Seems like a rather big area to focus on? - It is actually smaller than France: 165,000 square miles (427,000 square kilometers) with an estimated population of 106 million people (click here to enlarge map).

Constructing an image - collective imagination

One of the biggest challenges Atteneder and Potocnik identified while working on the project is that the actual Middle East is missing a positive connotation and confidence. "What the region lacks is an overall image of the future; an almost emblematic visualization, easy to communicate and robust enough not to lose its message through different interpretations," says Potocnik. "With a map of East Mediterranean City Belt, we tried to create such an image of the far future allowing orientation and collective identification," he adds. They consider it a Leitbild, with the map offering a universal language and a new vision with new terms, thus becoming far more than just a simple prediction: in reciprocal action complex coherences are communicated to a wide public.

Atteneder and Potocnik are using their current fellowship at MIT to further develop the project, praising the campus' creative and stimulating environment. While conducting additional research, at MIT they have the opportunity to talk to experts in peacemaking and conflict resolution who are literally next door, to introduce their project to potential partners and funding institutions, and to prepare for the next crucial step in the process: the presentation of the Eastern Mediterranean City Belt in 2009 to an international audience during a worldwide tour organized by MIT, which will also stopover in Jerusalem.

No doubt, the implementation of an East Mediterranean City Belt by 2050 will be as challenging as the idea is visionary. But as Peter Drucker said  "The best way to predict the future is to create it."

For further information on the East Mediterranean City Belt, visit or contact Siegfried Atteneder at sigi[at]