Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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Israel-Diaspora Relations

Project Renewal in Israel:
Urban Revitalization through Partnership


Daniel J. Elazar

Urban revitalization has become an urgent concern in nations throughout the industrial and developing worlds. Government officials, politicians and social scientists have pondered the political, economic and social costs of leaving urban distress unsolved. This book examines one of the most innovative and successful projects of urban revitalization to date. Israel's Project Renewal, is a billion dollar project which presently encompasses 84 distressed neighborhoods throughout Israel.

While it is too early for a final evaluation of all of the contributions of this unique project, there is little doubt that the project improved the social, welfare, educational and physical conditions of hundreds of thousands of Israelis as well as improving the image of many neighborhoods. This occurred through citizen participation and decentralization, developments which are to be valued in their own right.

Basic to Project Renewal is the concept of partnership - between a neighborhood, the local and state governments and Israel and diaspora Jewish communities.

This partnership is a multifaceted skein of relationships. It is not restricted to any one specific linkage although the term is applied to several dominant tandem arrangements by those closely associated with the generation of Project Renewal. In the chapters which follow, partnership serves as a descriptive focus subsuming various ties, agreements, and networking patterns which emerged in the course of the project. As part of the embedded language of project actors, of course, it has a hortatory function and conveys the spirit in which civic and organizational goals of Project Renewal were pursued.

Organizational cooperation is a difficult and tenuous undertaking in the best of circumstances. Necessity and interest more often govern its appearance than voluntary good will. The Israeli polity is relatively small but has been created from numerous political and institutional strands. Its functioning has necessitated the formation of active and shifting coalitions. Yet the constituted polity, despite its cooperative bent, is also marked by a great deal of autonomous action and faits accomplis which are often designed to pre-condition the terms for various partnerships. Under these circumstances, partnership may be offered as a placebo. But what, then, if it is accepted seriously? In many respects, this is the background to Project Renewal. The ideology of partnership often was taken at face value by a number of actors. In effect, this meant that there were intensive efforts by parties to have a greater share in the decisions concerning the selection and allocation of resources provided by and through the project. Thus the spirit of partnership masked a struggle for change in the structure of power and influence in Israeli society both in the local arena and no less dramatically in the state and national arenas.

This is a book about a specific urban revitalization project. Its genesis can be traced to the earliest days of Project Renewal when the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs published several reports and newsletters concerning project developments and voluntarily served in an advisory capacity to a number of key decision-makers. In 1982, the Center undertook a major evaluation of diaspora involvement in the project for the International Committee for the Evaluation of Project Renewal. In the following years, work continued with supporting grants from the United Israel Appeal resulting in additional published studies.

In addition to its academic interest in Renewal, the Jerusalem Center became a vital nerve center for a novel communication network within the framework of the project. The Center encouraged participating diaspora communities to appoint Israel-based representatives who would serve as communicators and informed agents of diaspora interests in the neighborhood programs. The enthusiastic adoption of this form of Israel-diaspora liaison eventually led to the formation of the Community Representatives Forum with headquarters at the Center. In March 1986, the Center hosted an International Conference on Urban Revitalization for the sharing of contemporary experiences and new ideas in projects of this nature.

Thus, this book has developed as part of a deep-seated interest and involvement on the part of the Center in the multi-faceted dimensions of Project Renewal. On this account, it has enabled the authors to draw from a rich assortment of sources directly engaged in the everyday planning and execution of Renewal activities.

In addition to the material generated by the Jerusalem Center, there have been a few published reports which were also supported by the International Committee for the Evaluation of Project Renewal. References to the Committee's reports appear in a number of places in the text, but the reliance upon them is far more extensive than the acknowledgments indicate. Unfortunately, a number of manuscripts on Project Renewal and extensive raw material was not publicly available at the time of writing. Occasional reference is made to some of this material which came to our notice solely for factual supplementation and not for its evaluative or critical content.

The book is written for the general reader. It does not claim comprehensive coverage, but it does hopefully catch the main frames of the project. Chapter One presents the rationale behind Project Renewal and provides descriptive background to the two principal parties in Renewal, the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency.

In Chapter Two, the nature of poverty and economic distress in Israel is linked to its territorial concentration and those antecedent programs which focused more on geographic than sectoral solutions. In Chapter Three, we present an extensive analysis of Project Renewal's major guidelines and program areas.

Chapter Four deals with the planning aspects of the project. Chapters Five and Six focus on the local arena, its actors and the relationships between them. Chapter Seven examines the partnership with the diaspora, describing both its unique and universal features. The concluding chapter assesses the impact of Project Renewal on urban revitalization and Israeli society and governance.

This is not the last word on Project Renewal. We hope it is a helpful first word to enable others to benefit from the Israeli experience and those who were involved in that experience to gain greater understanding of its achievements and problems. One subject which we do not cover in detail is the politics of Project Renewal. That is a fascinating subject in its own right and needless to say, one that is vitally important in any proper history of the project. It was our opinion, however, that a detailed discussion of that subject would have been out of place in this volume. For those interested in pursuing that dimension, we recommend Charles Hoffman's Project Renewal: Community and Change in Israel.

Many institutions and people were of invaluable help to us in writing this book. First and foremost, our thanks go to the United Israel Appeal and the Keren Hayesod for providing the financial support that enabled us to devote the necessary time and staff to the task. We would especially like to thank Irving Kessler and Neale Katz of the UIA, as well as Avraham Avi-hai and Yohanan Dekel of the Keren Hayesod for the importance they attached to this endeavor. We could not have taken the first steps in this project without the cooperation of the Israel Ministry of Construction and Housing under its Minister, David Levy, and its Project Renewal Department, headed by Hagit Hovav, on one hand and the Jewish Agency Project Renewal Department headed by Leon Dulzin, Chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, and directed by Gideon Witkon. They and their staffs were unfailingly helpful.

Special thanks go to Alan Pakes of the Overseas Section of the Jewish Agency's Project Renewal Department for his assistance. Tuvia Aram in the Planning Bureau also deserves mention for his pleasant and serious responses to a number of our queries. In New York, Marilyn Wechsler in the UIA office and Marty Gallanter at the UJA gave us every assistance in our interviews and requests for information.

The writing of Project Renewal in Israel is the result of a collaborative effort with colleagues and support staff of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs - editors, proofreaders, a librarian, and unsuspecting personnel collared in the corridors.

David Kurz assisted us in the research and actual writing of Chapter One. Chapter Four was written with Professor Dan Soen of Ben Gurion University and Ayala Hirsh of the Ministry of Construction and Housing.

Special thanks go to Professor Shimon Spiro, Professor Ira Sharkansky and Dr. Shmuel Sandler for their careful review of the draft manuscript and helpful comments. Final manuscript preparation was made possible through the assistance of Carol Halberstadt and Yael and Mark Ami-El.

Heshvan 5747 - November 1986

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