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
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
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
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
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
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