Study Day on Planning Developments in Arab Towns

Publishing date: 19/01/2019

 The Arab Center for Alternative Planning (ACAP) continues to work towards overcoming planning obstacles and facilitating professional dialogue to propose and advance planning alternatives to improve the government's course.

On July 4th 2018, ACAP organized a study day entitled "Planning Developments in Arab Towns" to discuss recent planning developments in Arab towns, with the participation of dozens of professionals, heads of local authorities, and representatives from public committees, associations, and institutions active in Arab society. ACAP director Samer Swaid kicked off the study day by welcoming the attendees and speakers, and by outlining the primary goals: to promote professional dialogue between local authorities and planning professionals, and to share developments and innovations in the field of planning and building.

The first session of the day was on public transport, in which ACAP's urban planner Heba Bawardi gave a digital presentation on public transport lines in Eilaboun and Arraba, which covered the scope of existing lines, including the distribution of stations and peripheries they service. Bawardi also stressed the need to expand public transport services to cover all residential areas of Eilaboun and Arraba, which can serve as a research model.

ACAP media coordinator Shadi Khalilieh presented a public survey conducted in Eilaboun and Arraba to assess the level of public satisfaction with public transportation services, and residents' use of public transportation for travel within and beyond the town. Khalilieh asserted ACAP's eagerness to apply this effective assessment method to all towns, in cooperation with local authorities, in order to develop and improve public transportation services more broadly.

The first session on the Fast-Tracking Construction Plans, "Between overcoming planning obstacles and difficulties of implementation on the ground", was chaired by ACAP founder Dr. Hanna Swaid, who presented an expert analysis of the various planning schemes aimed at accelerating the approval of building plans, and stressed the need for Arab towns to capitalize on them. He also noted that in spite of inflated figures provided by government agencies and the announcement of thousands of new housing units, such fast-tracking efforts have as of yet only produced implementation plans in Tur'an. ACAP closely monitors the progress of these fast-tracking plans, and also assists local authorities in their efforts to overcome the various obstacles impeding their development.  

Imad Dahleh, mayor of the Tur'an Local Council, detailed the process of navigating the now approved and ratified Tur'an Fast-Tracking Plan, from the Comprehensive Planning vision drafted with the participation of professional planners to promote Tur'an's future development, to the preparation of guidelines and detailed plans, to weathering the numerous difficulties and challenges while awaiting the project's approval.

Dror Boimel of the Society for the Protection of Nature, and also the representative of environmental associations for the Committee for the Approval of Fast-Tracking Plans, addressed the importance of taking environmental concerns, the preservation of open areas, and the development of green areas, into consideration during the planning process.

Municipality of Tamra engineer Amin Sahli addressed participants regarding Tamra’s experience of submitting housing and urban development plans. According to Sahli, this process entailed facing numerous difficulties such as opposition from the Majjaf Council, and poor cooperation among government ministries regarding plan approval and implementation. Sahli also presented the planning models for the Municipality of Tamra’s future development, stressing the importance for municipalities to have clear visions for future development and to harness their rights to access improved housing and urban conditions.

The second session on Comprehensive Plans, “Is planning needed? Or is it a way to justify procrastination?” was moderated by Raneen Odeh of ACAP, who also gave a detailed presentation outlining the Comprehensive Plans adopted in recent years as a planning template. Odeh also reviewed the recurrent problems and obstacles to receiving approvals for these plans, and the inability to obtain building permits. To conclude, Odeh offered a number of questions to participants regarding issues and methods for developing Comprehensive Plans.

The next speaker was Dr. Enaya Banna-Jeries, engineer for the Organizing and Building Committee of Wadi Ara. Banna-Jeries covered the pros and cons of Comprehensive Plans, emphasizing that the overall plan should be generic and instructive without going into planning details. In addition, she argued that planning committees in Arab communities should be granted the authority to approve detailed plans within the Comprehensive Plan in order to accelerate the development process and reduce outside interference into the issuing of building permits.

Dr. Banna-Jeries also espoused the importance of seeking quick and efficient solutions to the daily problems afflicting Arab citizens, and to the impediments to addressing critical infrastructural and planning issues.  Such solutions, while focused on tackling immediate obstacles and concerns, must also be attuned to resolving the long-term problems that affect Arab citizens.

Itamar Ben-David, head of the Haifa District Committee, spoke about the contributions that Comprehensive Plans can make towards improving local building and planning processes more broadly. In particular, he argued that Comprehensive Plans facilitate the timely preparation of detailed plans because they already outline a general planning scheme and help to refine the vision for planning and development across all districts within each town. With this in mind, Ben-David recommended that all Arab towns in the Haifa District prepare Comprehensive Plans.

Each session was followed by a discussion period, and the study day concluded with reflections on professional aspirations and new horizons in planning. Furthermore, participants discussed the need to continue to refine the broader dialogues around the issues covered in the sessions, in order to promote awareness and active participation among all groups and institutions dealing with issues of planning, construction, and urban development.   

ACAP implores our planning professionals, local authorities, and communities to work together to harness every means of developing new paths forward and offering sophisticated alternatives and correctives to existing schemes in order to amplify the right to housing and the right to adequate urban development in Arab towns.