Participation, accountability, and influence: The elements of effective action

The Social Development Committee invites the public to participate in Thursday’s preparatory meeting ahead of the second Haifa municipality meeting on the urban renewal plan and preservation of the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood.

The Social Development Committee has been working hard to bring about public participation and municipal accountability regarding urban planning in Haifa, specifically in the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood. As a result, the Haifa municipality has scheduled a second public meeting on Sunday (05/29/2022) to discuss the urban renewal plan and preservation of Wadi Nisnas. This will take place from 4:45pm to 7:30 in the Carma House Theater Hall, located at 33 Al Jabal Street, Haifa. This meeting will include welcome speeches, the presentation of a proposed plan reflecting the public’s recommendations, a question-and-answer session, and time for open discussion before a closing summary of the event. Ahead of this meeting, the Social Development Committee has set up a preparatory meeting for social activists, residents, and interested parties on Thursday (05/26/2022) at 6:00pm in the SDC office, located at 21 St. John Street, Haifa. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss how to best advocate for the community’s interests in the Wadi Nisnas urban renewal plan during Sunday’s municipal meeting. In her invitation to the preparatory meeting, attorney Jumana Ighbaria-Hamam, Director of the SDC, highlighted the need to review the points made by the municipality in the last municipal meeting. This will provide attendees with a greater understanding of the points the municipality will make in Sunday’s meeting. The goal of this preparation is to equip activists and residents with the greatest possible ability to influence decisions in Haifa that affect them. If the voices of the community are heard and acted upon, there will be a significant positive impact on the future of Wadi Nisnas. The Social Development Committee’s position paper on the proposed Wadi Nisnas urban development plan is available on the municipality’s official website

SDC's Position Paper on the Wadi Nisnas Urban Development Plan

Brief Overview

Wadi Nisnas is a historic Arab neighborhood in Haifa with the highest concentration of Arab residents in the city. Its residents make up 30% of Haifa’s Arab population and are the fastest growing population in the city in terms of birth rate. Wadi Nisnas is the beating heart of lower Haifa, and many view it as the heart of Haifa in general. Wadi Nisnas boasts a glorious past, but it deals with a difficult present and an uncertain future. The neighborhood is located in the commercial and tourist heart of Haifa. Its unique, and mainly characterized by its blend of historic architecture and modern services. At the same time, it suffers from deteriorating infrastructure, overcrowding, a housing crisis, and a lack of both parking spaces and open spaces. The situation of Wadi Nisnas’s residents resembles a struggle for survival. As a group primarily living in a low socio-economic situation, they strive to preserve their existing heritage despite neglect of health, infrastructure, and social support services. The neighborhood’s assets, including important historical and architectural properties, are sold to those who pay the highest price. This occurs with complete disregard to Wadi Nisnas’s residents, the social and cultural value of these properties, and the fabric of the neighborhood. In light of this, the Social Development Committee met with a team of planners, architects, lawyers, and residents to discuss the importance of community planning. The SDC highlighted the need for a community-minded plan to be implemented in the neighborhood — one that suits the needs and demands of Wadi Nisnas’s residents. The SDC reiterated that the municipality’s initiative for planning and development in Wadi Nisnas is a positive initiative, and it poses a unique chance to restore the confidence that its residents have lost in the municipality. The association pointed out that this a is a golden opportunity for clarity, transparency, cooperation, and residents’ participation in the decisions that affect their city and their lives. We hope that this planning and development initiative will put an end to years of neglect and discrimination against the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood. The aim is to improve the standard of living for residents, advance the neighborhood and take advantage of its inherent potential as a historical and architectural gem. Wadi Nisnas is already a major social, cultural, touristic, and economic center in the city. We hope to make it thrive.

Research, hard work, and follow-up

Among the most prominent achievements of the SDC is the issuing of a position paper regarding a new community planning initiative. This paper was submitted in December 2020 and prepared by Fadi Eyadat and engineer Haya Zaatreh. It focused on the demographic, social, and economic situation of Wadi Nisnas, in addition to highlighting the problems and challenges facing the neighborhood and its residents. The paper also made demands related to the neighborhood planning process and indicated the need to build trust, transparency, participation, facilitate access to information, and establish both a steering committee and social impact assessment. This position paper was a step forward towards a new and responsible approach, and served as a basis for engaging with residents and officials to make important information available for all. The SDC is striving to enhance the ability of Wadi Nisnas’s residents to participate in the plan for the neighborhood and ensure their rights in whatever final solution is agreed upon. Some points that the SDC is advocating for include: adoption of a fair restoration policy, similar to previous development plans implemented by the municipality in other neighborhoods; improving the ability of residents to own real estate; preserving the cultural heritage of the neighborhood; and correcting the prevailing injustice against Haifa’s Arab community. As a result of the position paper and the intervention of the SDC, the Haifa municipality has engaged the plan to renovate Wadi Nisnas and allocated a budget for implementation. This is a big achievement for the community and a testament to SDC’s persistent efforts for change.

A professional position paper for urban renewal and planning in the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood.

The hard work culminated in a presentation of the position paper regarding the Wadi Nisnas urban renewal plan by the SDC, in April 2021. The paper was submitted on the “Tufanot” municipality website for residents to comment on it and voice their opinions. It was also published by the municipality three months prior. The SDC discussed the importance of developing a plan for the renewal of Wadi Nisnas, stressing that the matter should be implemented in a thoughtful manner. Most importantly, the SDC voiced the need to consider the current situation of the Arab population, and the Arab population in Wadi Nisnas in particular. The participation of this community in the urban renewal project is vital to better bridge the gaps of inequality in Haifa and ensure true coexistence.

Active participation for impact

This Sunday’s meeting did not come about on its own. Rather, it is a result of tireless work to preserve the social fabric and values that are central to Wadi Nisnas’s identity. This meeting is an opportunity to voice the demands and opinions of Wadi Nisnas’s residents, which are integral in preserving and uplifting the neighborhood for future generations. This meeting will be a chance to emphasize the importance of cooperation and public participation in the planning process, and for residents of the neighborhood to have social impact. Participation in Sunday’s meeting is naturally very important, and residents of Wadi Nisnas and Haifa are encouraged to take an active role in this meeting. The importance of Wadi Nisnas is not just limited to its residents – the neighborhood has long been known as a landmark of Haifa and its beating heart.

The right of the population to participate and be heard

During an interview, Eli Badran, Media Coordinator at SDC, stressed the importance of participating in Sunday’s meeting. He explained how more than 40% of buildings in Wadi Nisnas are owned by the “Amidar” company, in addition to several abandoned buildings. He stated that this meeting should be used as an avenue for residents to claim their rights to participate in tenders offered by Amidar. Badran says that the tenders “have recently become a curse on the population. They already suffer from a deteriorating economic situation but that isn’t considered.” As a result, Badran calls for dialogue with Amidar and the creation of a program that guarantees residents’ rights to acquire properties themselves, rather than turning them into for-profit projects. Many tender projects serve only to benefit investors and sometimes harm the community and cause difficulties for existing residents, the majority of whom are elderly. Attorney Jumana Ighbaria-Hamam, General Director of the SDC, highlighted the importance of participation to preserve the character and identity of the neighborhood, and to assure the basic right of its residents to participate in the planning process. In addition to participation, she also reiterated the importance of municipal accountability and the need for residents’ voices to be both listened to and acted upon. The SDC invites everyone interested to participate in the meeting and raise their voices to enact real and positive change in the community.
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The Social Development Committee is a nongovernmental organization established by and for Arabs in Haifa in 1982. It gives services

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