Can urban planning address social justice issues? To what extent is there justice in Beer Sheva’s current urban structure? These and other related questions were discussed at the program “The City Wants Social Justice - Planning and Reform in Beer Sheva” at the Mandel Center for Leadership in the Negev on April 30.
The program continues a long-standing tradition of encounters between Ben-Gurion University and the Mandel Center that focus on planning issues and public spaces in the Beer Sheva metropolitan area. These encounters provide a rare opportunity for public discussion among academics, policy-makers and local residents and a unique connection between academic research and hands-on practicalities.
At the event, the center’s director, Adi Nir Sagi, quoted the noted Brazilian urban planner Jaime Lerner, who worked to reinvent urban space in Curitiba, Brazil, where he was the mayor, and was also involved in numerous urban renewal projects all over the world: “City is not a problem; city is solution.” This message transfers the responsibility to effect change back to the residents, city leaders and the local grass roots leadership.
The Mandel Center for Leadership in the Negev is at the forefront of such efforts, which are then translated into leadership actions that spur improvement in the city’s quality of life. Dr. Itzhak (Kiki) Aharonovich, who researches urban issues and their link to leadership training, spearheads the entire process. This connection between urban and environmental studies and the role of leadership is unique to the Mandel Center approach and is a theme of the center’s programs.
The "City Wants Social Justice" program focused on the findings of students from Ben-Gurion University geography department's urban policy workshop. Mentored by Prof. Oren Yiftachel, students looked at the social condition of the city through four measures of equality: built up areas; socio-economic class; identity groups in the city and democracy (degree of transparency and fairness in municipal processes); and the city’s new master plan being implemented that year, which strives to concentrate residential and commercial development in the city’s older neighborhoods. The workshop participants concluded that the municipality is moving in the right direction in some areas (gaps in urban landscaping and accessibility) but is not adequately addressing other issues. Based on the findings, the report’s authors presented recommendations and ideas for planning policy reform.
The ensuing animated discussion presented several different reference points for the city of Beer Sheva, its condition and the extent of social justice there. The discussion highlighted the slippery nature of the concept justice. Prior to this discussion, there was a panel with responses from the city architect Yosefa Dabara; Guy Kav Venaki, vice chairman of the Urban Planners Association; and Michal Cohen, vice chairman of the Living with Dignity movement (Hatnua Lechaim Bekavod).