Today's blogpost was written by Jacob Shapiro, a Yahel Social Change fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9-months in the city of Lod. This blog was originally published in the Times of Israel.
Where are the most meaningful places for you in your city? What kind of people go there? And what can be done to improve them?
Half of the Yahel Social Change Fellows in Lod recently asked these questions in a city-wide survey as part of their Yahel mapping project. We hoped to better understand the city in order to inform our efforts. as well as the efforts of municipal leaders and local social activists. Understanding mixed cities in general is crucial in identifying the challenges and opportunities of developing Arab-Jewish shared society.
We were particularly interested in: (1) learning if there were any locations that were important for both Jews and Muslims, as these locations would provide logical launching points for efforts to develop positive shared society; and (2) providing practical suggestions to municipal and social leaders based on observed trends. Relevant findings and suggestions are included below.
The survey and resulting maps confirmed our previously held beliefs that Lod’s Muslims* and Jews live largely segregated from each other.
*Lod has a small Arab-Christian population, but there were no Arab-Christians respondents in our survey.
The survey revealed two locations in Lod that are important for both Jews and Muslims: archeological sites, and the local mall. Respondents from both religions suggested that: (a) the archaeological sites should be preserved, rather than used for events as they are today; and (b) the mall should be upgraded and improved.
A practical takeaway from this finding is that interfaith community forums should be established to advise the management of Lod’s archeological sites and mall. This can bring a myriad of benefits to the city, including a greater sense of community ownership, and greater interaction between citizens and local government. Furthermore, Jews and Arabs would be working together in an action-oriented way on real, local issues. Academic literature suggests this is a more beneficial strategy for peacebuilding than simply talking about bigger, more abstract issues, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Koonce, 2011; Larsen, 2014; Luhmann, 1979; Schiefer, 2017).
Another practical takeaway is that community efforts, and especially those aimed at building shared society, should take place around archeological sites and the mall. One of the community centers I work at is close to the mall, but struggles to attract Muslims to its programs. Running activities at the mall, where all walks of life from Lod are found, can increase participation by diverse communities in various social activities.
Dispersion of Meaningful Locations
No single location in the survey was listed as “meaningful” by more than 12% of respondents. If you asked this question to people in my hometown of Bethesda, Maryland, I would wager that way more than 12% of respondents would answer “Barnes and Noble.” The Barnes and Noble book store is in a geographically central location, has nice sitting areas and a fountain, and is surrounded by attractive shops and restaurants.
This datapoint suggests that the city is missing central meeting points where residents feel comfortable coming together. One of the key issues holding Lod back from further development is a lack of civic pride. To me, this lack of a central gathering location contributes to that absence. Attractive central meeting points can also be a place where Jews and Muslims interact and grow more comfortable with each other. The Lod municipality should develop better central meeting points in neutral geographic locations.
Parks and Green Spaces
Both Jews and Muslims in Lod reported frequenting parks and other green spaces at high rates. Both groups also requested improving parks, including through better infrastructure and more cleanliness.
Dispelling Lod’s Stigmas
Lod has a negative stigma in Israeli society, and is primarily associated with crime and drugs. But when asked how to improve meaningful places in Lod, most respondents pointed to cleanliness, rather than security, as their key concern.
This reveals a wider observation about the data gathered in this project - the findings could be the same for any city in the world. Cleanliness, infrastructure, historical preservation, and better malls are common issues in many cities. Security was a lesser concern, and Arab-Jewish conflict wasn’t mentioned once.