Haifa is home to many religious communities, housing Muslim and Christian populations in addition to various denominations of Judaism which coexist harmoniously. Haifa also boasts one of the biggest academic centers in Israel and is known for its large industrial zones, major logistics hub, and many hi-tech companies. However, Haifa is also known for its polluting industries, including oil refineries and chemical storage tanks. Ran Raviv, director of the Heschel Center’s Local Sustainability Centers Network, said “Haifa has the potential to be a city with a much higher quality of life, but it needs to start with an overarching vision of what the city could become and how to make that happen.” To tackle this challenge, Ran has been training department heads in Haifa’s municipality on urban sustainability and environmental innovation.
The Heschel Center is working to create change-makers in the local municipality, by training them to develop the necessary tools to plan and implement sustainability projects. “Over the years, cities have become burdened with issues such as high population density, air pollution, social inequality and poverty,”says Lorit Lebovitz, the Director of the Center for Local Sustainability. “Nevertheless, cities hold most of the world’s population, and they have lots of power to impact change at the local level,” she adds. “This is why we work closely with city officials to help them visualize, plan, and implement projects that promote sustainability”.
In the past, the Center for Local Sustainability has worked with the Tel Aviv municipality. A Heschel Fellow Alumnus who works at the municipality has led a pilot project for a sustainable neighborhood with the support of the Heschel Center. Tel Aviv focused on the neighborhood Bizaron-Ramat Israel, investing in bicycle lanes, renovating public buildings, and redesigning neglected public spaces and turning them into community-oriented, green and smart sites. After the pilot was completed, the municipality planned seven additional sustainable neighborhoods and reorganized their operation around these goals. Now Tel Aviv serves as an example for other municipalities looking to implement sustainable projects.
“Haifa is one of the cities with the biggest challenges in our field – with social, economic and environmental issues. The course is the first step for the city, to help them imagine and visualize a better future for the Haifa”, said Ran. The Heschel Center will keep supporting the Haifa Municipality during this process by assisting with resource management, building their internal capacity to find solutions and creating a participatory governance process that benefits all of their residents.