When the science department at a local high school in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo decided to build an ecological pool, they thought they were adding an urban nature gem to an area of the neighborhood suffering from neglect and limited environmental amenities. However, the residents of the predominantly low income area, living mainly in public housing, didn’t see it quite that way: they complained about the noise made by the frogs and demanded that the pool be dried up.
Enter the activists in the nearby Local Sustainability Center, who set out to connect the neighbors with this treasure in their backyard. Focusing on the surrounding area, they encouraged the residents to garden in the small plots adjacent to their buildings. They asked the high school students to move some of the frogs, leaving enough to regulate the mosquitoes while reducing the noise level. They then included the pool in a variety of neighborhood activities for children and families, effectively shifting its perception to that of a local resource rather than a hazard.
This is just one example of a wide range of local actions initiated by the Local Sustainability Center in Gilo. They have also organized training on urban gardening for volunteers as well as workshops on a wide range of subjects such as composting, preparing eco-friendly cleaning products and making sourdough bread. They work with a local school, have helped set up two community gardens, involve at risk youth in teaching an afternoon cooking class for children and held a series of meetings for women on practical sustainability and Judaism.
One of ten Centers set up in the social and geographic periphery of Israel since 2013, the Gilo Center includes a physical space located in an old bomb shelter as well as serving as a focal point for a myriad of local activities and initiatives. They have also formed a highly successful collaboration with the local community council (‘Minhal Kehilati’), integrating sustainability into all local community activities. With an open door policy for its neighbors, the Local Sustainability Center has established itself as a positive force for change in the neighborhood. “I believe in this place and what it stands for,” says Orli Fridman Ben Shalom, Executive Director of Kvutzat Reut, the local partner that set up the Local Sustainability Center. “We are happy to cooperate with anyone and there are more and more requests for collaboration coming in.”