In Fall of 2016 Hebrew University student and Urban Clinic fellow Ravid Peleg, in partnership with the Jerusalem municipality, Eden, and local community authority embarked on a placemaking project in the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim. Mea Shearim is extremely dense with very little public space, especially lacking in open, safe spaces for children to play. Peleg identified an open space that was part of an apartment building used as a trash dump. With the permission of the building owner and residents, and the municipality, the area was cleared of trash and debris and through extensive public participation and consultation, turned into an open play area for children. Peleg enlisted the help and expertise of local mothers and their children, who decided on building materials, colors, and games for the new space. Upon return visits the space was always filled with kids jumping, playing, riding bikes, and playing games from the new game cabinet.
Sadly, months later the space was vandalized and eventually destroyed, presumably by extreme ultra-orthodox men, who resented the involvement of outsiders and the “immodest” play area.
A project like this one provides many lessons, and questions for future projects. Although the play space was vandalized out of use, other groups have since asked to use and reuse the space, for the first time turning to the community authority. The project was successful in causing residents to view local authorities as resources. In a community as insulated as the ultra-orthodox, this is a victory in itself.
The space before and after. Before: September 2016, After: February 2017
NGO Eden and the Jerusalem municipality along with the assistance of architect and urban designer Haya Mani, an East Jerusalem resident, created spaces in East Jerusalem that reflect Palestinian heritage and belonging in the city. Possible locations were identified based on land availability and access to the public. Palestinian East Jerusalemite school children participated in placemaking exercises, in addition to Palestinian artists who contributed designs featuring traditional Palestinian artwork. The result is a space that is both functional, aesthetically pleasing, and culturally significant.
Placemaking project in East Jerusalem
In addition to the seating corner, a series of covered bus stops were installed that feature benches and snippets of Palestinian history in Jerusalem. The series is meant to educate visitors as well as reinforce Palestinian ownership in the history of the region, translating to increased feelings of belonging in modern Jerusalem. Again, the team worked with Palestinian artists to create authentic, traditional artwork that is true to Palestinian culture.
Architect and urban designer Haya Mani in front of a covered seating area in East Jerusalem.