Gilo Community Dialogue

Building Community Solidarity through Themed Playgrounds

How would you like your local public playground? Aimed at big or little kids?  With a pirate theme or dinosaurs or space travel?

Can you really have a playground made to order? Well, yes. During the spring and summer months we were involved in community-building processes that aimed to do just that – build community by building a playground. We were approached by the Jerusalem Municipality to lead processes in Gilo, Ir Ganim, Givat Hamivtar and Shuafat. With funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies, established by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, we set to work.

Jerusalem's diversity, building playgrounds

Jerusalem’s diversity, building playgrounds

The processes were led by the staff of the different community councils, alongside Municipality officials. Before meeting with the residents, these process leaders met to set joint project goals and ensure that everyone was on the same page. (Indeed, ‘informed decision-making’ is a key component of the principles of participatory democracy.) Different concepts were reviewed – what exactly are themed playgrounds, the rough budgets set aside for building the playgrounds, the timeline, safety standards, types of potential equipment, examples of themed playgrounds from around the world for inspiration, and more. We then set out to mentor the neighborhoods separately, as all residents in each community were invited to sessions that included brainstorming for different themes, coming to agreement on what residents wanted in a playground, and more. After both residents and community and planning professionals put their ideas on paper (illustrated in the pictures), suggestions were passed along to the landscape architects contracted to design the playgrounds.  In Gilo residents chose to establish a “Cub Park” (for example, trying to mimic characteristic movements of different animals in the park, such as, but not necessarily including, crawling like a snake, climbing like a monkey, jumping like a kangaroo, etc.). Residents in Givat Hamivtar chose “Man and his World;” in Ir Ganim, “Touching the Sky;” and in Shuafat, “Space Park.” The architects are now working on specific designs and are scheduled to present these designs to the neighborhoods very soon.

We came to this project as a result of our in-depth work with residents of Kiryat Hayovel and Kiryat Menachem / Ir Ganim in the Asbestonim Wadi, which runs between Kiryat Hayovel and Kiryat Menachem / Ir Ganim. We can’t wait to see how these new playgrounds turn out!

Plans on paper

Plans on paper

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Neighborhood Shared Living Forum in Gilo

“I lived in Ramat Eshkol before coming to live her [in Gilo],” said a secular Jew, who participated in the Shared Living Forum that we just finished facilitating in Gilo. “One day, some of the ultra-Orthodox residents were violent toward my family. I knew then it was time to leave.” ”That is not your problem,” responded an ultra-Orthodox man, another participant in the group. “It is our problem. We [the ultra-Orthodox community in Gilo] won’t let that happen here.”

These two people are part of an 80-member Neighborhood Shared Living Forum in Gilo, which sits on the southern tip of Jerusalem. The Forum includes residents from every possible group – religious, secular, ultra-orthodox, immigrants and veteran citizens, and more. Over a period of two months, in four sessions, they formulated a community vision (see the Hebrew document) for shared living community dialogue, as well as developed initiatives to advance that goal. An atmosphere of mutual respect pervaded all the discussions, and everyone was engaged in and committed to the process. In a neighborhood as diverse as Gilo, this was quite a significant achievement.

Gilo Shared Living Forum

Gilo Shared Living Forum

The first workshop concentrated on introducing the process and discussing examples of positive aspects of a diverse community in Gilo in the past, challenges of having a diverse communities, and their vision for an ideal situation in Gilo.In ensuing workshops the residents focused on principles of community dialogue, including how four principles of community dialogue – dialogue, partnership, fairness and values – can be practically assimilated into community life. Residents also came to agreement on a set of principles for shared living in Gilo, and developed a number of initiatives, from joint study of texts, to work with teenagers, to inter-generational projects to building a community mediation framework. We will be following up with the Gilo Community Council in helping to get these initiatives off the ground.

Discussing Issues

Discussing Issues

The Neighborhood Shared Living Forum is part of our greater involvement in the Gilo community over the past few years, part of our Deliberative Democracy in Jerusalem Neighborhoods project, supported by the UJA-Federation of New York. You can read about other processes we’ve facilitated in Gilo here, here and here.

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Working Together to Improve our Environment in Gilo

With assistance from the UJA – Federation of New York, we’ve been working in the Gilo neighborhood for the past five years, helping the Gilo Community Council. Utilizing principles of deliberative democracy, we’ve been helping residents to take initiative and responsibility for their communities. Most of our efforts have until now focused on parking and education issues. Other initiatives have focused on public – private spaces (PPS’s), but on a small scale.

all pitching in

Since January we’ve been helping local activists who reside in the area of Tirosh St., a long street that includes a number of PPS’s, in planning on which issues to deal with, what to do and how to go about doing it. After several meetings, they held a major, community-wide clean-up and renovation event on June 27, 2014, with help from the Jerusalem Municipality. You can see all this documented in a short video.


picture collage

everyone helping

In all more than 160 took part – 100 children from the neighboring schools, and 60 residents. The residents were in charge from beginning to end – they were in touch with the Municipality, they organized the volunteers, they were in charge of the implementation. The Municipality worked hand in hand with the residents, preparing the area beforehand, and providing tools and work materials. Moving forward, there’ll be continued work on that PPS, most likely in smaller groups to make upkeep easier to maintain.

Kudos to all involved! We can’t wait to see more initiatives coming out of that area.

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Deliberative Democracy in Gilo – Continuing the Process

We’ve described before (here and here) our efforts of bringing deliberative and participatory democracy methods to solve everyday problems in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, thanks to the assistance of the UJA-Federation of New York. Recently, we’ve been helping to lead a new process of community initiatives, concentrating on two streets – Tirosh and Odem. This is done, of course, through our partner in Gilo, Gilo Community Council.

What? Only two streets? Bear in mind that Gilo is a huge neighborhood, both geographically and demographically (some 30,000 residents). Thus, Tirosh and Odem streets comprise more than 2,000 residents, according to the Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies.

We held our first meeting on January 29, 2014, with about 30 residents, which raised initial concerns and issues that the residents sought to solve. Two weeks after that a number of residents toured the neighborhood together with the city planner assigned to southern Jerusalem, to go over the complaints and issues that were raised in the meeting.

Discussing issues for improvement

Discussing issues for improvement

On March 9 a second meeting was held, encouraging residents to take the lead in solving problems that are important to them. Seven initiatives were born at this meeting; a follow-up meeting to see how they are progressing is scheduled for next week, May 19. The initiatives included:

  • Creating a recycling / composting center on the street;
  • Safety of pupils going to school;
  • Improving the public garden on  Tirosh St.
  • Sanitation on the street;
  • Deal with issues of traffic and road safety;
  • Cultivating greenery and plants in the neighborhood;
  • Improving signage on Odem and Tirosh Streets.
Going into detail, formulating a plan

Going into detail, formulating a plan

Stay tuned for more updates!

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2014-05-31T16:53:33+00:00May 12th, 2014|Blog, Deliberative Democracy, Gilo Community Dialogue|

Developing Deliberative Democracy in Jerusalem Neighborhoods – a case in Gilo

A few months ago, in cooperation with the UJA – Federation of New York, we began a project to work with a number of community centers to assimilate principles of deliberative/ participatory democracy that respects all the different voices in the community (see a previous post on this). At the Gilo Community Center, which we have been in contact with for several years, this was an opportunity to show that it is possible to collaborate successfully on a large scale, and not just to organize mass impressive events that take months to prepare and 6 months to recover from (which we did a few years ago).

In some areas of Gilo one of the major problems was parking. There are 3 streets – DellaPergola, Hamechanechet and Baruchi – that are very problematic. People park there helter-skelter in the evenings, blocking others, and one must look for neighbors who will move their cars in order to leave the parking area. It is even dangerous – ambulances find it difficult to go into and leave the streets and it also creates a problem for public transportation – the buses just aren’t able to pass. In initial conversations that we had with the professionals in the Municipality, it seemed that nothing could be done and nothing could solve the problem. According to these professionals, there are not ways to change the situation – from their perspective, the residents just needed to stop blaming the community center and the Municipality…

The community center decided to have a residents meeting and asked us to help in the process. Our approach is that we mainly mentor the community center staff and probably facilitate the actual meetings. The community center staff does most of the outreach work etc., because in the end the community center needs to assimilate the deliberative democracy methods and it knows the situation in the field much better than we do.

The first meeting with the residents was fascinating. After we listed and documented all the relevant problems that the residents and professionals raised, we moved to suggesting solutions to the problems that were collected. It is important to note that because the professional staff (including the relevant regional planner and director) sat together in this meeting and discussed the issues, there wasn’t the regular “ping-pong dynamic” in which residents complain and professionals defend themselves. Solutions that the residents or professionals thought were potentially successful but not relevant – were discussed in a respectful manner (even though the atmosphere was tense and the manner of speaking was typically Israeli…). For example, a number of residents suggested cutting down the trees between the parking areas in order to create more parking spaces. The planning officials then explained that the present situation is actually the opposite – the parking spaces were planned first, and the trees were planted later, to fill in spaces not designated -or appropriate – for parking. Thus, removing trees would not solve anything.

But, to our amazement, several elegant solutions were raised that the professional staff did not think of at all and which did seem suitable. One of them, in the context of DellaPergola Street, was to designate parking spaces according to families and thus reserve at least one parking space for each family, and the rest of the automobiles would park in other parts of the street or on other streets. We won’t get into the technical details, but it turns out that the professionals did not think about this solution because they didn’t believe that the residents would like the idea, and in any case, they assumed that someone would object and would shoot it down.

The Gilo staff called a second residents meeting. After massive advertising of the outcomes of the first meeting (which is significantly important, because there were many who didn’t come to the first meeting because they assumed that nothing would be accomplished). We enabled the residents to respond in other ways as well – email, telephone, etc. In the second meeting a lot of points and hesitations were raised regarding the designation of parking spaces. Again, the to-the-point discussion amongst all present brought about a formula that works. After the meeting, the community center staff and the regional municipal planner and director progressed in the technical areas related to the designation of parking spaces, as well as in work with all the street’s residents. A number of residents went from house to house and explained the situation and helped to designate the free parking spaces. Slowly, in discussions with tenant associations and additional residents, a map of agreed-upon designated parking spaces was formulated. There were definitely some residents who were more difficult to please, but correct work by the residents solved the problems one by one.

And it is happening as we speak – there’s just been the first day of painting the parking spaces, and the second day will take place next week. We definitely see the success of the process.

From our perspective, this is a significant case in which we showed that residents, staff and officials can cooperate together, without getting stuck in objections and bureaucracy. We believe that more and more processes like this in Jerusalem will create a more respectful atmosphere between city residents of different identities, less alienation between the residents and the ‘establishment’, and especially a feeling that the residents can be partners in the successes in the city and enjoy them. There are other successes in Arnona, Givat Messua, Baka’a and beginnings in Gonenim and Romema – but we will talk about that at a different opportunity.

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Open Space Event in Gilo – November 16, 2009

Exactly one year ago, the Community Center director of the Gilo neighborhood, Yaffa Shitrit, and the neighborhood’s community organizer, Naama, visited us at the JICC and asked for our help in creating a community dialogue process in Gilo. In the year that followed, we helped them to begin with in forming an active steering committee that would lead the process and define the need and approach for a community dialogue process in the neighborhood.

The process was based on several years of groundwork for empowering local activists. While participating in a Community Dialogue course at the JICC in 2004, Yaffa presented a unique and novel course-design that would bring professional staff and community leaders together in teams. Since then she has been developing and implementing these courses in Gilo, and their graduates now became the solid base for the current large-scale community dialogue process in the neighborhood.

From month to month, under the impressive leadership of the Community Center’s staff, both the group of activists and the agenda for the process took form. During this process the activists formulated the agenda and title for the first community gathering: “How are WE going to Transform Gilo to Our Dream Neighborhood – Attractive, Fun and with Excellent Quality of Life”.

The Invitation and Title of the Open Space Event

The Invitation and Title of the Open Space Event

On November 16, the process was put to the test. An Open Space Technology event was conducted, based on the impressive marketing abilities of the steering committee. When we first talked about this event we assumed it might attract 150 participants. Well, 360 actually came !!!

The Open Space Assembly

The Open Space Assembly

After the introductions to the evening, working groups were formed, according to participants’ passion and leadership. The groups first discussed their topics and then focused on initiatives that they now took the responsibility to promote. Some of the groups were big – around 60 participants; others were small – 20, 5 or even 2 participants. But in an Open Space event – the size does not matter. The discussion summaries from all the groups were gathered toward a booklet of insights and initiatives that will be produced and distributed in the neighborhood. The air was full of energy.

One of the Open Space Groups

One of the Open Space Groups

The Community Center took upon itself the responsibility to help the residents and activists in promoting their initiatives. This will be the next phase of this community dialogue process.

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2014-04-07T20:13:29+00:00November 16th, 2009|Blog, Gilo Community Dialogue, Inter-Cultural Community Dialogue|