We’re feeling a bit of parental pride these days. With assistance from the UJA-Federation of New York, we’ve been working intensively with residents in the Talpiot – Arnona area in methods of deliberative democracy. The goals – engage residents in their community, enable them to take ownership of their community, making it a place they want to be, and stemming years of negative migration of Jerusalem’s young families and professionals.
When we began, the Arnona-Talpiot area was officially part of the Greater Baka’a Community Council catchment area. However, residents did not cross Derech Hebron to the main Community Council facility to receive services, nor did the Community Council staff make efforts to include Talpiot-Arnona residents in its activities. From a community standpoint, it was dormant – no community events; its commercial centers were quiet, barren places; no more than 3-4 children were found in playgrounds at one time.
Last fall we began working with the Community Council, the newly-elected neighborhood committee members from the area, and interested residents. We helped them form several task teams that concentrated on bringing about practical change throughout the neighborhood in a number of areas: the environment, public spaces, Jewish-Arab coexistence, local security, forming community gardens, and more.
This activity seemed to wake up the community, and developments were quick to come. This process had given residents a chance to take responsibility for their neighborhood, to influence the public sphere, to initiate projects, to become a part of the decision-making process, together with the Community Council, and they scooped up the opportunity. The original task teams bore additional ideas for action, which, in a period of only a few months, led to the idea of a huge, neighborhood-wide event, open to the entire city, celebrating Arnona’s 90th anniversary. The fact that the event grew from idea to fruition in only a few short months – returning vibrancy to the neighborhood – is a tribute to the transformation that has taken place over the past year.
The positive ripple effects were felt near and far. Residents rallied to the cause. Institutions, organizations, businesses and local artists – all wanted to be a part, to contribute to help make the event an amazing one. Their reward – a renewed sense of community in Arnona, a feeling of pride and solidarity.
The afternoon – evening of May 23 was chock full of events, from the fairs and performances in the neighborhood commercial center to community garden to Shai Agnon’s house to exhibits in artists’ homes, to tours of the community. (Click here for the event’s web site in Hebrew). “We are happy to invite you to a community event, the product of the community processes we held over the past year,” reads the invitation’s accompanying letter. “Over the past months we have held a number of meetings with residents in which task teams were formed that deal with many areas. [That’s where we came in, by the way.] We are surprised to discover how diverse and how many community institutions there are in the neighborhood…We invite everyone, children and adults, to participate in the event and to enjoy a wonderful chance to start on a new path in the neighborhood.”
We can safely say the event accomplished its goal. People came out from their hibernation, met friends and neighborhoods, got to know a little about the neighborhood in which they live. The commercial center has never seen so many people. People attended the artists’ open houses, as well as tours of the neighborhood. Indeed, the feeling of pride and excitement – and a new beginning – was palpable at all the event venues.
Residents, together with institutions in the neighborhood and staff from the Community Council, were the ones who did all the work. But we’re still taking kvelling rights on this one, and we’re proud of our part in the process.