Or Akiva is a development town on the northern coastal plain, situated between Caesarea (Hof HaCarmel) and Binyamina. Established as a small settlement in 1951, it is now the second largest town in the area, with a population of about 20,000. Or Akiva is composed of five main neighborhoods, largely divided according to ethnic and cultural background and between veteran immigrants (from North Africa, Poland and Russia) and new immigrants (mainly from the FSU, but also Europe and the USA). There are few sources of local employment, most of which consist of low-skilled jobs. About 40% of the population live below the poverty line, and there is a high unemployment rate (over 10% in 2005).
Bimkom was asked to run a workshop for residents who were motivated by the idea of implementing local planning projects. In the course of the workshop, participants were introduced to a number of basic planning tools, public participation and research methods, such as: how to gather planning information using survey and mapping techniques; how to obtain information from the municipality; how to analyze a plan and submit a planning objection; and how to press the authorities to address immediate environmental planning problems in the town. One issue of particular interest to participants was the rehabilitation and development of the Ada stream and its surrounding area as a resource to revitalize the economy and improve Or Akiva’s image.
The workshop introduced them to initiatives that had taken place elsewhere in the country and abroad, helped them analyze the existing statutory plans concerning the stream and encouraged them to explore possible solutions for the rehabilitation and development of the Ada stream. From the ideas that emerged, the group produced a set of principles that would guide their development vision, and drew a preliminary action plan covering a range of themes, issues and tasks for the group to advance.
Following the workshop, participants intend to monitor the development of the new outline plans for Or Akiva, with a particular focus on the Ada Stream and the town center. Another outcome has been the creation of an educational project in schools designed to raise awareness of the ecological importance of the stream and other social, historical and archaeological aspects related to Or Akiva. Members of the group have also initiated a number of actions to press the municipality to address various environmental hazards and nuisances they identified in the course of the workshop.
An interesting outgrowth of our work in Or Akiva, was the implementation of a workshop on planning rights and public participation that Bimkom ran for elected representatives on the Shomron regional planning committee, in which the Mayor of Or Akiva and representatives of surrounding towns took part.