Ramla in its entirety has been a participant in the Israel Ministry of Construction and Housing’s “Neighborhood Rehabilitation” (Shikum Schunot) program, established in 1977. The invitation to visit the city was extended by Dr. Tzvi Vinstein, who has been involved in the program for many years, and he posed the questions: Where is the program heading? What is its future? The program financially assists residents to renovate and remodel their homes; recently the program has stopped giving assistance in planning and supervision because of limited resources. The current political climate was described as less generous in regards to the program, severely limiting its ability to give grants and initiate projects.
Mishkanot Weitzman neighborhood in Ramla would be the site wherein these questions would be tested. Quickly the harsh reality of residents distaste for the project was felt, with accounts of remodeling projects that within a year of their completion had started to show first signs of deterioration. The neighborhood required multiple visits, including a meeting with the city engineer and secretary of the municipality, who organized a tour of the cities historical sites, as well as traditional observations, interviews and visits to local households.
Ramla is a large and active absorber of new immigrants, with new residents coming from at least 15 different countries. The city’s interest in absorption is most likely based on demographic considerations, as it wishes to sustain a Jewish majority in a mixed Jewish-Arab environment. The Jewish-Arab conflict, while out of site, was apparent through conversations with residents.
While exploring the neighborhood, residents encountered described a warm feeling of community and belonging to the city, others expressed a strong feeling of family. In Ramla the residents understand something that many residents of many neighborhoods and cities do not, that the dream of “Clearance and Redevelopment” (Pinuy Binuy) won’t save them and they don’t expect it to. Behind the cracked walls, peeling, crumbling plaster and broken shutters exists a warm, special and strong community – maybe not the most financially successful, but human and good. There is magic to be found in the city, and the challenge of renewing and rehabilitating its yards, gardens and buildings without sacrificing its authenticity and character, is a welcome one.
‘The Israeli Habitat: Neve Savyon Neighborhood, Or Yehuda’, Laboratory for Contemporary Urban Design,
Tel Aviv University, Israel, February 2011