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132, April 2009 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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The Art of the Resilient Long View Efficient Planning in an Uncertain Land
By Badawi Qawasmi and Sami Aburoza
The Palestinian struggle is intimately linked with the issue of land. Land is central to growth, freedom, and ultimately statehood. It is beyond doubt that the many constraints and challenges in the form of Israeli physical and administrative control imposed on the use of our own land limit our ability to plan with long-term certainty. However, rather than accept the status quo and continue to plan, build on, and develop our land and communities in a short-term and ad-hoc fashion, we are in dire need of adopting a planning approach that anticipates the needs of future development, allows for the design and use of a genuine public space, and ultimately exhibits a high degree of respect for the beauty and importance of our land, cities, and villages. If land and freedom are the core issues of Palestinian aspirations, let us value the art of efficient planning as an essential instrument of who we are and how we relate to our space and each other.

Private versus Public Space
It is immensely difficult to plan effectively in one’s own country if someone else is exerting pressure to force you off your own land by building on top of you as if you did not or should not exist. The Israeli military occupation significantly reduces control over our land, transforming it into ever-decreasing, dissected, and non-contiguous enclaves that prevent us from seeing beyond the day-to-day immediate needs to cope with this territorially disabling reality. One dramatic and recurring example that comes to mind is the helplessness of Palestinian municipalities and town councils in planning for the construction of much-needed wastewater treatment plants. By definition, such facilities must be located at a distance from residential areas, taking into consideration issues of topography for optimal collection of influent from the serviced catchment basin as well as the environmental impacts of effluent discharge. For many years now, efforts undertaken by the Ramallah Municipality to build a wastewater treatment plant for large and ever-expanding parts of the city and neighbouring localities have been hindered by lack of administrative approvals from the Israeli side to proceed with such plans due to the restrictions of land use in Area C, which encircles all Palestinian cities and in total comprises about 60 percent of the West Bank.

As a consequence, our mindset and habits have focused on establishing personal security in an insecure environment: holding on to our own piece of land and building, placing fences and walls around them, preventing us from sharing and appreciating the multiple benefits of public space. Fences and walls are visible indicators of fear and lack of trust in law enforcement to protect private property. The subsequent clear-cut physical and perceptual division of the private and public space has manifested itself through predominantly individual “planning” and construction with the detrimental consequence of literally un-building the potential for an integrated and beneficial public space. For example, private owners often maximize their built-up areas through legal loopholes, effectively reducing the available parking space for the residents or employees who use their buildings, forcing them to park on the street, which in turn leads to a higher congestion level, inhibiting traffic and rendering the private property a less appealing location. This is a standard example of how the intention of maximizing private interests that invade collective and public space actually defeats the intended purpose.

Reactive Fixing vs. Active Planning
Often the planning phase is skipped and impatience to construct and build suppresses much-needed time, rushing into projects and discovering problems during implementation. Suspending time early on is crucial in order to consider and overcome problems during the execution phase and avoid a sequence of re-works.

An example of re-work relates to the case in which roads are finalised and paved and at a later stage excavated to integrate electricity and water lines that efficient planning could have anticipated. Re-work is highly costly, both in labour and capital. Of course, efficient planning requires initially more capital, but so does re-work. In the long run re-work is by far more costly than efficient long-term planning with additional capital for public infrastructure up front.

Adopting an active, inclusive, and forward-looking planning approach will reduce the reactive habits of fitting in and fixing “things” at a later stage. Why not provide a water line that can serve more than one house? Why not construct roads in a way that guarantees multiple transportation modalities and provides safety for pedestrians?

Al-Reehan Sub-Urban Development
The project team of Al-Reehan, which is the pilot housing project of the Palestine Investment Fund, has invested a lot of time and effort in coordinating with and including all relevant stakeholders, such as PA ministries, municipalities, village councils, and utility providers, to accommodate interests and plan in an anticipatory and collaborative fashion. The sub-urban community of Al-Reehan is located in the north-west of Ramallah and will eventually attract between eight and nine thousand inhabitants.

The scale of the project requires seeing and painting the larger picture. This long-term view includes matching the public infrastructure phase with the housing construction phase as a crucial planning ingredient; relieving the pressure on existing social infrastructure by allocating land within the project for schools, faith centres, and multi-use areas for residents; developing pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods that reduce the number of motorised transportation routes with their many negative side effects; designing roads in a hierarchical manner that channels and disseminates traditionally heavy and congested traffic problems; mixing land-use types in the same area to create an integrated harmony between private homes and public space.
The benefits of such a collaborative and forward-looking approach are self-evident: meeting the high housing demand through an integrative public-private investment partnership model, overcoming the dilemma of re-work, and providing state-of-the-art public infrastructure that anticipates future growth and expansion and allows for different possible development scenarios in the surrounding region of Al-Reehan.

The long-term costs of a short-term vision by far exceed the time and capital-intensive building of public infrastructure that forecasts future needs and accommodates expansion. Efficient planning is a relationship between the now and the tomorrow; it is not a static point to meet immediate needs, but a dynamic and enabling path for future growth. We do not know the future, but we can plan on our land in a manner that ensures that we have one.

In the coming issues of This Week in Palestine the authors will illustrate the case of the Palestinian city of Ramallah and explore the potential to address some of its urban infrastructure challenges.

The authors are currently engaged with the Palestine Investment Fund’s Real Estate Investment Department. Badawi Qawasmi is a civil engineer and project manager who graduated from Stanford University in 2006. Sami Aburoza is a policy advisor who graduated from Harvard University in 2005. They can be reached at and, respectively.

Article photos courtesy of Palestine Investment Fund.
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