Lakiya, a recognized Bedouin township, is one of the poorest communities in Israel, and suffers from a lack of adequate planning and infrastructure. This situation has led to a dearth of services and employment, as well as related environmental, social, and economic problems. Four years ago, in order to develop long-term strategic planning capacities, the Lakiya municipality embarked on the European Union-supported “Lakiya Creating Change” project in partnership with Shatil and Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights.
As a result of the project, a working group and steering committee that included local residents established a municipal Strategic Economic Planning Unit and launched projects to develop local commerce. Lakiya, like all Bedouin towns, lacks dedicated public spaces and the capacity to provide housing for its growing population. The project also produced three strategic master plans for promoting economic development, advancing the local tourism industry, and developing public services and buildings.
Meanwhile, “Lakiya Creating Change,” contended with a multitude of impediments, including constant turnover in Lakiya’s municipal staff. To ensure project continuity, project coordinators changed strategies when necessary, allowing for new and important developments to take place. With multiple national elections in Israel and the absence of a national budget for two years in a row stymied movement in government bureaucracies — including approval for the alternative outline plan, Bimkom shifted gears, and began developing housing solutions for landless residents who would not benefit from this plan.
The onset of COVID-19 exacerbated pre-existing deficits in the town—Lakiya residents suffer from insufficient access to healthcare and information, food insecurity, and inadequate digital connectivity. On these issues, municipal officials worked together to create sustainable emergency response mechanisms, such as the first local ambulance service and a municipal hotline. They distributed hundreds of computers and tablets to families in need, and secured a NIS 1.3 million government grant for upgrading Lakiya’s internet infrastructure.
Later, when Lakiya residents reached out to Shatil for help opposing a proposed railroad through the town, Shatil and Bimkom helped create a residents’ committee that campaigned to block it, and investigated alternative routes.
Respondents to an end-of-project evaluation survey wrote about the changes they had experienced: “Prior to this project, the municipality was occupied with responding to whatever was most pressing at any given moment. This project has given the municipality the impetus to initiate long-range strategic planning processes.”
Other participants spoke of the importance of public participation:
“It was important for us to be partners in the planning process, to try and influence policies so our housing needs would be taken into account.” And, “the project allowed us a process of participation through collaborative planning.”