Quote from John Forester’s “The Deliberative Practitioner: Encouraging Participatory Planning Processes”:

To begin to explore the deliberative aspects of planning and design practise, listen first to the story of Arie Rahamimoff, an architect-planner born in Bulgaria, trained in Israel and Finland, having taught in the United States (at Harvard and the University of New Mexico) and in Germany as well. Rahamimoff tells us about historic preservation and economic development, about tourism and social policy, about professional blinders and consensus building all at once. We can consider his story in his own words, but in several parts. This historic port city of Akko in Isreal lies just north of and across the bay from Haifa, less than an hour’s drive south of the Lebanese borders, with Nazareth a half-hour’s drive to the east. The walled Old City is a predominantly Arab section of the larger modern city of Akko that has developed around it.

Rahamimoff described first the physical and social setting:

The project I’m working on in Akko is an exciting one. We have to deal with an entire city, a walled Old City … a coastal city, and a city that has several layers, the most significant … dating from the periods of the Crusaders and the Ottomans.

Imagine! All the kings of Europe come to Jerusalem to conquer the Holy Land. For two years they rode to the Mediterranean, to the Middle East … with the vision that this part of the world should be Christian. And they build Akko as the port, as a starting point, like a springboard into the Holy Land. So actually you get a transmission of culture here from Europe into the Middle East.

You have here the meeting place between the universal culture, expressed by the Crusaders, bringing the Romanesque and early Gothic architecture into the Middle East, and on the other hand, you have local vernacular. This is a wonderful meeting place.

At the same time there is another dimension to this, and that’s the local population: People who have been living here, or trying to make their living out of the sea or out of crafts, out of traditions.

And then there is another dimension, too, tourism, which is very interesting for me: the meeting between the local population and tourism. This is one of the major phenomena of modern life: We want tourism, but we don’t want to change our way of life.

What we’re trying to do is to understand the city in its many layers. It’s a very complex situation, because you have to deal not only with 12th and 13th century stones, but you have to deal with people’s hopes and expectations, and their poor conditions of living and unemployment.

Now, for many years, the government policy was that this should be just for tourism. It’s a wonderful tourist site. But we felt that tourism cannot—and should not—be disconnected from the local population. So we’ve had to understand how we could actually articulate that….

The concept for many years was to develop tourism just along the water line of the Old City, because tourists are interested in the water…. But the few thousands of people living there, were of little interest to the people … dealing with tourism, who said, “Let us deal with tourism, and they can do what they want! Or maybe nothing will happen and the city will deteriorate further….”

We thought that there’s no way to supply tourist services if you don’t deal with the entire complexity of the Old City. For example, the educational system outside the Old City is much better than inside it. So we had to understand the needs of this population, in terms of kindergartens, nurseries, day care centers and services for the elderly people, and this is what actually we’re working on….

Now, it took a long time, a great part of my efforts, to convince the government that you can’t have tourists if you don’t deal with the entire population, and with the real needs of these populations. I’ll give you an example.

I walked here, on one of my first visits to the harbor, and there was a fisherman drying his nets in this caravanserai, this courtyard where the caravans rested. There was a group of tourists walking around, and they walked on top of his nets. I thought that this was an expression, a brutal expression, of alienation. They may be going to the restaurant to eat his fish, but they didn’t see the person, he was transparent. They just walked right on his nets, and then they went to the restaurant to get fish. And I felt he was being alienated, he was not treated as a human being, but was kept as someone who provided services, that’s all. I thought that we had to respond to that.

…There is no high school here that meets the national standard, so we are locating the main school (and this is now approved!) right at the northern boundary—so that the population from the Old City and the population from the new city can really meet at the walls…. This is a social concept that responds to the structure of the Old City.

Setting out that context, Rahamimoff next described the planning and design process:

So … we had to convince the government to see the Old City as an entity. To do that, first of all we had to make it clear that there are no “tourist-only” services: there is no pavement for tourists which is separate from the pavements for the residents; there is no infrastructure just for the tourists, and no infrastructure just for the residents. We have to see the holistic qualities of the city.

They said in the beginning, “We only have money for the outer edge, for the waterfront, for tourism, and not enough for the inside of the city.” But we said that this would be like giving headache pills to a patient who may have cancer. Because the problem is real: There is no infrastructure—the infrastructure has not been taken care of for a few hundred years. So you have to supply infrastructure for all of the Old City.

It took awhile to explain this! Now the government is in full agreement with this concept, and we’re getting good money to restructure the infrastructure of the whole city—but this took not one meeting, but maybe two hundred meetings.

What happens when we meet with them? I have, I think, half a square kilometer of drawings, and they’re presented, and we have a series of discussions, and I think it makes sense, because we don’t have another alternative.

There is no other alternative: you can’t really have hotels here near the water when there’s unemployment, drugs, poor infrastructure fifty meters away from you. You won’t succeed with the hotel. Now, the alternative is to build hotels further down the coast, but then nobody will be able to walk here at the edge of Old City. We thought this would be disintegrating the space, the whole city and the whole region.

I think our discussions on the whole project created a different climate, a different understanding of the potentials of the Old City of Akko. With Akko on the Mediterranean, you can approach it by land, from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and Nazareth, but you can also approach it from Turkey, from Greece, or from France, as it was historically. So there are different dimensions to the city. We’re interested in all these dimensions, and … there’s a physical expression to urban form that responds to the origins of the city,… which was built by the Crusaders in the 12th century, but … also built by the Phoenicians who came from the north before the time of the Christ. It was built by early Israelites, and the Egyptians posted people here, too. We’ve calculated 8 or 10 major layers.

A colleague, Raphaël Fischler, and I then asked Rahamimoff about the demands of such works: “What does it take with an architectural background to keep working relationships with the governments, the local population, and the municipality, to work effectively? What do you need to bring into play in addition to your architectural training?”

He replied in a way that surprised us:

Basically we have to deal with consensus-building: what we’re actually trying to achieve is a broader understanding of how things should be done. We’re trying to utilize our resources in such a way that we achieve a consensus so we can utilize it.

For example, the Antiquities Authority is getting money from the government for archaeological excavations here. In many cases the archaeologists are interested in finding out what was in the past—it’s exciting, especially in a place like this, because every day you find all the “goodies” in the ground: they have unearthed unbelievable findings here, unearthed and also un-watered, because in the harbor here, there are about 28 archaeological sites under water. There are docks, and there are sunken boats, and there is the lighthouse—very exciting things….

But in most cases archaeologists are not interested in tourism. They’ll tell you: “We have a plan to work here for a hundred years, so please come back in a hundred years, and we’ll hand it over to you, so you can do what ever tourism you want.”

Now, I’m exaggerating, because actually I’m very lucky to work with people like … the chief architect for preservation here, and he’s very interested in Akko, and we’re trying to find a way that we could utilize the archaeological findings to expose them in a controlled way to tourists, and to improve the economic basis of this population. Because if you have some sources of income, for example, for the local population that is interested in archaeology, in preservation, being tourist guides, dealing with the economic activities around tourism, it can work out very nicely.

Here we asked, “But how do you, as the consulting team leader, work between the antiquities people, the tourism people, and the local people to try to build this consensus?” He explained:

This isn’t a hocus pocus situation, it’s a process. I mean it’s not a miracle making thing. It’s a process of trying to understand the needs, trying to understand the opportunities, and trying to understand the red lines of each discipline, what’s a taboo, what cannot be done, what they will not accept. There are few things that the archaeologist will not accept, there are other things that the local population will not accept, there are a few things that the tourist people and the municipality insist on as essentially important for them, and I’m interested in trying to understand each part of this complex matrix of interests.

This is something which is going on. For one thing, we have to build the confidence of the local population, that we mean work. We have to build the confidence of … the holding agency for the government: that economically by joining resources this will be good for everybody, that one plus one is more than two. Again, this is a synergistic concept. If you do something which is good for many of the components of the matrix, it would create a richer whole and a more meaningful entity that has a better economic base. So this is what I’m trying to do, step by step, one meeting at a time.

Rahamimoff finally summed up this kind of consensus building:

In this process, with the municipality, the tourism people, the antiquities staff, we’re learning from each other. And this finally gets expressed in a scheme. But you have to share this process with other people, there’s no other way. You’re learning from other people, and hopefully they learn from you, and then you build a consensus, an agreement, an understanding of how things should work out. This is difficult to describe; it’s a dynamic situation. It’s not that you have understood what everybody wants and you bring it all into a coherent scheme, but the whole situation’s changing all the time. When we presented our scheme, everybody was invited, and 70 people came to a meeting, local residents, and they had never seen a plan before.

The schemes were alienating the population, when we presented them. So there is a great amount of distrust, and you have to show your plan and hear comments and keep your eyes open and your ears open and be ready to make a change because you heard something that made sense. This is the process of building a broader consensus which is even more exciting and even more complex, and, I think, it requires changing the plan again, which I think is O.K. And if you’re ready to do it, because you think it will be a better plan, then your client will also be ready to do it.

I listen, and I try to speak in more depth with some of the people that had some ideas, and I have to check it with my client, and that’s how you build confidence. You show that you are listening and that you are ready to change your plans. We’re ready to try and convince the authorities that there’s a point there. This is all happening now so I can’t show you yet how it has worked out. But this is what I have been doing for the past year.

Listening in deliberation is crucial but insufficient, for if listening does not lead to subsequent action, to the possibility that what is heard can actually make a difference, then such listening becomes merely condescension, wasting or manipulating others’ time, an act less of taking the other seriously than of insulting them by failing to respond to their deeply felt concerns.

Rahamimoff suggests the moral challenges of deliberation here. Listening to the criticisms and ideas of affected people implies the potential recognition of new concerns, the re-recognition and re-thinking of value, strategies, consequences, and implications. But all this is done “contingently,” without guarantees, as matters of effort and direction: “We’re ready to try and convince the authorities that there’s a point there. This is all happening now so I can’t show you yet how it has worked out. But this is what I have been doing for the past year.”