Community planners in Jerusalem: the role, changes over time, and what works.


  • Galya Globerman Hebrew University
  • Dr. Emily Silverman


urban planning, Jerusalem, community planning, urban management, Roles in Planning




How do you manage a city whose residents are not only diverse, but also in conflict with each other? Diverse in terms of religion, language, culture, socio-economic power, and world views, and in a conflict that is rooted in history, geopolitics, and religion. It is a city of global importance, yet very much a place where individuals live their daily lives. 

In his 1988 Foreign Affairs essay, then-Mayor Teddy Kollek made the case for greater self-governance of Jerusalem’s different communities. This idea gave way to the establishment of Community Councils that would allow Palestinians, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and secular Jews a greater say in determining their urban landscape and daily life. Jerusalem’s Community Councils began opening their doors in various neighborhoods in the late 1980s, providing social and administrative services to residents. In 1998, the role of community planners (CP) became embedded in Community Councils. Community planners and the work they have engaged in have since played a role in shaping the city. 

My research sought to examine the role of these community planners, how it has changed over time, and how we can begin to evaluate success. As part of my research, I interviewed dozens of planners and key stakeholders and collected more than 60 stories of successes and failures. 

Drawing inspiration from Rohe’s (2009) chronology of neighborhood planning in the United States, we identified different time periods for CPs. We identified a period of growth and impact, followed by a drastic decline, to today, where CPs are neither thriving nor sinking. Their ability to be effective is very much influenced by the city’s leadership and the mayor’s tolerance for discourse, conflict, and public participation. The municipality's planning department has already taken an interest in these findings, potentially incorporating them with their work to evaluate CPs’ roles.

When examining their role, we identified three archetypes of CPs who then adopt one of two approaches. We found that CPs embrace, or are pushed toward, being primarily planners, organizers, or coordinators. Within these three main roles, they may engage in both bottom-up and top-down initiatives. Here, we showed that the role of community planners can be understood through different lenses. These findings are relevant to any institution that has community planners - in Jerusalem and beyond. The framing can help CPs and others make sense of their role, determine their priorities, and evaluate their purpose in each community. This impacts training, budget, and management regardless of where they work. 

Finally, there’s the evaluation of success. CPs in Jerusalem have operated without any discussion about what success entails. Despite this, we were still able to identify stories of resounding success. We found that successful community planners, or effective community planners, unknowingly adopt methods of strategic planning. This begs the question - should community planners be trained in strategic planning? If so, how can they, as strategic planners, fit into systems of centralized urban planning?

My research is lacking in some areas. First, I focused on 3 of the existing 28 community councils, and in an attempt to collect data that would be comparable in some way, I did not examine the role of community planners in East Jerusalem (Palestinian communities) or ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Second, I only began to scratch the surface of success in community planning. I hope more research on these topics will be conducted in the future. Despite these shortcomings, this research is the first of its kind in Jerusalem; moreso, its findings are relevant to other cities grappling with the role of community planners and different approaches toward urban governance.


Kollek, T., 1988. Sharing United Jerusalem. Foreign Aff., 67, p.156.

Rohe, W.M., 2009. From local to global: One hundred years of neighborhood planning. Journal of the American Planning Association, 75(2), pp.209-230.