Everyone agrees; Israel needs to wean off its Tel Aviv addiction. It's time to stop cramping in one extremely densely populated spot, and spread out. Israel is about to go through a huge population surge, so it's especially urgent that this happen now.
Meanwhile, in the Negev and Galilee, there are small cities that are desperate to grow – and have loads of space to do so! Some of these cities have been stuck for decades, watching as all their talented and accomplished youth leave for Tel Aviv, seeing a better future for themselves in the big city. But what if they'd all stay? And what if more promising young people would choose to spread into Negev and Galilee cities? The truth is, quality of life is way higher in the more spacious areas, where a large family home is affordable, and children have space to safely run around and enjoy nature.
When done right, building beautiful new neighborhoods in Negev and Galilee cities is a win-win for everyone. The country's center is less crowded, the newcomers can afford a better quality of life, and the entire city gets lifted up right along with them. At OR Movement, we're helping many of these cities build new neighborhoods – and most importantly, we're helping to bring the right people. We want motivated people who believe their city can be the best place to live, and will put in the effort to make it so. Bringing the right pioneers will get the ball rolling – they'll start a positive growth in their cities that just keeps going. The right people can lift a city from the bottom up.
Many of these people come from the city itself – that young talent that would otherwise move out, when empowered to stay, know exactly how to help their city improve – because they grew up there. Then there are those who left, but later realized that their hometown actually has the greatest potential, and they're ready to help bring it out with their new experiences. Combined them with newcomers who are inspired by Zionistic ideals and want to build a better Israel, and we have the perfect team. These are the people who will build better communities in Israel, and spread the socioeconomic sustainability to all of Israel's corners.
Ofakim and Sefad are two Negev and Galilee cities who realize this strategy, and are changing the game of urban development.
Ofakim: Build the People First
Ofakim is known as one of the most socially disadvantaged cities in Israel. Established in 1955 by immigrants from Morocco and Tunisia, the city found itself continuously overwhelmed with influxes of refugees from North Africa, and a lack of appropriate education and absorption facilities. At first, most of the population survived through their employment in the textile industry. In the 1980s, the city entered a crisis as all the factories shut their doors and relocated to countries with lower labor costs, rendering much of the city unemployed. Then, while the residents were still struggling with the lack of employment and education, the 90s brought a large amount of soviet refugees, creating a tense battle over the few jobs available.
In 1997, the city had the highest unemployment rate in Israel, at 15.3%. Today, the second generation is suffering the consequences of their neglected history. The average Ofakim student fails school, and only a third gain acceptance to university. The population survives on minimum wages, and sees no hope for their future. Most of the youth desert the city in search of something better. To top it off, Ofakim is just 14 miles from the Gaza border, the community has suffered deep trauma over the last years of conflict; lives were lost, infrastructure damaged, and the people disheartened.
But that's all changing, fast. Ofakim is beginning to see some promising new developments, such as a new train station to bring commuters to work in Tel Aviv; a Collective Impact project bringing organizations to work together on improving Ofakim's quality of life; renovations of a scenic river park through the city’s new center; and their enthusiastic new mayor, Itzik Danino, who has done much work to raise the city’s quality of life and education standards.
This all makes Ofakim the perfect spot for a beautiful new neighborhood called "Park Neighborhood," which will be ideal for young families who work along the train line, or in the nearby industrial parks. The neighborhood will be right next to the new river park, and include all the ideal community infrastructure. Upon completion, "Park Neighborhood" will total over 1,155 private homes, 200 studio apartments and assisted living units, and 50 commercial units – all totaling an estimate of over 6,000 residents. This will increase Ofakim's population by 24%.
But this neighborhood isn't just about constructing houses: it's about bringing the right people together. Here's where the municipality of Ofakim, together with OR Movement, is switching things up. Even before construction is complete, and long before anyone moves in, the future residents are becoming a strong community, empowered to bring positive energy to the city.
This past month, OR Movement and the city of Ofakim co-hosted an event for the future residents of the neighborhood's first phase of 161 homes. Ahead of the event, each resident received a personal welcome letter from the Mayor of Ofakim, along with a map listing their future neighbors. At the event, the enthusiastic attendees signed up for community volunteer positions. Soon, they will begin planning community events with the city, even before moving in.
We're excited about Ofakim's bright future, and the incredible people working to bring it alive. There's no doubt that one day it will be a popular city for high quality of life.
Sefad: Ready to Grow
The ancient city of Safed has always been known for its mystical qualities, but not quite for financial success. Its unemployment rate is twice the national average, and so is its population growth rate. Over a quarter of city residents receive social welfare assistance. Beautiful Sefad has been struggling for too long – now its time to achieve socioeconomic sustainability
Over a year ago we began working with the city of Safed on plans for a new neighborhood called "Mitzpeh Yamim." The neighborhood is named for the breathtaking view residents will enjoy; from the local hilltops, both the Sea of the Galilee, and the Mediterranean Sea can be seen.
OR Movement committed to branding and marketing the neighborhood, specifically to attract a target audience of idealistic young professionals who will contribute to the economy of Safed, and build an attractive community.
In helping Negev and Galilee cities to grow, sometimes our job is to define the challenges and provide the talent and manpower to solve them.
More recently, the city relayed to us their struggle in gathering the interest of quality investors and contractors in the neighborhood – two attempts at events were met with empty rooms. Our marketing team stepped in and began calling the country's best in real estate development. We booked a conveniently located event hall in Herzliya, and designed impressive invitations. We had to work extra hard to move the professionals past the notion that there's no money in Sefad, and to see it's promising future instead.
As an incentive to the contractors, we worked with the Ministry of Housing and Construction to improve the "Machir Lemishtaken" project conditions for the contractors (the project provides subsidies to contractors in certain areas, on condition of price caps when selling to first-time buyers). The neighborhood will now be highly cost-effective to both the contractors and residents alike.
The event was held on the 23rd of October, with a packed room, filled with the best contractors, entrepreneurs, and investors. Ilan Shohat, the Mayor of Safed, and Housing Ministry Senior Department Manager, Benny Dreyfus, and Galilee Director Shlomo Feivlovitch gave impressive presentations, with slides prepared and designed by our OR Movement marketing team, displaying the neighborhood's exciting opportunities.
Everyone was impressed. The message was clear: Sefad is ready to grow.
Together we're building the future of Israel.
To help us bring pioneers to the Negev and Galilee, donate here.