More than 200 neighborhood activists, organizational representatives, city council members, business people, academics, and others participated in From Mixed to Shared: The Haifa Alternative, an international conference held by SHATIL on June 22-24 in cooperation with the European Association of Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA) and the Technion's Center for Urban and Regional Studies.
Welcoming the participants, NIF Israel Director Rachel Liel emphasized the goal of turning Haifa into a model for shared living. "With its tradition of tolerance, Haifa can help us establish an alternative that can be pursued elsewhere. And this is our goal here: to outline, with the activists, residents and professionals, a model where all can feel at home while holding on to their unique culture."
Participants were presented with the guidelines developed through in-depth research, surveys, round-tables and other means for shaping a shared city in which all residents feel a sense of ownership and belonging, as well as recommendations for advancing equality in education, planning, culture and employment.
These included practical steps to equalize budget allocations to different educational facilities, improve communities' accessibility to cultural events and more. Feedback from participants was documented, with the aim of refining the proposed guidelines and recommendations.
Also presented were the results of a study that assessed inter-community relations through discussions with 165 residents in 22 focus groups. The study shows that the majority of the town's residents live with a sort of cultural indifference exhibiting neither the desire to interact with members of other populations nor outright hostility. There is, however, a persistent concern about the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which overshadows relations during times of rising tensions.
Participants also benefited from experience in other parts of the world. Marco Boaria of ALDA presented models of citizen participation employed by diverse municipalities in Europe; speakers from Serbia and Ireland spoke about building shared societies in an environment saturated with conflict; and a representative of the Barcelona municipality presented a comprehensive plan for the integration of immigrants in the city's public life that allows for the preservation of their cultural identity.
"The conference's most notable success is that many of the people in the crowd were not the 'usual suspects' working for co-existence in the city – with which we are largely familiar," said Shahira Shalabi, the project's director. "It shows that there are many residents in the city who are indeed interested in the issue, and many of them committed to joining us in working to promote the vision of Haifa as a shared city."
The conference, simultaneously translated in Hebrew, Arabic and English, received extensive coverage in the local Hebrew, Arabic and Russian-language press as well as leading national radio programs.