Urban Labs - From Theory to Practice
From Theory to Practice – Urban Labs
The “Urban Labs” of the Urban Sustainability Project are local pilots aimed at mapping the opportunities and barriers in realizing the sustainable city vision, as was defined in the first part of the project. Through field research and experimentation, the Urban Labs explore the potential for behavioural changes towards a more sustainable lifestyle, by looking at topics of the Sharing Economy, Local Economy, Transportation, Waste Separation,Community, and Design.
At the end of 2014 (the second year of the project), we talked about the fact that the labs came into being in order to examine, on the local/practical scale, the topics and ideas brought up at the theoretical background stage of the project.
We are proud to present the initial insights gained from the labs.
For the final publication of the project, see here
Urban Labs – Holon
In Holon, two Urban Labs were conducted in cooperation with the Municipality of Holon and with the help of the Strategic Planning Unit headed by Tamar Shroytman. The labs are coordinated by Yoav Egozi and managed and run together with Sharon Band-Hevroni, Hagai Kot, and Professor Erel Avineri.
One of the labs deals with the topic of the sharing economy. It looks into two examples: the development of a parent-based ride-sharing/carpooling platform for children commuting to after-school activities and creating a platform for sharing of baby-products. The other lab examines the topic of promoting and supporting the local economy.
The Sharing Economy: Ride-Sharing/Carpooling for After-School Activities:
This lab was aimed at exploring the opportunities and barriers for developing a ride-sharing/ carpooling system for after-school activities, by analyzing the case-study of the ‘Re’im’ municipal dance center. The center has a broad range of activities and caters for children of all ages from different areas in the city and outside Holon.
In early conversations with the Local Community Council workers and the dance centre teams, we understood the issue of transportation to and from the center is a significant factor in the parents’ decision for what activity to enroll their child to.
Urban Sustainability Project assumes that the city has a greater potential to move from private consumption to collaborative consumption that could reduce the total consumption and help build the community. Driving children to after-school activities is a familiar issue for parents in Israel. It consumes time, causes traffic jams and congestion. Some parents, but not all of them, get together to arrange carpools. The aim of the lab is to learn about the motives and barriers to creating a ride-sharing/carpooling system and offer an outline, including the characterisation of a ride-sharing platform and the ways of its implementation. The research methodology included a workshop conducted with parents of children who use the center.
Some of the Key Insights Resulted From the Workshop:
- Trust is a central issue. Parents are concerned about being able to trust the driving parents, whether they are cautious drivers, will they take care of my child and escort them all the way to the center. Some parents raised concerns regarding child abuse and sexual abuse.
- The question of organization and coordination – if the “Re’im Centre” is in the center of the ride-sharing arrangement, how to make sure not to create another job for the center’s team, which is already too busy?
- The question of responsibility – who will be in charge of the operational logistics in the limited resources the center has? Who takes responsibility if something goes wrong?
The following conclusions have been drawn out of this workshop:
- Familiarity and acquaintances are crucial, at least to kick-start the process. The system should rely on more or less regular groups of people who have a basic familiarity with one another.
- There is a need to find creative solutions to the non-egalitarian distribution of burdens among the participants (those who own vehicles and those who don’t, and those who are always available to drive and those who are not).
- The children’s age differences should be taken into consideration.
- The possibility for a digital application – which will create a three-way connection between parent-child, parent-driver, and the dance center – should be sought.
The Sharing Economy: Sharing Baby-products
This lab looks into how parents could be encouraged to share baby-products. Many parents can identify with the feeling of wastefulness when buying expensive baby-products and using it very little if they use it at all.
The research methodology in this lab included interviews with parents at the children’s center in Holon – ‘Tif ve Taf’. We asked them about their consumption and use patterns, their motivation in taking part in sharing baby-products, and about possible barriers.
The following are some of the insights gained from the interviews:
• There is a cultural and perceptual barrier concerning the idea of sharing (e.g. “used product is for the poor”) and logistical issues are much less of a barrier.
• Parents of first child feel that purchasing these products are an investment for their future children.
• The desire to own “mine only” equipment.
• Fear of hygiene issues when not knowing who the previous users were.
• Complex, and not necessarily consistent, conceptions about web sites for second-hand products. Some people thought it was only for giving away products, and not for accepting products. Or that websites such as ‘Yad2’ encourage making a profit over those who exchange, and not sell, second-hand products. Therefore, it is not “profitable” to give away products.
• The importance of acquaintance and trust. As in the issue of ride-sharing, it was found that it is easier for parents to accept products from people they have some kind of acquaintance with – even if it is superficial, random or as a third party – rather than taking something from a total stranger.
The lab’s team recommends the following steps to overcome the challenges and barriers:
• Designing, branding, and marketing of baby-products sharing platform is essential to make it an attractive and socially acceptable behavior rather than an act of need.
• Developing a technological solution with a simple and convenient interface, classified by types of products – similar to the regular shopping websites.
• Initiating events to familiarize the users with one another and build trust.
• Creation of a hygiene Protocol (transparency) supervised by a doctor. Creation of safety standards, etc.
• It is recommended to start with products that are easier to handle and that arouse less fear, such as games, books, and baby strollers.
In both labs, trust and anxiety came up as central issues and barriers to the sharing economy. The third stage of the project will explore the ways in which this problem could be overcome and would publish its conclusions with policy packages for urban sustainability.
The Local Economy: Sadab local shopping center in Holon
This lab examines the ways to strengthen the internal economic activity of the neighborhood and create mutual responsibility that will keep more of the residents’ money in their neighborhood and help build a stronger community. The Sadab local shopping center is a longstanding local shopping center in the Ben-Gurion neighborhood in southwest Holon that has to compete with big shopping malls in neighboring Rishon LeTziyon.
The research included a survey and a meeting with the manager of the local shopping center and over 20 business owners. It also included in-depth interviews with the head of the local community council and her team, a tour of the neighborhood, and a meeting with active residents of the neighborhood.
• The Community Center has the ability to build community. To maximize this ability, there is also a need to take the activities outside the community center, to the neighborhood, in general, and the public space of the commercial center in particular.
• At the same time, there is a need to use the local commercial center as a central place for an economic activity that goes out of the center’s boundaries, into the neighborhood.
• There is a need to develop recreational activities within the commercial center, besides consumerism.
• The importance of creating connections between traders in order to promote ownership and responsibility for the commercial space.
• The importance of creating community, dialogue and cooperation, to motivate a sustainable activity.
• In case the population doesn’t attach to the value of sustainability, there is a need to start with behavioral change as a precursor to a change in awareness.
• To develop local consumption patterns in a neighborhood commercial center, there is a need for mobilization of all stakeholders of the local authority to define clear objectives, even if it is about a private property that is not owned by the authority.
• To build fundamental trust with the traders, it is recommended that the municipality promotes confidence-building moves on its end and put resources to the benefit of the process as an incentive.
• It is recommended to combine in the process a representative of the community center – who knows to build trust and understanding with business owners – and representatives of the business licensing and operation bodies that will add their professional input to the process.
SADAB CENTER AND ‘THE STAIRS’
Urban Labs – Ashdod
In Ashdod, two Urban Labs were conducted in cooperation with the Municipality and with the help of the Strategic Planning Unit headed by Ester Pilos. One lab dealt with the issue of promoting sustainable ways of commuting to work (as opposed to the use of a private vehicle) and was led by Professor Erel Avineri and Dr. Yodan Rofe. The other lab dealt with the issue of waste separation as a tool for promoting community-building and was led by Idit Elhasid from “Community.”
Change in employees’ mobility:
How to encourage municipality employees to use sustainable means of transport for commuting to work? How do you change a social norm?
This lab dealt with understanding the municipality’s commuting habits and trying to understand how a shift from using a private vehicle to more sustainable transport (public transport, cycling or even walking) could be encouraged.
Some initial insights:
The research began by mapping the current commuting habits through a position/attitude questionnaire regarding transport. Also, three workshops were held with different levels of position-holders and decision-makers in the municipality to discuss ways that could encourage more sustainable commuting. The discussions in the workshop revealed that most of the employees in the municipality commute to work using private vehicles.
• Using a private car to commute to work is considered a social norm and represents status in the workplace. This leads to a total unwillingness for change (especially in higher ranks), despite high awareness to the advantages of using sustainable means of transport.
• Employees associate commuting to work by a private car with their independence and ability to fully control their time. They see commuting to work using public transport, by walking or cycling, as a behavior that is less independent and reduces their ability to control their time. Technological and infrastructural changes and changes in awareness are not enough. There is also a need to direct efforts toward changing norms.
• The central barrier is the Israeli car maintenance payments method. An alternative or a regulatory solution for this issue must be found. There is a need for the right tools and solutions that will reduce the use of private vehicles without conceding “privileges” of using a private car.
• An emphasis was put on the price as a driving force for change. The effectiveness of increasing awareness and changing attitudes alone are limited.
• It is recommended to connect principles of sustainable transport to the objectives of other urban projects (such as “Healthy City”).
• There is a need to design elements of the infrastructure, operation, and information, in ways that focus on the simplicity of use in sustainable transport.
• Promoting the use of sustainable transport may succeed in appealing to groups of employees with shared values and norms through techniques of changing organizational culture, rather than appealing to all public employees
Waste separation as a means of community development:
This Lab examines an issue that the regulatory body has already set forth: the waste separation at source process started in Israel in 2010. Its aim is to reduce the amount of waste transferred to landfill sites while separating organic waste in a regulated process to ensure recycling, and biogas and compost production. Ashdod was one of the 31 cities in Israel which joined the process from the beginning. The infrastructure for waste separation was stationed. We examine the difficulties in implementation and the willingness of people to participate in that, with a focus on the role of the community in promoting sustainable behavior. The lab is conducted in two neighborhoods of Ashdod, where the waste separation percentage is low (approximately 38%) – the Haredi Gimel neighborhood and Yod Alef neighborhood, which is characterized by an average plus socioeconomic status.
As part of the work on urban sustainability project, we conducted interviews with relevant officials and in-depth interviews with households and focus groups.
The following are some of the conclusions:
• Residents, who love their city and are interested in improving its image for various reasons (the value of houses, “local pride”, etc.), are more likely to be involved in the community, including waste separation for recycling. However, the “most caring” residents indicate that they do not believe that a significant behavioral change can be gained regarding the protection of the environment.
• There is a strong connection between the environment and culture. The city residents are willing to cooperate and contribute to creating an active community life. Therefore, a strategic plan should be made, based on the characteristics and lifestyle of the population in every neighborhood, to facilitate cooperation between residents of various quarters on a communal basis.
• Work with the community should focus on small projects which produce “success stories”, serve as a basis for behavioral change, and create a strong community with the ability to bring about the desirable change.
• The importance of the municipality’s commitment to enforcing waste separation laws: disappointment and a feeling that the municipality does not act against the littering residents can inhibit cooperation in waste separation.
• The Importance of an administrative authority that supports community: a community center, not a neighborhood/quarter administration. In Ashdod, there is one such body whose role is administrative.
• There is an explanatory failure to create an emotional connection between people and the topic of recycling. In this context, the focus group brought up an idea that residents would be willing to lead a “door-to-door” explanation campaign if they receive support and legitimacy from the municipality.
Urban Labs – Jerusalem: Sustainable Neighborhoods
The Lab in Jerusalem is led by “The Center for Local Sustainability” team from the “Heschel Center,” in collaboration
with the “Sustainable Neighborhoods” project initiated by the Jerusalem municipality and conducted in the Beit Hakerem, Kiryat Hayovel, and Gilo neighborhoods. The “Center for Local Sustainability” – established by “Heschel Center,” the Ministry for the Protection of the Environment, and Gvanim Association – is located in Gilo.
In recent years, the neighborhood level has gained a respectful place as a cradle for local sustainability processes. In this lab, we wanted to examine the impact of the neighborhood framework as a leverage to promote urban sustainability.
The assumptions of the researchers were:
• Active residents at the neighborhood level become agents of change for sustainability.
• The neighborhood scale produces direct sympathy for and connection to the physical environment.
• Neighborhood activity and involvement increase the sense of belonging and local pride.
• Neighborhood activity creates local communities and cultures.
• Neighborhood institutions can have a significant role in promoting neighborhood sustainability.
• Municipal policy plays a central role in promoting neighborhood sustainability.
The Lab’s Objectives:
• To find out if sustainability is a leverage for communal changes and civil involvement.
• To what extent are communal processes a leverage to behavioral change?
• To what extent is the neighborhood a place for a sustainable lifestyle change promotion?
In-depth interviews with active residents: personal interviews with residents who were identified as leading residents by the neighborhood and municipal coordinators.
In-depth interviews with stakeholders: interviews with activists and professionals in municipalities that lead and accompany the processes of sustainable neighborhoods.
A focus group: a guided discussion based on the issues raised in the in-depth interviews with residents who were identified as leading residents by the neighborhood and municipal coordinators in Jerusalem.
The following five different types of activists were identified through the interviews:
• Individual activists – a central motivation on a personal level: improving family life, activities for children, enjoyment.
• Communal activists – a major motivation is a desire to belong to the community.
• Local environmental activists — the central motivation is to improve the quality of life and the environment.
• Civil society activists — the central motivation is contributing to an extensive social change.
• Activists who make a living – activists who combine the motivation to contribute to society and community with earning a living.
At this stage, the following recommendations are made to promote sustainability through the neighborhoods:
- The neighborhood as a supportive mechanism: one definite address for residents who want to operate. A supportive neighborhood mechanism is an important facilitator, which serves as a center of operation for change agents and can redirect neighborhood action toward urban sustainability. The community administrations, which are proactive, serve as an address for residents who want to operate, and help to create connections between the field and the general municipal systems.
- Visibility: a physical place, a central address, a neighborhood advertisement.
Branding as “sustainable neighborhood”: contributes to the framing of sustainable activity, creates links, and increases visibility.
- Networking: mapping and linking sustainable initiatives in different places, allowing gatherings for mutual enrichment of colleagues. Networking and community formation are powerful means of promotion.
- Nurturing community workers and neighborhood planners who are in critical positions to trigger change.
- The neighborhood as an integrative factor: leadership training and creation of a common language. It is important to create a synergy between actions “from the bottom up” – from the resident level to the community administration, to the neighborhood, and to the municipal level. Likewise, “from the top down” – from the municipality, the neighborhood, the community administration level down to the resident. Connection to “the big picture”: a feeling of reward, partnership for success, both at the local and municipal level, is essential.
- Use of the existing budgets within the context of sustainability.
- Mainstreaming of sustainability in the core activity of the municipality.
A Focus group in East Jerusalem
A focus group on the issue of urban sustainability in East Jerusalem was held in Sur Baher. The meeting was attended by 11 women, residents of various neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
The following insights were gained from the focus group:
• The Conclusions about the relationship between status and consumption are similar in East Jerusalem and in Holon: consumption is a status symbol – cultural and perceptual barriers constitute a significant obstacle to the idea of reducing consumption (e.g., “used products are for the poor”).
• The discourse about consumption is also related to questions of identity and otherness, freedom of movement and security in the area.
• The sustainability discourse in the focus group is different from the one in other “urban labs”. It refers mainly to land (which became urban without an appropriate development) as a source to be used for construction or farming.
• There is a feeling that the concept of the public sphere is not understood and is not part of the discourse.
• The community, first and foremost, is the family, and only then it is the neighborhood.
• The importance of the role of women – their influence on consumption habits at home is significant.
• The use of second-hand products is related primarily to low socioeconomic status. It is not associated with the environmental issue, though there is a growing networking work that expands to different areas, from marketing to purchasing groups