Planning in the Face of Crisis: Land Use, Housing and Mass Immigration in Israel

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Planning in the Face of Crisis: Land Use, Housing and Mass Immigration in Israel, Rachelle Alterman, London, Routledge, 2002, 212 pp., £21.99 (p/b)

There are disasters, and there are welcome crises. To Israel, Gorbachev allowing Soviet Jewry to come was of the second kind, but it nevertheless threw planning, wrapped up in the assumption of a 'steady Israel', into turmoil. Alterman has written a 'page turner' on this, leading to the wholesome conclusion that planning does not necessarily fail us during crises.

In Planning in the Face of Crisis Alterman writes as engagingly as she speaks at conferences. She starts out by exploring what others have to say about the situation faced by Israel having to accommodate 200,000 immigrants in 1990 alone (a figure estimated to reach in due course 1.5 million and even 2 million), a challenge no Western country has faced during peace time. The harvest of her review of the literature on crisis planning is pitifully small. Christensen (1985; 1999) seems the only one arguing that planners need not give up when chaos strikes and that they may be able to redefine the problem, thereby turning it into something more manageable.

So Alterman adopts an inductive approach, gathering evidence about the decisions of planners and policy makers. She identifies five phases in the process-shock, focusing, action, planning (in this order!) and post-crisis management. The book analyses the process in these terms. Space does not permit a summary of the tale of why and how the housing blitz succeeded (among others by skilfully harnessing the resources of the private sector) and how the crisis re-invigorated planning through the Israel 2020 exercise, initiated by professionals and academics, reported on elsewhere (Alterman, 2001). The case studies on how the process has played itself out in two towns in the Galilee are structured according to the same fivephase model, but adding a note on the impact of immigrants, both positive and negative. Apparently, Russian satellite television supplemented by a rich complement of Russian-language newspapers allows the newcomers to keep aloof from the Israeli melting pot.

The final chapter on 'Can planning help in a time of crisis?' argues that, although planners may find it difficult to prepare for crises, they can play a role, 'indeed a much more pivotal one than in normal times' (p. 174) during and after crises. Thus, even during the action phase of the crisis geared to achieving the kind of quantifiable output dictated by circumstance, planners were trying to balance speed and quality. And planners broadened the focus to embrace the long-term implications, including those for 'sacred cow' policies such as population distribution, protection of agricultural land and restrictions on the transfer of public land. …