Research field: Urban renewal and neighborhood regeneration

Naomi Carmon’s contribution to the field of Urban Renewal in general, and Neighborhood Regeneration in particular, is focused on the social aspects of these complex urban processes. As a pioneer in this field in her country, she worked to internalize social considerations, especially social equity concerns, into policy and planning in Israel, while publishing extensively in English for the benefit of the international community of knowledge.

Since the days of Napoleon III and architect Haussmann in the middle of the 18th century, and throughout the first half of the 20th century, slum clearance and urban renewal were studied and practiced in Western countries; the emphasis was first on architecture and urban design, the focus moved to physical aspects of housing conditions, and then economists added cost and benefit calculations. It was not until the second half of the 20th century that sociologists and psychologists joined the field of urban renewal, saying that the welfare and wellbeing of people, particularly users of the built environment, should be the main purpose of urban intervention. A leader in this discourse was Herbert Gans, Naomi’s teacher at MIT, who wrote about poverty and inequality as principal targets pf public policy and urban planning. Naomi followed him and added her share to understanding decline and regeneration processes and to research-based practice. Her work in this field has developed in three stages: an Israeli stage, a comparative international stage, and a stage of evaluation of regeneration strategies.

During the first stage (mainly in the 1980s), Naomi focused on Israel’s Project Renewal, a comprehensive physical and social governmental project that encompassed 90 distressed neighborhoods around the country with some 15% of Israel’s citizens. Close to its beginning, Naomi and her colleague architect Robert Oxman, “discovered” what they named “self-help housing rehabilitation” in low-income urban areas, a phenomenon that had been completely ignored until that time by researchers and practitioners alike. Within the government-built housing projects of the 1950’s and 1960’s, which often consisted of two stories buildings with four to eight small apartments, the architects left small pieces of land; they thought that the residents would use these to grow vegetables for themselves at that time of austerity. Tomatoes did not grow there; however, as soon as the new immigrants who were settled in these houses could afford it, they built rooms and enlarged their small apartments (Carmon and Oxman 1981-H; 1986-E). This study influenced decision-makers in the Ministry of Housing, who used the findings as a basis for including an extensive program for enlargement of apartments as part of Project Renewal.

In parallel, Naomi and her colleagues, mainly Moshe Hill, Rachelle Alterman and Arza Churchman, led two comprehensive evaluation studies and an additional four funded studies that focused on Project Renewal. These studies produced an abundance of findings and conclusions, which were published in the leading international literature, as well as in Hebrew, including: an article that presented the Integrated Evaluation – a unique approach we developed for the evaluation of Project Renewal – a multi-aim urban plan (Alterman, Carmon and Hill 1984-E), and a group of articles and books presenting the first evaluation research, which was conducted over three years in 10 neighborhoods (Carmon and Hill 1988-E; Carmon 1987-E; Carmon 1988-H; Carmon 1990-H). The last one – a book in Hebrew – won the Ruppin Award for the Best Book in the Social Sciences in 1990. The second evaluation study examined dozens of neighborhoods that were included in Project Renewal and compared their characteristics before and after the project took place to a similar number of carefully selected control neighborhoods, based on data that had been collected by the Central Bureau of Statistics (Baron, Carmon and Ben-Zion 1990-H; Carmon and Baron 1994-E).

The general conclusions from the long series of Project Renewal studies show that individuals and families in the neighborhoods derived numerous benefits from the comprehensive project, which created significant improvements in housing, education and community activities in its neighborhoods. The project also facilitated social mobility of individual residents, though not of many. However, the beneficiaries were mainly the “stronger” persons and households, with more education and/or better employment and income, while the weakest ones did not have the complimentary resources (awareness, time, access to babysitters) that were necessary to benefit from Project Renewal numerous programs. Indeed, the project contributed to the fact that poor neighborhoods in Israel do not “look bad,” in comparison to poor neighborhoods in several other Western countries, and foreigners have a hard time discerning the differences between them and middle-class neighborhoods. However, as a rule, the project neither succeed in alleviating the inferior status and image of the neighborhoods, of those that “earned” the reputation of “neighborhood in distress”, nor in stopping the tendency of households, which had managed to make progress, to leave their old neighborhoods. One of the reasons for that might have been the strict decision to allocate all Project Renewal resources to residents of the selected distressed neighborhood (to avoid “budget displacement” and gentrification), to the extent that prevented any social mix of children and adults from those neighborhoods with their parallels from higher status neighborhoods.

While the first stage of research on urban renewal focused on activities in Israel, the second stage (mainly in the 1990s) focused on international comparative investigation of processes of top-down urban renewal. This stage began with an international workshop that Naomi organized at MIT, to which she invited researchers from the United States, Great Britain and Israel, who studied neighborhood/area-based programs as tools for the improvement of quality of life of poor and moderate income households. Following this workshop, Naomi edited a book (Carmon 1996-E) that became a textbook in courses on neighborhoods and their rehabilitation/renewal in the US and in Israel. In 1997, the book won the Aaron Wildavsky Award from the American Organization for Policy Studies. At this time, Naomi also extended the knowledge on self-rehabilitation/renewal of housing (Carmon 2002A-E) and after more international comparisons were collected, it was recast as the “Phoenix Strategy,” for renewal and updating of the existing stock of housing (Carmon 2002B-E).
A well-known and cited article from this stage analyzed the history of urban renewal in Western countries – including Israel. It identified, in all of the countries, three “generations” of deliberate interventions in urban areas “in distress”. The first generation – the generation of the bulldozer – engaged in physical solutions, eliminated slum areas and constructed modern roads and towers in their place. The second generation (Project Renewal belongs to this generation) emphasized social goals and worked for the existing residents in the existing housing units, while having the residents participate in the decision-making for improving their condition. The third generation put economic considerations at the top of each urban/municipal action and developed the concept of public-private participation. In practice, the authorities remained responsible for some regulation of the processes, while the initiative, the funding and the implementation mainly moved from the public – to the private sector. Each one of the three generations is unique in terms of the main “players,” kinds of programs that were run, the results that were measured and the insights that Naomi concluded from them, mainly in terms of the creation of the benefits to people (residents) and to places (neighborhoods) (Carmon 1999-E). Trying to summarize the main conclusion would say: the “second generation” of large-scale central government programs of housing and neighborhood improvement benefitted people but not their places, while the “third generation” that is characterized by local public-provate partnerships benefits places but usually not incumbent residents. In this article, Naomi suggests a “forth generation” that combines considerations of economic growth and social equity. A partial version of this article was published also in Hebrew (Carmon 1997-H).

The third stage (in the the 2000s) is comprised of a series of studies, all conducted with graduate students. Each one of these has examined one or more of the strategies of urban renewal identified in the earlier stages. Together with Eyal Ofek (2005-H), and with Nurit Tsafrir and Emily Silverman (2011-H), the strategy of demolition and redevelopment was studied. Together with Yulia Ziflinger (2006-H), the question whether development in a place is also development of the place, was examined; specifically, we asked if urban renewal using the real estate-business strategy (public-private participation in developing real estate) creates benefits not only for the entrepreneur and his/her tenants, but also for the city, in general, and for the poor original residents, in particular. Together with Elvira Molin (2006-H), culture-led strategies of urban renewal were identified and their influence on communities that live adjacent to them was studied.

Some of Naomi’s current research with graduate students is focusing on urban renewal. Together with Nava Kainer-Persov (2016 – H), the variety of strategies for housing renewal employed by public authorities in Western countries in the twenty-first century have been classified and studied. Nava’s empirical research is the first of its kind in Israel; a post-occupancy evaluation of both the process and the results of housing renewal projects of the two most active programs in the country: demolition and redevelopment (Pinui – Binui) and National Outline Plan 38 (TAMA 38). A social justice perspective that asks “who benefits and who loses” guided the questions and the analysis. The results – outputs, outcomes and impacts – are evaluated using the 3SP (3 Spatial Perspectives) Model, which requires analysis from the neighborhood residents’ point of view, and also, from the perspective of the city and the Israeli society as a whole.

Another study in the series of urban renewal research is being funded by the Ministry of Housing and undertaken by Naomi in collaboration with Yechiel Rosenfeld, the head of the Israeli National Building Research Institute at the Technion, and the planners Tami Gavrieli and Inna Burstein. It focuses on the feasibility of processes of strengthening, shielding and upgrading of old apartment buildings in Israeli towns in the periphery of the country. These towns are located in high risk areas for earthquakes and/or rocket attacks; in addition, they are in great need of upgrading their old housing complexes. However, up until the present, they have not benefited from the many projects for housing renewal that have flooded Israeli cities in the center of the country, for the last few years. The research reviews and analyzes the Israeli and international relevant experience, engage in interviews with various stakeholders, and is intended to offer practical recommendations concerning the implementation of housing strengthening and upgrading in towns in which real estate prices are low, but the seismic and/or rocket threats are high. The northern town of Kiryat Shmona serves as the test case in this study.
Naomi’s extensive work in the field of housing and urban renewal has been used to promote research-based practice. The table below (taken with little modifications from Carmon 2013) demonstrates the idea: a few “evidence-based best policies” appear side by side with “evidence-based best practices”, all related to Naomi’s research works presented above.

“What Works” in Housing and Urban Renewal
The statements in the table are based on studies that were conducted by Naomi Carmon, in collaboration with colleagues and graduate students, over a period of 35 years, using a variety of research methods. The table draws on her studies only (studies that were published in accessible English publications and much of them also in Hebrew), but partly similar conclusions and recommendations were proposed by others, including contributors to the edited book by Carmon and Fainstein (2013): essays by George Galster, by Dennis Keating, by Susan Fainstein and Norman Fainstein, and by Lawrence Vale.

Best Policies
Preventive Planning (8)

A gradual and “soft” approach to housing and neighborhood improvement (1) (4)

Prevent segregation of the lower classes in re-planned residential areas (3) (5) (6) (7)

Regeneration through partnerships (1) (2) (7)

Work simultaneously for social equity and economic growth and efficiency (2) (4)

Differential intervention in different deteriorated residential areas (1) (4)

Evidence-Based Best Practices
related to policies on the left and grounded in the same studies
Identify neighborhoods on the verge of deterioration and encourage “incumbent upgrading” (8)

Wherever possible, plan for gradual regeneration of old neighborhoods rather than demolition and redevelopment(1) (4)

Plan for side by side homogeneous clusters of residents within a heterogeneous residential area that includes joint social services(3) (5) (6) (7)

Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs), Public-Civic Partnerships (PCPs) and Public-Private-Civic-Partnerships (PPCPs) (1) (2) (7)
As far as possible, the public partner in PPPs, PCPs and PPCPs should include in the “rules of the game” means to protect the interests of the less affluent stakeholders (יוליה, נאוה, )
Wherever appropriate, encourage user-controlled upgrading of housing in distressed neighborhoods, and thus promote simultaneously: better housing and housing maintenance, place attachment and the motivation to work that increases the income of the households (2) (4)
Poor neighborhoods in “hot demand areas” need different intervention compared with “less-viable” areas (1) (4)

(1) Carmon 1999-E;
(2) Carmon and Oxman 1986-E; Carmon and Gavrieli 1987-E; Carmon 2002b-E;
(3) Carmon 1976-E;
(4) Carmon 1997-E;
(5) Carmon and Baron, 1994-E;
(6) Yiftachel and Carmon 1997-E;
(7) Carmon 2006; Ziflinger 2005.
(8) Carmon 1998; Carmon 2002a.
(9) Ziflinger 2005H; Kainer Persov 2018H.

More in Research fields: