About a half hour’s drive north of Ramallah, construction has begun on the first planned Palestinian city. Surrounded by sleepy hilltop villages and terraced olive orchards, Rawabi, which means “hills” Arabic, is being marketed as a green and affordable alternative for the Palestinian middle class.
“Unlike any other in Palestine, Rawabi will be characterized as a modern, high-tech city with gleaming high-rise buildings, green parks and shopping areas,” boasts a fancy brochure published by the Bayti, the Qatari-Palestinian company developing the project. With features like underground parking garages and American-style mortgages, Rawabi would appear to have more in common with Israeli cities like Modi’in than with nearby Palestinian cities like Ramallah.
The new town will have extensive green space and infrastructure (including schools, mosques, a church and office buildings), which the developers hope will also serve the inhabitants of 9 surrounding villages. Initially housing 25,000 residents, Rawabi is eventually set to grow to 40,000.
A rendering of Rawabi’s city center. (courtesy of Bayti)
Special attention has been paid to the project’s environmental aspects. The town will feature elements like wastewater reclamation, alternative energy and extensive tree planting. According to the developers, pedestrian paths and mixed-use streets will discourage the use of cars, and the town will be served by public transportation.
In a show of corporate responsibility, Bayti also conducted an assessment of the social and environmental effects of the project, both during and after construction. The company also has plans to set up a center for urban planning at nearby An Najah University in Nablus.
The red roofs of Ateret, a nearby settlement housing 70 families. (photo by the author)
Meanwhile, Israeli settler organizations have reportedly launched a campaign against the new town, claiming (with no sense of irony) that it will cause pollution, traffic jams and security issues, while benefiting only the Palestinian elite. Questions also linger about an access road that requires the approval of Israeli authorities.
However, if everything goes according to plan, Rawabi could become the prototype for a new, more sustainable Palestinian urbanism. The first residents are set to move in around 2013.