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The Urban Planning and Disaster Risk Reduction Center at An-Najah National University has successfully concluded the Validation Workshop, a pivotal component of Work Package 2 (WP2) within the Tomorrow’s Cities Project. The workshop commenced with a blended training approach, featuring sessions delivered by the international team to local facilitators, planners, and note-takers. This encompassed both an online seminar and comprehensive face-to-face training sessions.

Subsequent to this, the local team executed the workshop over a two-day span. This platform allowed community groups to immerse themselves in their vision of Nablus' future through intricate land-use maps. It provided an avenue for refining, deliberating, and suggesting modifications to ensure these maps are in harmony with their aspirations. The policies presented by community groups were also revisited and adjusted to grasp their impact on disaster risk reduction and to solicit recommendations for successful implementation. Noteworthy attendees encompassed representatives from Nablus Municipality, Tubas Municipality, and the Ministry of Local Government.

Overall, the text effectively captures the completion of the Validation Workshop at An-Najah University, elucidating the process, goals, and outcomes in a clear and comprehensive manner.

About Tomorrow’s Cities 

Professor Jalal Dabbeek, the leader of the Palestinian Team within the Tomorrow’s Cities Project and the Director of the Urban Planning and Disaster Risk Reduction Center, conveyed the essence of Tomorrow’s Cities as an exceptional avenue for seamlessly intertwining disaster risk reduction and urban planning within Nablus city. He emphasized that this proactive approach in planning enables the avoidance of past urban planning errors. Prof. Dabbeek underscored the profound impact of our present decisions on the forthcoming three decades.

Prof. Dabbeek elucidated that this initiative adopts a participatory planning methodology, incorporating representatives from diverse community segments in Nablus city, encompassing youth, women, the elderly, individuals with special needs, those with low-income, residents of high-rise buildings, and civil society institutions. He accentuated that Tomorrow’s Cities goes beyond mere research, serving as an opportunity to effect substantial changes in our forthcoming trajectory and to mold a city that aligns with our community's aspirations, irrespective of economic and political complexities. Prof. Dabbeek concluded with the metaphor, "We have diagnosed the ailment; now, we must prescribe the essential remedy for the betterment of our future generations."

The International Team 

Dr. Thaisa Comelli, the Social Science Lead of the Tomorrow’s Cities Project, and Dr. Emin Yahya Menteşe, the Urban Planning Lead, embarked on a mission to Palestine to conduct an immersive face-to-face training. Dr. Comelli articulated the purpose of their presence, elucidating, "Our current objective is to provide our Palestinian partners with comprehensive training in the structured approach of the Validation Workshop. We aim to navigate them through realistic simulations of the various stages, enabling facilitators and planners to confront potential challenges and acquire adept strategies to tackle them effectively." Dr. Comelli expounded that in the inaugural workshop conducted last June, community groups were invited to articulate their future visions, thereby offering profound insights into their aspirations. These insights were translated into digital land-use maps along with a set of policies linked to Nablus City's future expansion and disaster risk reduction. The upcoming workshop intends to display these digitized maps to the participants from the first session, seeking their input on whether these maps align with their aspirations and affording them the opportunity to propose adjustments if necessary.

Dr. Menteşe contributed that this training's essence lies in ensuring work quality and simulating potential interactions within the actual workshop. He emphasized that the adopted methodology is universally consistent across all project cities globally. Nevertheless, he acknowledged the potential need for contextual adaptations, particularly for cities facing distinctive conditions and challenges akin to Nablus. He further underscored the roles of planners and facilitators during the workshop, elucidating that their task is to present the land-use map to participants and guide them in grasping the nuances, allowing them to evaluate if the maps resonate with their future visions. Dr. Menteşe concluded by applauding the Palestinian team's robust technical expertise, which stands parallel to that of more developed cities. He also acknowledged their strong commitment and conscientiousness towards Palestinian society.

Verification, Modelling and Simulation

Dr. Jamal Dabbeek, an expert in multi-hazard modelling and the local city co-lead of the project, provided insights into the verification, modelling, and simulation process. He explained that during the initial workshop in June, community groups conceptualized preliminary land-use sketches by hand, envisioning the future of Nablus based on their aspirations. These hand-drawn sketches were subsequently passed on to the local urban planning team at An-Najah National University, who transformed them into digital versions. The planning team made adjustments to ensure that the resulting maps aligned with the Palestinian Standards of Urban Planning. For instance, the community groups allocated various land uses—residential, industrial, commercial, and green areas—in Nablus' expansion area, aligning with their future vision for the next 30 years. However, local planners further reviewed and validated these land uses, ensuring they catered to Nablus' future population requirements.

A novel element was introduced to participants: a 3D interactive map depicting future exposure. This map encompasses residential, commercial, industrial, school, and hospital buildings for the year 2050. This addition enhances the visualization of potential developments and their implications.

Dr. Dabbeek elaborated that the workshop also aims to stimulate discussions on the diverse impacts of hazard scenarios, such as earthquakes, landslides, and flash floods. Participants will engage in a collective brainstorming session, exploring the ramifications of these scenarios. They will delve into the potential societal consequences arising from significant earthquakes, landslides, or floods projected in the upcoming years. Dr. Dabbeek emphasized that these discussions will consider cross-cutting subjects like occupation and climate change, adding depth and comprehensiveness to the hazard assessment process.

Prevention is Better than Cure

Karim Aljawhari, a PhD researcher at IUSS Pavia and the University College London (UCL), and an expert in catastrophe risk modeling within the international team of Tomorrow’s Cities, articulated a profound perspective: "Our ultimate goal is to ensure that individuals reside in a city that provides them with what they rightfully deserve and aspire to—a sustainable city with equitable services and a resilient physical and social environment, capable of withstanding potential natural disaster scenarios." Aljawhari emphasized the role of urban planning as a pivotal instrument to realize such aspirations, particularly through the innovative participatory approach inherent in the Tomorrow’s Cities methodology. This approach essentially engages the community groups of Nablus city from the ground up, shaping the urban planning process based on the aspirations of these diverse groups, diverging from the traditional top-down approach that primarily involves high-level stakeholders and decision-makers.

Aljawhari highlighted that the Tomorrow’s Cities methodology empowers community groups to devise policies aimed at enhancing their lives and fulfilling their aspirations. This especially pertains to policies that center around housing affordability, green spaces, and building codes. These policies, in turn, hold the potential to enhance daily living standards and curtail future disaster risks.

Aljawhari's conclusion radiated with pride, proclaiming their distinction as the first city in the Middle East and North Africa Region and the fifth worldwide to embrace Tomorrow’s Cities' progressive urban planning approach. They expressed the intent to serve as ambassadors for the project, sharing their experience with other Palestinian cities and neighbouring countries, catalysing positive change.

Perspectives of Urban Planners

Dr. Ali Abdelhamid, the Director of the Urban and Regional Planning Unit at An-Najah University and an authority in city planning and policy-making, emphasized the project's significance in merging traditional urban planning aimed at addressing future population needs with the assessment of disaster risks arising from potential hazards. He underscored how this combination enhances decision-making processes, proactively mitigates disaster risks during the urban planning phase, and creates more resilient communities.

Dr. Abdelhamid highlighted the distinctive focus of the Tomorrow’s Cities Project on marginalized segments within society. He emphasized that this initiative empowers these groups, giving them a platform to voice their concerns and opinions through the participatory urban planning approach.

When queried about the challenges in existing areas that necessitate innovative planning methods, Dr. Abdelhamid acknowledged the prevalent urban planning issues. These include high population density, disparities in service distribution, non-compliance with building codes and standards, and a lack of uniformity in building heights. He cited the example of the inadequate provision of green spaces, constituting only 1% of the city's landscape compared to the recommended global standard of 5%. Dr. Abdelhamid elaborated on the severe repercussions of these shortcomings, impacting aesthetics, visual appeal, psychological well-being, health, and overall comfort of the population. He cautioned that if corrective measures are not taken, these issues will only intensify over time. He emphasized the necessity of implementing solutions in the new expansion areas to avoid replicating the existing challenges in the city.

The Story of Palestine Entering Tomorrow’s Cities 

Eng. Mohammed Jihad Dwaikat, the Communications and Information Lead within the local team of Tomorrow’s Cities, conveyed the narrative of Palestine's involvement in the project. He noted that the initiative underscores the vital collaboration between An-Najah National University as an academic institution and local as well as international entities. This collaboration ensures that Palestine remains abreast of the latest advancements in scientific and planning domains. Dwaikat also reminisced about Nablus' official entry into the Tomorrow’s Cities network, marking it as the first Arab city and the fifth globally to join (following Istanbul, Quito, Nairobi, and Kathmandu). This formal inclusion transpired through a ceremonious event held at the University in May 2023, attended by prominent decision-makers, political figures, and various public organizations.

Dwaikat highlighted the intriguing questions that adopting the Tomorrow’s Cities methodology raises within the community and among experts. These questions encompass concerns about the city's vulnerability, the presence of a risk-sensitive urban planning process, marginalized segments, the amplification of voices and addressing needs, urban inequalities, potential disaster scenarios, alignment of municipal and local government strategies with Tomorrow’s Cities' strategies, and the requirement for enhancing the capacity of local institutions in Palestine regarding disaster risk reduction.

Dwaikat concluded by asserting that answers to these questions will crystallize as the Tomorrow’s Cities project progresses. He disclosed that the ongoing finalization of the urban planning process will yield diverse future visioning scenarios for Nablus. Each scenario will encompass a land-use map and a suite of policies reflecting the aspirations of specific community groups. These scenarios will then undergo scrutiny against potential hazard scenarios, with the one displaying the most substantial reduction in future risk emerging as the optimal choice.

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