Regenerating Birzeit's Historical Center: An Integrated Approach to Heritage Protection, Planning and Development in the Rapidly Changing Palestinian Rural Space

Iyad Issa

Planning Spaces Through Intercultural Dialogue



This paper sheds light on an ambitious initiative for protecting and revitalizing the historical centre of Bir Zeit; a small university town 7 km North of Ramallah. Bir Zeit's historical centre was chosen as a pilot regeneration project that will be used as a model for historic centre regeneration in the fifty other centers selected by Riwaq. This historic environment is open for investigation based on interdisciplinary research, and is a ground for networking with local and international expertise and institutions in different sectors, and the local community.
The Bir Zeit project aims at achieving a reasonable balance between heritage development and safeguarding. This article stresses the fact that regeneration is feasible through a parallel process of dynamic planning and physical architectural interventions, as well as conservation and infrastructural work that improve the built environment (basic services, street rehabilitation, signage system, public plazas and gardens), renovating key projects, introducing architectural heritage protection bylaws and regulations, and building capacity for key stakeholders and pioneers, were carried out throughout this process.
This paper introduces the challenges facing the underdeveloped rural areas in Palestine and the gradual decline of their historic centers. Secondly, it explores current planning and development approaches for rapidly changing rural areas in general and historic centers in Palestine in particular. It explains the rationale behind this regeneration approach for historical centers in Palestine as a multi-actor, multi-disciplinary, incremental process. Thirdly, the article highlights several activities applied within the regeneration process with a special focus on the strategic planning action approach, community participation, and capacity building for municipality staff. It concludes with remarks on the regeneration process in general as well as the challenges facing it to be used as a model for historic centers’ development in other areas in Palestine.