Steve Coyle : "Back in the US, Notes from the West Bank"

Update 09/09/11: The following is an update from Donna Baranski-Walker on the West Bank charrette Steve Coyle helped lead earlier this year:

From Donna Baranski-Walker
Founder and Executive Director of Rebuilding Alliance:
We celebrated on September 6th with the Village of Al Aqaba, as promised, delivering blueprints and engineering drawings and something more:  a building permit template written under the crest of the Al Aqaba Village Council. If the Village Council so decides, Al Aqaba will become the first Palestinian Village in Area C (the 60% of the West Bank under sole control of Israel) to issue building permits. 

Settler violence along the road to Al Aqaba had me worried but our bus stopped to pick-up reporters in Nablus without any problem.  When we arrived, Marwan Toubassi, Governor of the Tubas Area, welcomed us all!  Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq described all that has happened to Al Aqaba, and how deeply the village wants to live on their land in peace.  Architect Hani Hassan told of our charrette process and his environmental design, Eng. Ribhi Sawafta brought the specs, and attorney Mohamad Rabie described what building permits are all about.

Mr. Tareq Imair, Representing the Minister of Local Municipalities, said that Palestinian Village Councils are given the authority to issue building permits when they meet two criteria:  (1)  The have created a Town Plan; and (2) There is an engineer on staff to supervise construction.  Al Aqaba now has 3 master plans and an engineer will soon be joining the staff.

I've chronicled our great day in a photo album on the Rebuilding Alliance Facebook page: RebuildingAlliance

This was a day that made us all proud — and yet these are truly dangerous times.  We'll need to stay in touch.  Please join our Facebook cause, Rebuilding to Remain.

The following is a guest blog from Town-Green principal and National Charrette Institute co-founder Steve Coyle. Coyle, the author of the recently released Sustainable and Resilient Communities, recounts his experience leading a charrette in the West Bank:

I just returned from a week-long charrette in the village of Al Aqaba in the Palestine West Bank to design new houses for very poor, displaced, and infirm families, some living as multiple families in one small home, and to develop a Village Plan for its long term growth from a tiny hamlet subject to periodic demolition (it's entry road was recently torn up) to a resilient, healthy, and relatively self-sufficient settlement. The international Charrette Team, mostly volunteer, was assembled and sponsored by Rebuilding Alliance, an NGO led by Donna Baranski-Walker, who has built a kindergarten and a business space both in operation in Al Aqaba, and both under threat of demolition. Al Aqaba mayor Haj Sami, a paraplegic from age 16 from an accidental shooting by Israeli troops during training, has been a tireless advocate for peaceful coexistence for his people in general, and specifically, for the villagers of Al Aqaba. He still suffers daily from a bullet lodged near his heart, but is pained more by the continual threats of demolition that appear to coincide with the construction of new, illegal settlements. I spoke with Israelis who oppose this policy but the current government seems determined to control and occupy the West Bank in this fashion. As a former USMC combat veteran, I've personally experienced the damage caused by military occupation.


However, building sustainable and resilient communities should transcend politics; nature continues to ignore borders and politics. To this end, we intend to continue our efforts to help design, finance, and build homes and supporting structures by enlisting the assistance of others, including Israeli's, Palestinians, and Americans - perhaps even the CNU. My last evening in Ramallah, the team dined in the home of Sameh and Nada Abboushi - he a retired but very active architect and she, sister of activist Hanan Ashrawi. Nada developed a successful children's music school in the city that sends young, talented musicians to play around the world. With Sameh, charrette architect Hanni Hassen, urban scholar Besim Hakim, and others, we intend to promote traditional and alternative, adaptive building design in the region. I believe that, in order to demonstrate to both Palestinian and Israeli architects, engineers, policy-makers, builders, and the public, we must build structures that can use local materials and labor, to prove their economic, environmental, social, and aesthetic value. I use "we" but it will be primarily the Palestinians who walk the talk. For me, this effort allows us to serve in a direct and meaningful way, without becoming consumed in the tensions of a political struggle that's been unfolding for decades. Of course, I get to leave at the end of the day.

I used to joke that we should be able to charrette by can delight if necessary, and in Al Aqaba, we we grateful for the long, sunny days, trace paper, and pens. You can read my past daily updates at the NCI Blog on the National Charrette Institute website, under Rebuilding a Future in Palestine. I will follow up with posted designs.

Make sure to check the NCI Blog for more updates from Coyle.





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