Earlier this year, I read an interesting article about the revitalization of Lod and was fascinated by the narrative of the ongoing gentrification process which is transforming many of Israel’s former development towns.
Lod is a city whose history goes back thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Bible in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as one of the cities to which the Jews returned after the Babyonian exile. Lod became a center of Jewish scholarship: Rabbi Akiva, Rabban Gamliel, Rav Huna and Rabbi Tarfon are just a few of the many Talmudic sages who lived there. During the subsequent periods of history – the Roman and Crusader Periods, the Ottoman Era and the British Mandate – Lod continued to be an active and vital urban center. By the end of the British Mandate period, when Lod’s Arab population had grown to 18,000, it became part of the UN’s proposed Arab State. After Israel declared its independence and was subsequently attacked by its Arab neighbors, Lod was captured by Israeli forces and became a haven to many Jews who had fled to freedom from their native Arab countries.
Today, Lod has a population of over 70,000; 75% are Jews, most of whom emigrated in waves from Morocco and Tunisia, then from Ethiopia, and most recently from the Soviet Union. This ongoing pattern of housing recent immigrants has contributed to Lod becoming known for its high crime rate and many sociological challenges. Yet, the facts on the ground – with many businesses attracted to the city due to its central location, and the numerous residential real estate projects being developed – are much more positive than the city’s unkind reputation would suggest.
In addition to housing Ben Gurion Airport, Lod is also host to Airport City, a burgeoning business park located near the airport. Airport City serves as a hub to the aircraft industry and has become a center for many types of businesses, offering a wide range of facilities from hi-tech office buildings to industrial and storage centers. Lod provides an inexpensive alternative to the more traditional business locations and is well-situated – less than 15 minutes from Tel Aviv, within a half hour from Jerusalem and an hour from Haifa – offering excellent highway access and superb public transportation via trains and buses.
Two years ago, The Lod Community Foundation started reaching out to university students and young couples in an effort to gentrify the city, and has successfully attracted dozens to the student village being built to house university students. A key figure in this process is Itzik Shmuli, who heads the National Union of Israeli Students and was a major force in rallying students to participate in the tent rallies during the summer of 2011. Shmuli moved to Lod last January and is now encouraging other students and young professionals to move to Lod as an extension of the social protests, explaining “we, the young people, need to be part of the change that we want to see here in Israeli society. We need to ask ourselves where we as young people can contribute to society, where society needs us, and to get involved in its weaker points.”
With such activity taking place, it’s understandable why many people feel that Lod has the opportunity to finally step out of the shadows of its development town roots and stake its claim as a significant metropolis.