In Haifa, a university propels a downtown’s upswing

To the average observer, a downtown area would appear to be any major city’s top attraction, and its center of commerce and entertainment. Yet for decades, downtown Haifa and its port area were exactly the opposite.

Downtown Haifa had been a thriving maritime hub in pre-state Israel before experiencing decades of economic decline and high crime rates following the British Mandate period as the country’s commercial center shifted to Tel Aviv.

During the past decade, however, downtown Haifa has evolved into an emerging hipster hangout, the so-called “San Francisco of Israel” for its trendy food and shopping scene, its growing number of diverse art and cultural offerings, as well as its vibrant nightlife, and relatively affordable but attractive housing options.

How did this transformation occur? As Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav said in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, the municipality has implemented a strategic plan to “reconnect the city to the sea, which is Haifa’s greatest asset.”

Experts often point out the real estate trends and infrastructure that are necessary for a struggling downtown area’s turnaround. A combination of critical factors such a variety of hotel and restaurant options, modern housing, easy access to public transportation, and local industry or commerce are just some of the key elements that are critical for revitalization and growth.

In Haifa, these trends and infrastructure exist and have certainly been part of the story of the downtown area’s renewal. But that is not the entire story. A driving force in the downtown’s change of fortune is University of Haifa, particularly the school’s unique mission and mindset.

Going beyond education, contemporary society’s greatest universities are builders of community, protectors of values like free speech and human rights, and birthplaces of technological revolutions. On a parallel track with the ongoing revival of downtown Haifa, University of Haifa is implementing its groundbreaking “multiversity” concept as a major driver of progress in its city and region. By multiversity, we mean a multi-campus institution with locations around Haifa and throughout northern Israel, easing access for students and adding vitality to the city and region, while encouraging a wide range of ideas and activities to flourish in a diverse community.

On Oct. 24, the multiversity model will experience one of its most significant milestones to date as University of Haifa unveils its new Lorry I. Lokey City Campus, which will be comprised of at least four buildings located throughout the Port of Haifa. This is a major step towards fulfilling our vision of becoming a more integrated and accessible university with campuses located across Haifa and Israel’s north.

It was precisely the multiversity concept that inspired American philanthropist Lorry I. Lokey to donate $10 million to University of Haifa to fund the city campus, leading  a broader groundswell of $45 million in philanthropy from U.S. donors supporting the University since the middle of 2017. This past May, when he announced his donation, Lokey called the gift “an affirmation of [the University’s] mission to improve access to education and bring more jobs, stability and security to northern Israel by establishing a downtown campus.”

At the new campus, innovators in their fields will further enhance the reputation and landscape of downtown Haifa, making northern Israel a key landmark within the “start-up nation.” In the Palmer Street (#4) building, the city campus will feature the new University of Haifa School for Data Science, Israel’s first school of its kind. The campus will also include the Dylan Tauber Building—the new home of the Tauber Bioinformations Research Center. Leveraging a donation from the Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation, the Tauber Center develops scalable high-performance computing hardware and software solutions for existing and future challenges of “big data” in biomedicine and agrobiology. The building’s facade is comprised of digitally printed glass depicting Israeli cultural heroes, underscoring the facility’s role as an educational hub.

The University’s vision is strongly supported by the Haifa Municipality, as evidenced by the Haifa City Council’s allocation of the use of the Palmer Street building to the University for our data science school. The partnership between the University and the municipality plays a critical role.

Inspired by similar relationships cultivated in cities around the world, the municipality and the University alike understand that “if you build it, they will come.”

Driven by its sense of purpose as a multiversity, University of Haifa is playing a leading role in amplifying downtown Haifa’s ascent by creating infrastructure, most prominently the city campus. New infrastructure, in turn, bring more jobs, stability, and security to its environment. For any downtown area, city, region, or country, this is a key blueprint for growth and prosperity.

About the Author
Karen L. Berman is CEO of the American Society of the University of Haifa.
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