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Renewal Promotes Youth Culture in Israel
Detail: Holon, a sand-blown Israeli suburb neighboring Tel Aviv, was once known for crime and middle-class flight. Today Holon has become an international model for urban renewal with its unique rebranding strategy that focuses on youth culture and digital arts.

Holon drew 400,000 tourists last year. Schools are rainbow-colored, street benches are child-size, and electricity poles are painted blue, just for the fun of it. Public parks have been reinvented as story gardens, with giant, colorful sculptures by local artists based on characters and plots of Israel's best-loved children's fables.

There's the Cartoon Museum, the International Puppet Theater, the School for Street Theater - teaching juggling, face-painting and hand-walking - and Israel's only Children's Museum, taking kids through interactive worlds where aliens teach tolerance, caterpillars offer lessons about life's changes and sight-impaired tour guides help them experience what it's like to be blind by making their way through pitch-black re-creations of a rain forest, a street corner and a shopping market.

The urban reinvention around kids and digital arts is all the more impressive considering the city's mayor, Sasson, 63, is a bachelor with no children and a self-avowed Luddite who doesn't use a computer or e-mail. The vision to focus on kids came from his city manager, who says she was inspired by her mother, a kindergarten teacher. Sasson was immediately sold on the concept.

It's no surprise that parents are flocking to Holon, which over the past two years has opened half a dozen new kindergartens and two new elementary schools, the first in 20 years. Most of Holon's residents are thrilled with the changes, though a few have had trouble adjusting to what one developer called the city's "artsy" image.

"I understand the importance of enriching the soul," said Sasson, who estimated the city has spent $100 million on cultural projects over the past decade. "Without the soul, there is no life. You can teach children many things, but to enrich their soul makes them happy."
Source: Based on a story by Edmund Sanders, “In Israel, renewal with youthful twist”, The Washington Post, October 31, 2010 Sunday
Date: January 10 2011