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Kiryat Gat

January 1, 2012;; Remaking A 1950s Planned City, Mit-Style; by Ariel Schwartz.

KiryatGatMITIn Israel, students from the university are finding ways to turn a sleepy city into a powerhouse of modern urbanism, and learning simple ways to turn any city into a city of the future.

In the 1950s, rapidly built planned cities (also known as "development towns") sprung up in Israel to accommodate the influx of new citizens, including Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Holocaust survivors. Now many of these development towns are struggling due to depopulation and an aging populace. Teams of MIT graduate students and researchers at Tel Aviv University are using one --named Kiryat Gat--as a living lab for a new kind of high-tech, environmentally sound planned city. The goal is to create a plan for Kiryat Gat that can be used in urban communities around the world.

As the MIT graduate students working on the NexCity project discovered during a 10-day trip to Israel, Kiryat Gat is not particularly popular with Israelis. "The general response from people in Israel was that they kind of considered Kiryat Gat to be rather inconsequential. The majority had never been or their only experience was the bus depot, where people transfer buses to get to their army base," explains Alexis Wheeler, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. "But people who live there really love it. It’s a family-oriented community with lots of active community support. The major criticism is that it’s not serving people in their 20s and 30s."

The city has plenty of problems to overcome: a lack of mixed-use developments (giant high-tech industrial parks are separated from housing and urban life); a railroad--separating the urban core from the industrial district--that can only be crossed via a single bridge near the city border; and socioeconomic fragmentation.

lifesupportsystems Over the past few months, the MIT and Tel Aviv researchers came up with a number of proposals for Kiryat Gat centered around four themes: the mobile city (transport and accessibility); the mediated city (technological infrastructure); the compact city (urban space and population growth); and the natural city (integrating environmental features into the urban landscape). Among them:

Kiryat Gat has no obligation to follow MIT and Tel Aviv University’s recommendations. But it’s already starting to. "One of the big issues they have over there is that they don’t necessarily have the manpower to generate these kinds of study or research. They’re actively looking at ways to start implementing suggestions," says Wheeler. The city immediately embraced a handful of smaller-scale ideas, including citywide Wi-Fi, a community soccer league, more bike paths, and an initiative to plant a tree for every family.

Next up for the MIT and Tel Aviv students: working on final presentations, and then hopefully publishing their findings. "Some of the studies we’re generating are these typological interventions," says Wheeler. "They could be implemented in other places in just about any context."

copyright 2012,

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more....

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