In 2012, a team of faculty and graduate students from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies & Planning collaborated with a similar team from Tel Aviv University’s Laboratory for Contemporary Urban Design to examine the mid-century development town of Kiryat Gat, Israel, and propose a strategic plan for the city’s future development. The project’s initial funding through the MISTI Global Seed Fund helped the team obtain matching funds from Tel Aviv University (TAU).
“We really wanted to involve students,” notes Eran Ben-Joseph, Professor and Head of the Department of Urban Studies & Planning at MIT. “The MISTI funding encouraged TAU to have confidence in the project, and the TAU funding enabled us to include 11 students from MIT and seven from Tel Aviv.”
Team members on location in Kiryat Gat immersed themselves in the town’s situation, exploring its origins and history, its demographics and population shift, and its position relative to technology, transportation, and industry. The team then brainstormed solutions and produced—after six months of work—a detailed urban development proposal designed to help the town address its challenges and make the most of its assets and opportunities.
According to Ben-Joseph, the team’s work in Kiryat Gat could have widespread application. “Many countries built towns like this one after World War II,” he says. “The towns went up instantly and were sufficient for the needs of that era, but few of them have been able to adapt to long-term change. Many of them now have failing infrastructure, too many empty buildings, and a population that is aging and shrinking as the younger generation escapes. Governments aren’t sure how to react. Should we rebuild these towns? Demolish them? It is a global phenomenon.
“We are excited about what we’ve done here,” he notes, “because the city is implementing some of our ideas! We got the process started and helped them reach a point where they could continue on their own. Now, they are following through to make their train station work to their advantage, to engage local industries and integrate new technologies, and to consider new locations for housing.
“The steps they are taking will not only create a more welcoming, livable city for residents but will improve the city’s reputation as well. More people will be drawn here—and this will change the culture of the place.”
The Kiryat Gat collaboration has led to productive long-term relationships between students and faculty from MIT and Israel—and to a larger urban planning project receiving funding from new sources. “For the students,” says Ben-Joseph, “this was a unique opportunity to engage on the ground with a community in need. In less developed countries, solutions often have to be very different and creative, built from the bottom up, which made this an invaluable learning experience for our entire team.”