“I call this work ‘urban shiatsu’ - we listen, gather information,
massage, and then diagnose.”
By Barbara Frank
Dr Emily Silverman (r)discusses the work-in-progress
Dr Emily Silverman is changing people’s lives. As a senior researcher and head of the Community Planning Lab at the Technion’s Klutznick Center for Urban and Regional Studies, she explains that, “Social planning takes into account planning for different groups, the poor, women, children, and minorities.” Originally from Manhattan, Silverman would go walking with her father who would point out the ‘transitional neighborhoods’ and how they had changed. This piqued her interest in community planning. Having completed her PhD in social policy and planning at the London School of Economics, Silverman came to Technion for postdoctoral research in 2006 and has been a Technion researcher ever since.
with construction site manager, Dur’am Balan
Technion is the only university in Israel that offers a graduate degree in urban planning and Silverman is thrilled to involve herself in many different areas in her lab and at the national level. In research commissioned by the Israel Ministry of Interior, Silverman, together with Prof. Rachelle Alterman who heads the Klutznick Center, is investigating international models of affordable housing policy, and pulling out lessons for new Israeli policy. Silverman says, “I have no doubt that being at the Technion is absolutely central to having the opportunity to do this work.”
Undeveloped space (above) and proposed
Silverman headed a team of professional advisers to the Tel Aviv Municipal Commission for Affordable Housing, who came up with recommendations that the Tel Aviv municipality plans to institute. Other cities are picking up on Tel Aviv’s lead, using the committee’s research to develop their own policies. One outcome was a focus on the extent of the housing problem in gentrifying areas of Jaffa, where the 15,000 Arab residents are particularly at risk for displacement. The city has now hired Silverman and a former student to run a ‘Roundtable’ - bringing leaders of the Arab community in Jaffa together with the public sector agencies who hold the power to make a difference. “I call this work ‘urban shiatsu’ - we listen, gather information, massage, and then diagnose,” says Silverman. “We are making progress - for the first time, there is a joint definition of the problem, and a commitment to finding solutions.”
design intervention (below)
Silverman’s students work with NGOs to research and develop material that the NGOs can use to help improve residents’ lives. For example, an NGO community worker asked for Silverman’s help with an area of Haifa where the municipality had paved the new Ibn Gvirol road, splitting a neighborhood in half. The students toured the mixed “no-name neighborhood” of Ethiopians, Arab Israelis and some immigrants from the former Soviet Union, which is located just below the vegetable market in the Hadar neighborhood. Young girls told them that there was nowhere safe to gather, parents said they couldn’t let their children play outside because there was nowhere to sit and supervise them, and elderly people told of staying indoors all day because there were no public spaces where they could sit down.
The students presented their findings to the city, showing how the road offered new opportunities for public parks and clubrooms and illustrating how simple and inexpensive design interventions could dramatically improve people’s lives. As a result, Haifa municipality is developing a community garden with the residents - just where the students recommended. Silverman says, “For me as a teacher, I’m thrilled that the students’ work is being implemented, but possibly even more moved by the transformative effect that the learning has had on these young architects.” Two of the students - recipients of prestigious Azrieli graduate fellowships in architecture - will continue working in the neighborhood. The next project is a youth club house.