City Front: It’s all about staying connected

Karmit Tzofi is the initiator of a breakthrough design project that is changing the face of public spaces around the country.

Equipped for change_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Equipped for change_521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There is a word for town square in almost every language on the planet. It’s the place where people congregate to exchange ideas, barter or trade goods, and discuss the well-being of their community.
In Italy, it is a piazza, in France, a place, in Persia, a maydan. Regardless of the era, location or culture, every inhabited area has been centered around a meeting place.
This was exactly the kind of space that captivated Karmit Tzofi during her time in Greece. Tzofi is program developer for the Israeli Association of Community Centers and the initiator of a breakthrough design project that is changing the face of public spaces around the country.
“We lived for two months on an island in Greece with a family who have a little girl. They invited us to the recital of her ballet group. Here, in Israel, people turn off their phones and sit for hours to watch these types of shows. There, people came and went as they liked. And it became this kind of community meeting.
“I said to myself: We are missing that,” explained Tzofi in a recent interview with Metro.
She had been a counselor in a number of community centers for years and was blown away by the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere she saw in Greece.
“We have adopted a lot of American practices when it comes to public spaces,” she continued. “As soon as we built tall buildings, we transferred all of our activities inside. We became very disconnected from the street.”
Tzofi’s project is a collaboration between the Israeli Association of Community Centers and the industrial design department at Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem.
During a course entitled Space and User taught by Galit Shvo, third-year students from the department traveled to community centers in Pardess Katz, Arara in the Negev and Ramat Eliahu in Rishon Lezion.
They examined the flaws of each center and met with locals to discuss their collective needs.
Under the supervision of department head Dina Shahar, the students created new designs for the centers. On March 27, an exhibition was opened at each of the three centers, displaying the students’ ideas.
One of the main goals of this project was to make community centers more user-friendly.
“I looked at how the centers were built,” said Tzofi. “They are like huge, empty hallways. The centers were designed very functionally… people came, and waited. And it looked like that.
“I wanted to switch them to the town square: a place where people would come even when there wasn’t a special activity. People could meet there and talk, have picnics, whatever. I wanted to make it a living place.”
In the evaluation of each location, the students were encouraged to take many factors into account: climate, existing community activities, religious observance levels, and many others. Their interaction with the locals was key, as speaking with the prospective inhabitants of their designs was the only way to glean what was essential, and what was not.
Now that the ideas have been presented, the IACC will hold meetings with representatives from each community to select their favorite plan.
“The exhibition has opened, and the locals get to choose the best. Then we’ll have meetings about renovation and take our favorite idea into account. There will be a first and second place,” said Tzofi.
The student whose idea wins first place will receive NIS 2,500, the second place NIS 1,500.
The response has been fantastic, Tzofi explained.
“In Pardess Katz, the director called me and said there was a lot of excitement. It’s a very tough area. The locals came into the lobby and couldn’t believe that it was for them. That they could choose. They were very moved by it.
Her hope is to find donors in companies such as paint manufacturers Tambour and Nirlat, groups that can provide basic building materials that will bring these designs to fruition more swiftly.
The sooner these centers are rebuilt, the sooner Tzofi and her friends can move on to the next round of buildings.
“Our goal is to slowly expand our circles,” she said. “That more centers will use this idea, which takes time to put into place.
“It’s not only about making the space more inviting; it’s about making the activities extend beyond the building so that people will see what’s going on there. We want to make the centers more communicative with their environment.
It doesn’t matter that it’s beautiful; it has to be aesthetic. But more than that, it has to be a place that works… that is inviting. A place people will want to come to and make things happen. A platform for more activity.” 
For more information about the IACC, visit