Shir Gilo first encountered the Urban Clinic when she participated in a public tour, and it left a great impression upon her. She loved how the Clinic connected theory with reality on the ground, integrating people’s lives with planning. Later, when choosing a graduate program, Shir found herself drawn to the possibility of combining theory and practice, developing social solutions alongside physical ones – and creating a better city.
She enrolled in the Hebrew University’s master’s program in Urban Planning and eventually took the Urban Clinic’s course. She decided to work on a project that had been proposed to the Clinic – developing a solution for Pisgat Zeev, neighborhood in northern Jerusalem plagued by morning traffic jams.
After some serious legwork, observing and meeting with stakeholders, it was decided to focus on two adjacent schools, where administrators and parents were committed to encouraging walking.
“There are many benefits to walking to school. The kids become more familiar with their neighborhood, it can be a social experience, they learn to solve problems, develop independence, take responsibility, get exercise, and so much more. Worldwide, it is common for students to walk to school, often in organized groups. There is no reason that Israeli schoolchildren cannot walk like their peers in Japan, England, and Canada.”
Shir, working with her classmate, Devora, got to work: They plotted student addresses in a geographic information system (GIS), in order to identify the best possible route for the largest number of students, avoiding steep inclines. They distributed a questionnaire and learned that some kids already walked, while other parents were interested in making a change. At the same time, they learned that the neighborhood had walking paths, but these were situated on side streets, often set back from the road.
Ultimately, Shir and Devora identified three different walking paths – and suggested ways to improve each one. These ranged from physical changes (crosswalks, speed bumps), community adaptations (crossing guards, walking groups), and proposed regulations (speed limits, strict ticketing of cars parked on the sidewalk).
After such an intensive process, They submitted her proposals to Pisgat Zeev’s neighborhood planner. But Shir wasn’t done. She decided to write one of her seminar papers on encouraging walkability, specifically in hilly cities. Motivated to make an impact, she submitted her final paper to the neighborhood and regional planners, the Urban Clinic, and the Jerusalem municipality.
“The Urban Clinic is demanding; it sets very high standards. You can’t just sit back and learn – you need to work hard. Dr. Emily Silverman guided me every step along the way. It was, by far, the best experience I had at the Hebrew University.”
To read about Shir’s environmental work advocating for the Jerusalem hills, click here.