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Our Ministers of Housing and Interior Must Be Professionals

A policy error made in the Ministry of Education can be corrected within a few years while an error by the Ministry of Housing will be with us for generations.

Planning and building reflect our social values, affect our livelihood and ways of life, matters far too important to be left in the hands of uninformed politicians and the inept bureaucrats that serve them. The so-called urban renewal program that has already created and approved far too many monstrosities is at present important and will become more so, a great many projects of large scale requiring high talent. Urgently needed as our ministers are top-flight committed planning professionals who understand how community values can be translated into architecture, urban design and city planning at human scale.

Works of architecture and engineering economically, have the greatest part of human work invested in them. They form the setting in which we live our lives — our homes, neighborhoods, streets and squares — the public realm, highways and bridges. Their design influences our social and economic activity. The physical environment and human behavior are profoundly and intimately connected. Layman politicians — our decision makers, do not at all understand how deep this connection is.

Just two examples: the “New” Tel-Aviv Bus Station, among the largest in the world, that was designed with criminal disregard for its neighbors and which hopefully will one day soon be destroyed, has wreaked havoc not only on Neve Shaanan but on all of South Tel-Aviv. Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and former Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat were there for its opening ceremony. Sectional political interests by our Housing and Interior ministers created the separate, isolated and poorly designed towns of Elad, Modiin and Betar Illit.

Six billion shekels, no less, have been budgeted for Jerusalem’s development in 2023. It is essential that these new efforts make sense, not only to avoid misusing the money, but because is it the nature of the physical plant that once built it stays and stays. Entirely lacking in Jerusalem is a comprehensive and up-to-date master plan which includes a three-dimensional appendix that shows clearly the proposed situation. Mayor Lion has been building at massive scale with the approval of our national government without a plan.
Over the last 30 years, the field of planning and building in Israel has been reduced to money and power, pig-like capitalism and thoughtless short-term expediency. Powerful real-estate interests and great financiers have had their way with the long line of local and national government officials indicted for bribery, some sent to prison, which is getting longer each day. This too, must at the very least be mitigated or come to an end.

About the Author
Gerard Heumann is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.
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