Gerard Heumann

The true target: Community

Mind-boggling ignorance is propelling the swift uglification of Jerusalem and many other Israeli cities. We ask ourselves: “How can this be happening? Who or what is responsible? Never attending directly to the citizens of our cities, their behavior and indispensable concerns, we are building poorly at an ever larger scale, building that will remain with us for generations.

Imperative and urgent is that we regain our focus on the true target – the community and its ways of life, sensitive to the innumerable connections between human beings and the environment. Not exaggerated densities and more highways that are sure to exacerbate traffic problems, the standard of living, or the special interests of politicians and greedy developers out of proportion.

Israel’s physical planning today continues to be carried out turning a blind eye to the problem as a whole. Our politicians, who haven’t the faintest idea as to what constitutes good design, are busy with numbers – numbers of home units, their cost, the number of building permits issued etc. Housing is discussed almost exclusively in quantitative terms.

Employment is discussed similarly when appropriate employment suited to the individual is what makes for a better life, transit in terms of how many new roads are being built instead of searching for ways to minimize the number and length of trips by car through the building of live and work environments along with excellent public transportation.

Entirely lacking in this massive new construction and desperately needed is a far more appropriate and respectful relationship to the existing built and natural environmental context and human scale. Stated simply, be a good neighbor.

Urban design is a difficult art involving the integration of a great many functions. A partial list; housing, transportation, employment, health facilities, slum clearance, location of industries, adequate schools and synagogues, commercial centers, master planning, recreation, The list could be long extended. We have the right to demand that these diverse and numerous functions and their problems be regarded comprehensively. Housing, work and transit are one.

Our greatest enemy is ignorance. Most people, including our decision makers – ministers and mayors, heads and members of planning and building committees and far too many of the bureaucrats that serve them, are grossly uninformed, lacking the minimum background and experience to deal with these complex matters.

Worse still, the national and local planning authorities are forever finding new ways to keep citizens at arms length, distant from meaningful involvement in the planning process, not given the opportunity to participate in key decisions that will affect their lives. Yet it is they, more than anyone, that must know.

The answer, as always, is education, on the broadest level, initiation and enlightened government.

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