Amid increasing talk of the prospect of dividing the capital to avert more deadly violence, one architect with expertise in urban planning in areas of conflict discussed architecture’s invaluable role in such an undertaking.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication, Ma’ariv, published on Monday, Yehuda Greenfield-Gilat emphasized that the united model of Jerusalem is not sustainable and must give way to practicality.
The Harvard-educated Greenfield-Gilat, a co-founder and planning and development director of SAYA/Design for Change, specializes in the connection between planning, conflict resolution and political economy.
His work on the challenges of dividing Jerusalem has been widely presented and used by leading decision makers and state officials.
According to Greenfield-Gilat, architecture will play a critical role in any proposal to divide the capital.
“Architects must be part of this debate... and become real partners in political thinking,” he said. “In this respect, I think that architecture is lost; we have become a profession that is not relevant to what is happening on the ground. I am trying to change that.”
First, Greenfield-Gilat, who was born in New York and raised in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, asserted, the collective fear and taboo among architects of participating in the planning required to divide the city must be addressed.
“I think architects are afraid – they feel it is not their place to deal with political issues, it is better to design villas,” he said. “I say the opposite; that is exactly the role of architects – to be involved in this kind of thing.
“All of us, as human beings, need boundaries – Jews and the Palestinians,” he continued.
“But we should work wisely with reality, rather than against it.”
He described the model of a unified Jerusalem as an “urban legend.”
“We tell ourselves that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, united forever and ever, and this is more of an urban legend,” he said. “There are actually two cities now... with separate populations, different languages – even the transportation system is separate – especially as Israel does not provide services to some Palestinians.
“We say: ‘Let’s break the taboo and face reality, which ultimately cannot avoid a certain type of separation,’” he continued.
To that end, the architect said urban planning is a critical process, although he added that he is no stranger to the tensions architecture and politics can imbue.
As a student, he said his proposal to create a border crossing at the Old City’s Damascus Gate to control passage of Arabs and Jews led to numerous debates.
“Professors told me, ‘This is not architecture, this is politics,’” he said. “To me, it seems completely absurd, because politics and architecture are not parallel lines, but different design tools for troubleshooting reality.”
Architects have their own unique observations, he said, which “is why it is essential that they have a seat a table in decision- making.”
Among Greenfield-Gilat’s proposals is creating two independent transportation networks that would allow contiguity in problematic sectors by utilizing bridges, tunnels and overpasses.
Ultimately, he said that the myth of a united Jerusalem must finally make way for a realistic and carefully planned separation.