What do Jerusalem and Charlottesville, Virginia have in common? Each has a highly successful pedestrian mall designed by Lawrence Halpin. Jerusalem has Rechov Ben-Yehudah (Ben Yehudah Street). Charlottesville has the Downtown Mall. You might be wondering what the significance of all this is, but all that will get cleared up momentarily.
Pedestrian malls as well as highways, rail lines, suburbs, and cities are all human artifacts. Designed by landscape architects, architects, and urban planners, these spaces at their best are a reflection of the culture and environment in which they exist. When functioning properly, they can enhance local ecologies, foster healthy human interactions, and encourage virbant economies. Unfortunately, as we all know, poorley designed spaces can have an equally profound negative impact (think big box stores, strip malls, super highways etc.). The key to a successful place is a thoughtful designer, which brings us back to Lawrence Halprin.
Lawrence Halprin, Bar Mitzvahed at the Kotel (Western Wall) in 1929, was until his death in October of 2009 one of the most acclaimed landscape architects of the 20th century. A pioneer of modernist design, Halprin believed that modernism was "environmental design as a holistic approach to the matter of making spaces for people to live." He took stock not only of the aesthetics of his proposals, but also the social and environmental implications. This sensitivity may have been cultivated while Halprin lived and worked in Israel in the pre-state years. He was a founding member of Kibbutz En-Hashofeth and according to his wife Anna Halprin, a renowned choreographer, "His personality and his thinking were totally shaped by his Jewishness, and his Jewishness was reflected in so many subtle ways in his life and work."
As a first year graduate student studying landscape architecture at the University of Virginia, I too look back on my time in Israel (I lived in Be'er Sheva for 4 years founding and running Earth's Promise) and the Jewish values I hold close to my heart. As a Jew and a citizen of Earth, I think it is critical to strike a balance between the personal and the professional, the individual and the collective so that we can begin to heal the wounds our unchecked consumption has inflicted on our planet and on each other. Lawrence Halprin is a shining example of what a committed Jew can do both for his people, his profession, and the planet. I challenge us all as we move forward in our lives to find the Lawrence Halprin in us and help shape a better future for the Jewish People and all Mankind.