Dad, urban planning, and the land of Israel

When I was a kid, I grew up in Orange County, California, in the U.S.A. I was born in a town called Tustin, and moved thereafter, to a tract home development in a place in the middle of a really big orange grove called El Toro. We lived there until I was in 1st grade and then we moved to Laguna Beach, California, although it wasn’t like the TV series that you may have seen. Back then, it was a very sleepy and isolated beachside community with a lot of tradition in the arts and to be truthful, drug trafficking. It was heaven to grow up there. We had the Pacific Ocean and the whole town was surrounded by what they called a green belt. This green belt was an untamed natural place that, when we were able to sneak into, became an amazing place to build forts, ride dirt bikes, and just have secrets, and we had a lot of them. My childhood was an enchanting place. It was a place of spontaneous happenings, like the performance art that we did for tourists when we were in high school, and the crazy huts (sukka’s?) we built at the beach to get out of the sun on a hot day. It was also a place of experimentation, in many ways (if you were around then you remember the 70’s right?). We were all trying to find ourselves. We were searching for something and probably never really found, exactly… it. We were a generation that just seemed to be stuck between the 60’s counter culture and the 80’s – what I think back on as the Capitalist driven Consumer Culture’s infancy. The world was about to change.

During this time, my Dad, my hero, was working really hard. He was an urban planner (glorified landscape architect), and loved his job. He worked for the Irvine Company, which was a very land rich entity (in So. Cal. no less.), even though it was all orange groves back then. Gradually, the entire region has become massively populated and gentrified into exactly what you see on TV today. It was a planned community that has grown to exceed its expectations in terms of living, you know, the right way. With all the amenities, just a short drive away, and with parking too! He planned a vast portion of this land into perfect communities. The act of living there was designed, and fit the average person with a tight glove like apparatus. It was perfect and looking back on the transformation, a bit too perfect for me. It was an experiment in culture. It was design, with a capital D.

The reason I am thinking about this, is that there… apparently, wasn’t any planning when they built my current dwelling place from the ashes of 2,000 years of Diaspora. Israel was built over night and on a shoe string. Everyday we are constantly reminded that each little improvement in the cultural entities, the governing bodies, the politics, the economics, and everything, right down to the streets, developments, and communities that we live in, are only there because someone had an inspiration, be it financial or otherwise. The streets sometimes end into nowhere. The developments are often choked with traffic trying to get into one tight little street that feeds a giant area of homes and businesses. And some of the roads can have giant potholes and ridiculous invisible speed bumps that can rip the bottom of your car off if you are caught unaware.

Zichron Yaacov is a small town that was built on the remains of Jewish Romanian emigrant farmer buildings from the 17th century, and if you go back further, Jewish Roman farmer ruins from 2,000 years ago. Barron Von Rothschild has a finger print here, and so does Napoleon. The entire country is built on the ruins and remains of its predecessors, British, Turkish, Crusader, Israelite, and Canaanite. So where does urban planning fit in you ask? In the big picture, urban planning is just another idea to fill our minds with, like interior design, architecture, and art. There is a balance to life and we seem to always need to rock back and forth, like on a teeter totter to find the center. The republicans and the democrats, the capitalists and the communists, the religious and the secular, labor and likud (left and right in Israel) and all of the extremes that we find out there, are there to help to keep us centered. Heaven forbid that we try to be centered like Kadima (the current political entity in Israel) or we might fail miserably to see either the left or the right (and maybe fail at everything else as well). We are all riding a wave, a cosmic wave, that will ultimately take us to who knows where. We just need to keep looking for the rip currents and the backwash, for the swells on the horizon and the El Ninyo storm systems. It will come from every angle conceivable and we all need to be checking, on a daily basis, to the trends of our surroundings and our inner beings.

I can only remember that when I was a kid, my Dad loved his job. He loved making cities. He loved it so much that he was mostly gone, at work. Maybe it was just the 70’s, when parents that grew up in the 50’s were focused on something else. Now, looking back, it is hard to know. My Dad loved me, I know that. I just wish we had had some more time together before he left to, who knows, maybe build cities for The Big Guy in the Sky. In the mean time, I chose to live where there isn’t much real planning, where things happen spontaneously, and I can surround myself with enchantments that inspire the emotions of the hills and ocean of my youth, with Israelite and Roman ruins, Crusader castles, Turkish baths, and all the amazing miracles of a modern, albeit unplanned by just plain men…, Israel.

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