The Arc for Palestine Wins Big in Barcelona

The Arc Project for Palestine, an innovative master plan for a future Palestinian state designed and conceived in Los Angeles, received the “2010 Future Project of the Year” at the World Architecture Festival, a coveted international architectural prize.

Designed by Suisman Urban Design of Los Angeles, in partnership with RAND Corporation, the project looks forward to a Palestinian state in peace with its Israeli neighbor.

Unfortunately, the recognition comes as the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians that could lead to a Palestinian state become less and less likely.  But perhaps the prize may again shed a bit of light on a visionary proposal that would turn the West Bank and Gaza into a cutting edge region of mass-transit-linked, sustainable, and economically viable communities.

As I wrote during the unveiling of the project back in April 2005:

This is what the Rand people did—treated the existing topography, resources and society as a kind of blank slate for state-of-the-art, sustainable urban planning. 
The result makes you wish Rand was around to plan Los Angeles 60 years ago.
The plan’s centerpiece is visually and intellectually simple, in the best sense of the word. It calls for a light-rail line, which it calls “the arc.” The rail line would essentially bisect Palestine, freeing the proto-nation from a future dependence on cars while also providing the backbone for a high-tech infrastructure and adjacent green space. Picture a stylized “J.” The top of the letter starts in the upper West Bank, in Jenin, and the stem runs down along the ridge of already settled towns—Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem. The hook goes through Israel via a secure path, and reappears in Gaza, where it runs upward through that narrow strip from Rafah to Gaza City.
The “J,” located just east of existing towns, would connect the major Palestinian population centers in an efficient, car-free way. (“Cars ruin everything,” Glazer told me. “Israel’s all car-ed up.) Water, utility, sewage and fiber-optic lines would follow the same J-shaped trunk line. Efficient, relatively cheap high-speed buses would link the old town centers with new high-tech, industrial zones and settlement corridors forming horizontally along its route. A greenbelt would border the line, forming a single park up and down the country’s length. Electricity would flow from wind and solar generators.
This “J” would contain sprawl, preserve other open spaces, obviate the need for most cars, smooth the flow of goods and services, and help preserve the character of old, tourism-friendly Palestinian towns while allowing for new industrial and residential growth. In Palestine, demography is destiny, and the Rand report assumes that the population will double over the next 10 years. 
The plan is estimated to cost $41.5 billion over the next 10 years. That’s about the same amount the international community pays to keep the peace in Bosnia—over $700 per person per year.

Also in my column, I addressed the unusual fact that the Arc project funding came in part from a Los Angeles Jewish businessman named Gulford Glazer.  I wrote:

Glazer had been involved with Rand for years, ever since his close friend Moshe Dayan urged him to retain Rand to assess Israel’s financial contribution to America’s Cold War struggles. 
The Santa Monica-based think tank was already at work on a Palestine study, initially funded by Santa Monica residents David and Carol Richards, when it contacted Glazer and tapped into his long-standing interest. 
“My father used to tell me that a man with nothing to lose is very dangerous,” Glazer said. “We need in our self-defense to make sure they have something,” he said, referring to the Palestinians.
In other words, Glazer and the Rand people have turned the old formulation on its head. Is it good for the Jews? now has a corollary: “Is it good for the Palestinians?”
Failure, Glazer said, is not an option. A seething, destabilized state of Palestine would pose a constant security threat to Israel. A viable, sustainable state might just ensure a regional calm. 
“You need to do something to get them started,” he said. “These people are not just gonna lose everything anymore for no reason.”

The announcement of the prize electrified the crowd. According to The Swedish magazine Arkitektur, “The greatest jubilation in the festival hall was heard when the winner in the category of “Future projects – master planning” was presented. Winner Suisman Urban Design, in its Arc project for Palestine, has produced a stunning vision of infrastructure for a future Palestinian state.”

According to a press release from Suisman, The three judges – from the U.S., England, and China – were unanimous in their decision. They praised its “fearless example of architecture and masterplanning, helping to promote a political solution…The Arc excels in translating a complex context into a clear and powerful diagram…it is rigorous, practical, and believable.”

“The team at Suisman Urban Design, and our partners at RAND Corporation, are thrilled to accept this award. It has been a privilege to work on a project related to the peaceful hopes of two peoples, Palestinians and Israelis,”  said Doug Suisman, FAIA, Principal of Suisman Urban Design,  “Through architecture and urban design, we have tried to show that a successful Palestine, living side by side with Israel in peace, security, and prosperity, is not only imaginable, but feasible, and could begin now. It is our deepest hope that this project can contribute in some small way towards peace in the Middle East”.

Now that there is talk of a unilateral Palestinian statehood declaration—something Israel and the United States firmly oppose—the question is how a plan like this could take hold under such circumstances. Five years after Suisman & Co. dreamed up the plan, peace seems as elusive as ever. Too bad: look what everyone is missing.

You can watch a film presentation on the Arc here: