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Israeli Architecture's No. 1: Dr. Binat Schwartz

Head of the Interior Ministry's Planning Commission- Dr. Binat Schwartz, 50.

Keshet Rosenblum
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Keshet Rosenblum

Dr. Binat Schwartz has been fighting red tape tooth and nail since she first took the helm of the Planning Commission at the Interior Ministry – a bureaucratic department in an even more bureaucratic government ministry – some 18 months ago. Her goal, both with her team at the ministry and in her position on the Trachtenberg Committee's housing subcommittee, is to help ease the housing crisis in Israel by making the lengthy and complicated planning and building process a lot more efficient.

One of the biggest and most controversial changes she has been spearheading is revision of the Tama 35 Integrated National Master Plan, which places an emphasis on developing four major metropolitan areas in Israel – Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Be'er Sheva – as business and cultural centers. The updated plan, which increases the scope of construction in central Israel, in the process distancing the periphery even more from the development effort, has aroused fierce opposition among the leaders of the Center for Local Government in Israel.

Schwartz, a geographer by training, was formerly the Jerusalem district planner, the planner for the National Infrastructure Committee and the deputy-director of planning and execution for the Israel National Roads Company (Ma'atz.) In all these positions, she drew fire from politicians and planners, the latter citing her lack of credentials as an architect. The so-called Holyland Affair took place during her tenure as Jerusalem district planner (though she is not suspected of any involvement.) Schwartz has also managed to anger the environmental organizations repeatedly. The latest instance was her support for phosphate testing near Arad, despite the Health Ministry's objection. Her tendency to look for shortcuts has made her a controversial figure.

The Interior Ministry's one-sided relationship with architects under Schwartz’s predecessors continues during her tenure. And while there is much talk about the resources invested in planning, hardly any attention is paid to the form it will take.

Dr. Binat Schwartz. Illustration by Leo Atelman