For me, two of the countless scenes of “collateral damage” drove a stake in the heart of human suffering. One was a well-circulated Associated Press photograph of Fadi Dahaineh clutching the white shrouded body of his 20-month old son, Mohammed, as he prepared to relinquish his fatherly dreams to a bomb-scarred earth. Another was a CNN live report of schoolchildren in Northern Israel screeching in sheer terror as they ran from their playground hoping to avoid the deadly incoming katyusha rockets.
I find myself only able to sigh. Words are not three-dimensional. Words cannot match what our imagination can conjure of the complete loss of childhood and the prolonged suffering that families will endure long after yet another peace accord is applauded by a war-weary public. Through 24-hour news coverage, we can watch as tomorrow’s hope becomes permanently entangled with the ill-conceived ambitions of adults.
This beautiful area of the Mideast once served as a peaceful home for Muslims, Jews and Christians. My only visit to Lebanon was as a student in the late ’60s when Beirut was affectionately dubbed the “Paris of the East” and Baalbek was home to spectacular Roman ruins, not Hezbollah rocket launchers. The Golan Heights provided a commanding view of olive trees, vineyards, and native stone dwellings, not Israeli gun emplacements. Children seemed happy, reluctantly becoming adults a day at a time.
So many lessons are ours to learn from this latest war and I will happily leave the ad nauseam debate over causes, fault and consequences to the political and military strategists. As voyeurs with more than just a weekend interest in the conditions of any peace agreement, we need to create ways that children can be left with hope that the only helmet they will need for school is for safe bicycling.
This has been done before. Caring adults found creative ways to remove children from hostile neighborhoods in Northern Ireland and give them a respite from violence in the homes of America where their religion or their family name had little to do with their role as a striker or a goalie at the neighborhood soccer pitch. Given a fair chance, attention and nurturing, most children will ultimately define justice as the absence of fear.
While my summer sighs have been too frequent and my words inadequate, I have been encouraged by a trend that is gaining momentum in the U.S. justice system; namely the emergence of family courts. In name, this concept of family-focused justice has existed for many years by coordinating case management of all matters pertaining to a family. The difference now is that structures are being created with a singular focus — to promote the concept of justice for children through space, scale and visual expression.
Several years back, Florida conceived the Unified Family Court Act that required the integration of court services to more efficiently and effectively serve total family needs through coordinated case management at a minimum, and a single point of judicial authority at the ultimate. Counties have been given time to develop family courts that meet the needs of the children in their specific jurisdictions. Now, the first purpose-built solutions are emerging and the ability of sensitive architects to create spaces that envelope the intensely personal drama of children’s justice is apparent.
Miami-Dade County is in the early stage of design of a Children’s Courthouse that is exclusively dedicated to family justice. The 300,000 square foot facility, designed by HOK, is slated to rise elegantly, yet playfully, for 14 stories in the heart of the Government Center that also includes the new, award-winning federal courthouse. The multi-colored, varied sized windows along the southern exposure create a “confetti wall” that rewards the fun of being a child with views of the fascinating skyline from the inside while illuminating internal spaces for resolving conflict at the scale of a child.
A building, even one as sensitive to the users as this, cannot eliminate the pain of a childhood in conflict or replace a single act of kindness by a caring judge, case worker or security officer. But a building such as this can reinforce the fundamental premise of justice for children by celebrating the tomorrow we seek through them. A building can support our adult role today in facilitating their potential with full knowledge of the pain that too often is a companion of childhood.
Miami is a long way in miles from Mashghara or Haifa and the emotional pain of a child removed from an abusive home is not comparable to the horrors of war, but the loss of a childhood is a pain that should not be tolerated. Permanent peaceful solutions in the Mideast have defied centuries, even millennia, yet we cannot become callous to the fact that children are the most hurt and the best hope for answers.
This is about an investment in the value of childhood, be that in the bomb-scarred remains of a southern Lebanon schoolyard or the magically lighted corridors of the new Miami-Dade Children’s Courthouse. Give peace a chance; give children hope for a future. n
Stephen A. Carter, AICP, is principal of Carter Goble Lee LLC in Columbia, S.C.