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 League Leaders: Astrid Monson

Astrid Monson - 1913-2006

Honolulu Advertiser, Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Astrid Monson, 93, expert on land use

BY ROD OHIRA, Advertiser Staff Writer

Respected planner called strong voice on Island issues

Astrid Monson, who died Monday at a Honolulu nursing home at age 93, was a respected voice on local land-use, affordable housing and transportation issues for four decades.

Kem Lowry, a University of Hawai'i-Manoa professor of urban and regional planning for 30 years, described Monson as a consistent voice for treating land as the finite resource it is in Hawai'i.

"She had a planner's eye for evaluation of the technical details of specific development proposals, but she also had a reformer's zeal for the difference that good planning could make in this community," Lowry said.

Monson, a native of Berlin who earned her master's degree at Northwestern University in 1937, worked with her husband, Donald, on developing housing reconstruction programs under the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, and later United Nations planning and housing programs in Kenya, Argentina and Taiwan.

The Monsons came to Hawai'i in 1973 to retire.

"She joined the League of Women Voters of Honolulu and, of course, there was no retirement," Monson's long-time friend Arlene Kim Ellis said.

Henry Eng, director of the city's Department of Planning and Permitting, said Monson and her husband, who died in 1991, were recognized as "international pioneers in planning."

"We did not always agree, but she had a strong social conscience and I had great respect for her," said Eng, who recalled taking a course from Astrid Monson at Pratt Institute in New York in the 1960s.

Monson was chairwoman of the League of Women Voters' planning and zoning committee for 23 years, and wrote newspaper columns on planning issues from 1981 through the mid-1990s. She testified on many planning, zoning and transit issues.

State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, D-14th (Moanalua, 'Aiea, Fort Shafter, Kalihi Valley, Hâlawa Valley), said Monson represented a strong voice on issues but presented her arguments in a way "that was not abrasive or intimidating."

Monson opposed the city's rail project, and in 1994, publicly praised Arnold Morgado and Ben Cayetano for taking a stand against "saddling O'ahu with a $2 billion rail system," and other issues such as the convention center complex on the old Aloha Motors site and increasing downtown building heights.

She supported a second city in 'Ewa, charter revision of the development plan process and growth limits in Central and Windward O'ahu and the North Shore.

"She took difficult positions and always backed up her testimony with very careful research," Lowry said.

Ellis recalled that Monson had one room in her Kailua home dedicated to her research papers.

"It's packed with cabinets and cabinets full of papers," Ellis said. "She researched fantastically. You can't throw any of that away.

"The Charter Commission is dealing today with how to ease out of agriculture. We had the same problem 25 to 30 years ago and she has research papers on the same problems that still remain."

Monson, whose mind was sharp up until a few weeks ago, would have liked to see the second city in 'Ewa/Kapolei developed by now, Ellis said.

Monson, who also was a founding member of Hawai'i's Thousand Friends and the Consumers' Housing task force, had no survivors.

Following her wishes, there will be no public service, but a private celebration of Monson's life is being planned, Ellis said.

Reach Rod Ohira at 535-8181 or rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.


Honolulu Star Bulletin, Thursday, April 6, 2006

Astrid Monson / 1913-2006

Planner was advocate for
sensible local land use policies

By Susan Essoyan (sessoyan@starbulletin.com

Astrid Monson, whose soft voice and strong convictions helped guide land use in Honolulu, died Monday. She was 93.

She and her late husband, Donald, moved to Hawaii in 1973 to retire after global careers as planners. But she never slowed down, instead devoting days and nights to volunteer work for the League of Women Voters and other groups, commuting by bus from her Kailua home to testify on issues.

"I think it can be said very forcefully that the League of Women Voters, and in particular Astrid Monson, has been the voice of the conscience for good planning in Hawaii for decades," Luciano Minerbi, professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Hawaii, said yesterday. "If they would have listened to her more, we would have been in much better shape right now."

She won some battles and lost others but was respected by both sides. She pushed for controls on urban sprawl across the island and instead boosted the creation of the second city in Ewa, an effort she felt got mostly lip service. She opposed rail transit and efforts to raise height limits on buildings downtown and in Waikiki.

"She was very dignified in the way that she handled herself and the way that she made her arguments," said former Gov. Ben Cayetano. "You just couldn't help but be impressed by how she conducted herself."

"She obviously was well educated, that came through time and again, but it was never like a professor talking to a student," he added. "She lived a full and enriching and productive life."

Monson was born in Berlin to American parents, but her family moved back to the United States shortly afterward and she grew up in Chicago. She got her bachelor's and master's degrees from Northwestern University, where she met her husband.

She and her husband worked on reconstruction programs in Europe under the Marshall Plan, according to her longtime friend Arlene Kim Ellis. They also handled planning and housing projects for the United Nations Development Program in Nairobi, Kenya; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Taipei. She taught at the Pratt Institute and at Taida University in Taipei.

In Hawaii, Monson helped found Hawaii's Thousand Friends and the Consumers Housing Task Force. She wrote columns for both Honolulu newspapers on planning issues and was recognized in 2003 by the Honolulu City Council for "her vigilant advocacy in formulating land use policy."

"We used to fight about certain things, but I don't remember ever winning an argument," Ellis said. "I did not mind losing because every time I lost, I learned something."

About five years ago, Monson moved into a nursing home on Pacific Heights but remained mentally vigorous until the end, when she succumbed to a heart attack or stroke, Ellis said. The Monsons had no children.

A private celebration of her life is being planned.



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