ASTRID MONSON / 1913-2006
Planner was advocate for sensible local land use policies
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.