A city this grand deserves a lasting vision (Monterey County Weekly)

A city this grand deserves a lasting vision.

LOCAL SPIN: Reimagining Monterey

A city this grand deserves a lasting vision.

I can remember the first time I visited Monterey. It was 1976, and I was an undergraduate at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. There was something about the city that immediately captured me – I can’t say exactly what. Perhaps it was its physical beauty and proximity to Monterey Bay. Or maybe the mystique of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which I was reading at the time. Or the sparkling winter days when I would walk around the city and hear the Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese voices of people who had settled the town and made it their home. I recall vividly the sense of belonging, and knew that one day I would return to Monterey to make it my home.

It’s with this love of place that I offer a vision of what Monterey could become, rather than what it is. My vision for Monterey in 2100 is the intersection of three big ideas: interpreting place, collaborative design and planning for 100 years.

Interpreting place is the notion that Monterey is defined by an unparalleled combination of history, culture, art and science. From the Native Americans who first inhabited the Monterey Peninsula, to the Spanish, Chinese, Italians, Portuguese and others who followed them; the poetry of Robinson Jeffers; the mythology of Joseph Campbell; the novels of John Steinbeck and Robert Lewis Stevenson; the photography of Ansel Adams and Edward, Brett, and Cole Weston; the works of cartoonists Hank Ketchum and Eldon Deldini; the science of Hopkins Marine Station and the science education of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The list goes on, but in short, Monterey is an amazing stew of cultures, ideas, disciplines and desires – all of them part and parcel of Monterey Bay, the Pacific Ocean and the coastal-land zone.

That stew has inspired, and created, and captured, and presented itself here in ways that offer incredible opportunities to interpret this place in a holistic sense. There is a beauty, breadth and majesty in all that has been here, and all that could follow.

Collaborative design recognizes the Monterey Bay Aquarium, as an institution, is uniquely positioned to offer design talents that no local government could possibly attract or afford. Similarly, the city of Monterey offers a rich and unparalleled palette of public space and municipal institutions as well as land-use-planning talent. Imagine a collaboration where exhibit design meets city planning. There would be no boundaries between the Aquarium and the public – the entire city would open itself to interpreting this place we call Monterey.

Planning for 100 years recognizes that there is a grand, grand story to be told, and a large, large canvas to tell it on, and it recognizes that collaborations take time to learn and grow. The story can unfold slowly, as the collaboration builds, starting with simple ideas – murals, perhaps, or educational placards – that over time might evolve into big ideas (like exhibit spaces in parks and public places) and even bigger ones (redevelopment that takes the model of the Aquarium’s re-creation of old Cannery Row and expands it to other areas).

Oklahoma City’s redevelopment offers an encouraging example of what a municipality can envision and create. Consider a modified version: The city agrees to pass a dedicated 1 percent sales tax for, say, 10 years, and the Aquarium agrees to match that amount, after agreeing first on a conceptual design plan and collaborative design-planning structure. The initial agreement might be for $1 million a year of development funds, with the Aquarium and the city both “donating” their staff time. If successful, there might be an agreement to expand public and/or private funding over time.

When I look at Monterey now, through older and more traveled eyes, I see a somewhat worn and cluttered place – which is not to say that it wasn’t even more worn and cluttered 37 years ago. It’s just surprising that those decades haven’t brought more renewal and vigor to the city and its residents. With the sparkling exception of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the partial redevelopment of Cannery Row, Window on the Bay (the city’s successful effort to clean the waterfront of used car lots and dilapidated buildings – bravo Dan Albert and company), and the Sports Center, I’m struck by how little, rather than how much, things have changed, and how little they’ve changed for the better.

It’s not too late to think ahead, to consider what Monterey might look like in 2050 – 37 years from now – and beyond. Wouldn’t it be grand to have a vision and build toward it, taking the best of what’s here now – the best history, the best science, the best art and the best talent – and adding to it?

MICHAEL DELAPA is a business consultant, social entrepreneur and former general manager of Sea Studios. He co-founded the Monterey County-based nonprofits LandWatch Monterey County, Sea Studios Foundation and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.