I was happy to get several comments from people who were interested in the Balboa Park story and either wanted to know more or wanted to go further and get involved.

Here’s some things to keep in mind:

From Plaza de Car to Plaza de Panama: The toughest critic for what was going on with the Plaza de Panama vision was Vicki Granowitz, who is among the inaugural members of the first board of directors of the Balboa Park Conservancy.

Her point was that the community should decide what kind of programming it wants for the plaza before we start designing it — that way the architecture and engineering will work for the vision of what will happen there.

It’s important to note that if the plans continue as they are the Plaza de Panama will have to be the last part touched. Both the parking structure and the road to it will need to be built and ready before workers could remake the plaza.

In other words, there remains plenty of time for input on what the plaza should be like. But if we all agree that the plaza should be returned to pedestrians, the work on the infrastructure to make that possible doesn’t need to wait.

Plaza de Panama Committee Rendering | Courtesy photo

Now to the comments:

• From David Lynn (He’s a friend of mine and member of VOSD’s development committee along with a longtime Balboa Park activist):

If the City can’t afford to take care of this jewel, then I sure hope they can at least get out of the way so the philanthropists and community members can. Currently, even if you have money, it is almost impossible to get anything done. With any luck the Conservancy will have the authority it needs to actually accomplish the projects at an affordable price.

This will be interesting to watch. Who hasn’t heard some version of a tale like this: A donor or group wants to do something for the city. It organizes itself raises some money or pledges. Then suddenly it’s confronted with all kinds of requirements and bureaucracy that inflates both the price and aggravation level of the effort.

Will the nonprofit Balboa Park Conservancy get around any of that? Will it be able to use private contractors? We’ll have to watch and find out as that seems like an easy way to disillusion donors.

This comment from Brant Will makes a good point (emphasis mine):

I think we need to keep in mind what Balboa Park is and is not. There are parts of it that are lovely but to suggest that it’s a 1400 plus acre park is silly. The buildings built for the Panama-California Exposition are nice as is Morley Field but the reality is that much of the park is taken up with highways, a hospital, golf courses and the zoo. My point is only that Balboa Park is much, much less than people generally make it out to be and I think it would be easier to convince people of the need to improve the park if we stopped pretending that the park today is a “world class” or even a great park.

I confess to using some of those superlatives in my piece. I just, along with many people here, love that Balboa Park is there. For all that we’ve done to screw it up, it’s still, at its core, a beautiful place with enormous potential.

Irwin Jacobs gave me this quote too, which I didn’t have a spot for in the piece, but which does fit here:

We are in a position to be able to do great things. I’ve been a little disappointed in San Diego when the approach seemed to be that good architecture wasn’t important. That’s not the way you build a city you can be proud of and have your children proud of.

Balboa Park’s architecture and public art are a departure from mediocrity — it’s as if a frenzied, short-sighted city, for one brief moment in its history, tried to do carve something special out of its core. Not coincidentally, it is now historical preservationists who seem most worried about the new plans.

How we separate cleaning up and repairing the sins of the past without tarnishing the good deeds will be the defining tension of this effort.

You can contact me directly at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!): twitter.com/vosdscott.

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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