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As a landscape architect, I have my opinion regarding the Jacobs plan for Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama. Yet with good friends on both sides of the discussion, I have not wished to enter the fray. However, in Vicki Estrada’s acceptance speech for the Gertrude Gilbert Award, the fellow landscape architect and friend, suggested that all sides of the issue come together in a more productive and cooperative manner. Her comments have inspired me to contribute to the discussion.
I would like to point out what has been missing from the public dialogue, which is a broad consensus from all sides that we should be thankful and appreciative toward Irwin Jacobs’ generous offer to spend millions of his own money to help make Balboa Park a better place. With dwindling public resources, we need to understand that this type of private/public partnership may be the only way to make great things happen for our city in the future.
Should Mr. Jacobs be allowed to impose his singular vision for an important public place on our community without public input and discussion? No. But should he and his highly respected landscape architectural consultant (Civitas) be given more influence in the outcome of the project because he is giving millions toward it? I would suggest, yes. Millennium Park in Chicago is a good example we can study. Most of the park improvements were funded by $145 million of private contributions with many of those donors influencing improvements, such as the selection of public art. The result is arguably one of the greatest urban parks in our country.
We need to send a collective message to Mr. Jacobs letting him know we appreciate his generosity. And then we need to learn how to work with him and other wealthy community-minded citizens in a way that encourages, not discourages, others to step forward. If we learn how to do that effectively, I see a very bright future for San Diego. Thank you, Mr. Jacobs.
Glen Schmidt lives in San Diego.
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