Astrid Monson, 93, expert on land use
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Rod Ohira
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 longtime 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, Halawa 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 email@example.com.