A Green Balboa Park Centennial Celebration for 2015

by on March 31, 2014 · 0 comments

in California, Culture, Economy, Environment, San Diego

By Lori Saldaña / San Diego Free Press

green globeAs George Santayana famously observed: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” But in the case of the Pan-American centennial planning, organizers need to learn from the history of the event to help them re-create its grandeur and appeal, and make the 2015 Balboa Park centennial a celebration of innovation, rooted in the first Exhibition’s origins.

Here’s a brief statement of the original events’ main theme: “The purpose of the Panama-California Exposition is to illustrate the progress and possibility of the human race, not for the exposition only, but for a permanent contribution to the world’s progress.”

There may still time to develop a successful 2015 Balboa Park centennial celebration, especially if planners and city leaders broaden their vision to take into account the main themes and purpose of the original celebration, consider what attracted people not only to travel but set down roots here 100 years ago, and actively incorporate those elements into the modern event.

I was often reminded of this history while serving in the Assembly. During certain legislative hearings I had the opportunity to admire posters of various exhibitions that have taken place throughout California over the past 100 years. These colorful images are displayed in one of the committee hearing rooms, and they celebrate and remind us of the state’s rich variety and history of trade, science, innovation and architecture, as well as the natural beauty and wealth of our coastlines, agricultural lands, fisheries, mountains and forests.

The Pan-American Exposition posters show vintage San Diego landscapes with views of San Diego bay, since the 1915 Pan American Exhibition was tied to the opening of the Panama Canal and highlighted San Diego’s links to seaports and expanding ocean trade routes.

Looking at these posters helped me realize that many of the things that attracted people to California and San Diego 100 years ago haven’t really changed. A century ago people came from around the world, many via the newly opened canal, to enjoy not just the exhibition, but the region’s natural beauty, inviting coastline, proximity to Latin America, and the blending of classic architecture with a pleasant Mediterranean climate.

For people sweating in humid heat or shivering in frigid cold, the climate was reason enough to visit San Diego, and the added opportunity for enjoying entertainment, innovation (as highlighted by the technology of the canal) and special events only added to the allure.

Just imagine if today’s civic leaders and event planners could likewise develop a broader vision of links between trade, global innovation and regional sustainability as part of the 2015 celebration. They could do this by showcasing technology that embraces both the future of the region while celebrating our past.

This could include global trade and it’s connections to San Diego’s port, which recently installed a cold ironing facility to provide cleaner dockside power to visiting ships. That’s an excellent example of “progress to better humanity,” which, with a little imagination, could be linked to events of 100 years ago. (E.g., Tall Ships festival.)

Also consider the model of the USS Midway, to see how retrofitting an old “structure” can attract hundreds of thousands of paying visitors curious about the past and the use of technology for innovation.

The Midway is both a floating museum and a science and technology center, and has become one of the most popular entertainment venues in the country. Add it to the celebration, to keep with the 2015 port themes. Perhaps the Centennial planners could learn from the board-members of the Midway Foundation about how to incorporate and promote renovation, civic pride and historic preservation while celebrating Balboa Park’s proximity to the bay and ocean.

To continue linking our region’s technology and innovation advantages: develop a vision of aesthetic renewable energy into the park itself, by adding on-site solar and wind generation to power the historic buildings. Incorporate them into new centennial displays and entertainment throughout Balboa Park: Creatively designed and strategically placed Solar panels could be used to both provide shade and charge electric cars in parking lots (see: Kyocera and SAIC) and to also provide shade for visitors in the central plaza, now clear of cars.

San Diegans are not only producers but notorious early adopters of new technology. Little-known fact: when the Prius was first introduced, San Diego quickly became home to the world’s largest Prius Owners Club.

With that in mind, encourage the Automotive Museum to contact auto manufacturers from around the world and invite them to to display their latest, cleanest, most fuel-efficient cars. This exhibit could become an ongoing clean car show, and would likely lead to many sales as well as curious visitors.

Encourage manufacturers of innovative public transit solutions to set up shuttle services adjacent to the park, so visitors have many clean, emission-free options to arrive and depart.

Do the same for aircraft. The region has a unique and interesting aeronautical history. It’s one reason a decommissioned Titan rocket is on display near Gillespie Field.

Small windmills could be installed along the slopes over Hwy. 163, catching the canyon breeze and generating electricity for lighting the Laurel Street bridge with nighttime LED shows similar to those on the Eiffel Tower, but with a horizontal instead of vertical choreography. These displays offer potential sponsorships for energy utilities and LED manufacturers.

Experts would be invited to discuss how historic buildings have been retrofitted to incorporate the most efficient methods of lighting, heating and cooling, and lectures could take place inside the Natural History Museum which has done exactly that. It would be an ongoing, real world lesson of progress and innovation, and a way to not only celebrate the history of San Diego’s crown jewel, but invest in planning for its greener, energy independent future.

Exhibitions in the museums could build on this theme, with artwork related to what’s going on outside their walls.

The sponsors would be companies- local and international – that are actively designing, promoting and incorporating energy conservation, water re-use, sustainable agriculture and the like. Instead of plaques on monuments they would have their names on the solar panels, windmills and retrofitted buildings during the exhibition.

Visitors will be hungry after wandering through all these exhibits so for good measure, add some rainwater collection systems to provide irrigation to living, green walls and rooftops designed to grow fruits and veggies to be served in the park’s new outdoor eateries, located along the perimeter of the central plaza, and catered by restaurants specializing in locally grown food to supplement that being grown in the park. The companies that sponsor the installations get their names on the water and garden structures.

And of course there would have to be a beer garden, perhaps some on-site brewing, as well as wine tasting with products from Northern San Diego County and Baja California, in addition to cuisine from the various international houses.

Logos would be allowed on some of these new installations, but only for a limited amount of time during 2015. But many of these structures would remain in place, along with the money-saving benefits, long after the centennial year has ended, making the park a “solar and wind grove” of energy generation.

Many of these things are already being done on college and university campuses, government and commercial buildings, and in places like Fashion Valley (green wall), which could be used to cross-promote the innovative greening of the historic park.

Finally, invite speakers both locally and from around the world to reinforce this vision via discussions of green buildings, clean cars and transit, planning and sustainability, urban gardening, winemaking, beer brewing, water conservation and renewable energy and- Voila! You will have an exhibition designed for the 21st century, grounded firmly in the historical roots of the original exhibition (“the progress and possibility of the human race, not for the exposition only, but for a permanent contribution to the world’s progress.”) and it’s enduring celebration of 20th century trade, travel and technology.

Of course, there is bound to be resistance to all this. But the fact is: the first exposition was committed to progress, which requires change. Let’s see if San Diego is ready to celebrate change once again.

Lori Saldaña was on the founding Board of Directors for San Diego Earth Day and organized the first “Earth Fair” in Balboa Park in 1990. She served in California State Assembly from the 76th Assembly district from 2004 to 2010.

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