Inside USD

USD Grad Picks up Where He Left off with History Documentary

Friday, May 22, 2009

Some would say that proper planning takes time. That was the case for Brian Mooney, who took a little extra time to complete a documentary on city planning in San Diego.

Mooney started the project in the mid-1970’s as a University of San Diego graduate student. It was to be his thesis. Fast forward more than 30 years. Mooney is set to earn a master’s degree in history this weekend, and that thesis has now become a 30-minute documentary film about John Nolen, one of San Diego’s original city planners.  “The Nolen Plan: Vision, Politics & Memory in San Diego” will air tonight at 9:30 p.m. on KPBS.

Mooney, a city planning consultant in Del Mar, started research on the 1908 Nolen Plan years back because he wanted to explore the roots of city planning in San Diego. He says he decided to complete his work in film as a way to finish old business and try out something new.

“I had sold my urban planning and environmental studies consulting firm, Mooney & Associates, which enabled me to go back and finish the old project and a master’s program I had put on hold so many years ago,” he says. “It was going to be the 100th anniversary of planning in the region, (and) my youngest son had successfully completed school at the prestigious USC Film School and I was looking for an opportunity to complete a project with him.”

It took a year to research, write the script and film the project.  The film features highlights of the nexus between the Nolen Plan and the politics of the Smokestack versus Geraniums mayoral race of 1917. It provides an understanding of the historic environmental roots of San Diego planning and rediscovers the link to the national planning philosophy of the “City Beautiful Movement,” Mooney explained.

The film recently won the Journalism and Media Award for the San Diego Section of the American Planning Association (APA) and is being considered for a State of California award. It has also been shown at the Balboa Park Museum of Modern Photography and is being considered to be shown regularly at the San Diego Historical Society. The film will also be featured on cable television in Del Mar.

The film features interviews with USD Professor and historian Iris Engstrand, journalis Roger Showley and planners Michael Stepner and Bill Anderson.

– Denise T. Ward

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