Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Musings: Lost Neighborhoods

Some days I pop right out of bed, while other mornings, it’s more of a dragging motion. Today was the latter. Those are the times when it’s helpful to have a dog, because there’s never any doubt Koko wants to get outside and walk.

The moon and Venus are drawing closer, and I predict they’ll meet right about the time the moon is new, in about a week, and if it’s clear, I can watch them set over Waialeale at dusk. I’m not an oracle; that’s just the natural cycle of things.

It was chilly when I started my walk this morning. Anybody who says Hawaii doesn’t have seasons isn’t paying attention, at least not to nature. The shifts are evident in the air and water temperature, the limu at the ocean, the flowers and trees that are blooming, the type of fruit that ripens.

Got to my neighbor Andy’s house just as he was heading out with his two dogs, so we did that leg of the walk together, as he filled me in on the history of the neighborhood. A lot of folks waved as they drove by.

When I ran into Ken Stokes at the Laundromat last weekend, he remarked that living in a real neighborhood is “priceless.”

I agree, and it’s an aspect of Kauai life that’s feeling a lot of strain these days, largely due to the proliferation of vacation rentals. My friend Daniel, who lives in Hanalei, is one of many who mourn the loss of community in that little town, where more than half the buildings are vacation rentals.

It’s not just that the homes have new people in them every week or so, but that many of the houses are larger, taking up far more of the lot, than the typical home occupied by a local. As a result, when the vacation rental behind him is occupied, it sounds like the people are right in his back yard.

Needless to say, this has led to more than one altercation with noisy, thoughtless vacationers. And it’s not just the residential areas that are feeling the squeeze. He and many of his family members rarely go to Hanalei Bay anymore, which his cousin described as “more worse” than town, because it’s gotten so crowded with tourists.

Although Daniel’s family has lived in Hanalei for three generations, the town no longer seems much like home, prompting him to remark, on more than one occasion, “I feel like a stranger in my own back yard.”

So how do you recover something priceless, like a neighborhood, once it’s been lost? Or is it gone forever?

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