Sunday, November 16, 2008

Musings: Two Communities

The patter of rain on the roof served as a pleasant lullaby all night long, and continued into the morning, punctuated by gusting winds and trilling bird song. Birds love the rain, because they know it brings the landscape to life. And I always feel so happy seeing the `aina getting quenched, because water, really, is what it’s all about.

Some people, however, still don’t seem to grasp the basic elements of life — you know, oxygen, food, water. That became clear when I talked to a couple of friends who attended Friday night’s “Template for Lihue’s Tomorrow” event, which was intended to result in a planning model based on sustainability and "smart growth" principles.

Seems that during the break-out sessions, where folks were asked to identify the basic needs of Kauai residents, one person named jewelry. Now that wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t also a former member of the Board of Land and Natural Resources.

“People just don’t understand the difference between wants and needs,” observed one friend.

And therein lies both the root of the problem we face in trying to attain sustainability and the reason why those attending — the Lihue Veterans Center was standing room only — were unable to reach agreement on either the definition of sustainability or the means for achieving it.

“There was zero consensus because there were two different communities in that room,” said another friend.

One is the community that understands that sustainability is, to use UH Professor Luciano Minerbi’s definition, any development that benefits Hawaiian ecosystems and improves the socio-economic conditions of its residents, especially its indigenous people.

The other is the community that wants to go beyond that and rake in extra cash so they can buy jewelry — and not the sustainable kind, which would be made with Niihau shells.

Given the existence of those two very different communities, it’s no surprise that Grove Farm — the largest landowner in the Lihue region — represents both the greatest opportunity, and the greatest barrier, to achieving sustainability in that district.

So where is Grove Farm on the issue? Well, at Friday’s meeting, company vice president Mike Tressler reportedly said Grove Farm had “tried some of this sustainable urban design stuff, but it’s just too costly.”

Yet he was singing a different tune in a TGI article promoting Grove Farm’s new 180-acre project between Hanamaulu and the courthouse, which is expected to add about 440 homes on the Hanamaulu side, and a theater, restaurant, shops with apartments above them, assisted-living facility, child care center, supermarket and business traveler hotel on the Lihue side:

What’s different about this project is its emphasis on smart growth and its target audience of current Kauai residents, says Mike Tressler, a Grove Farm vice president.

The project, unlike many started in the development boom of late, seeks to create a walkable community for kamaaina.

Tressler said the development is also aiming for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum certification, the highest standard for “green” building and design.

OK, so the kamaaina get a community where they can walk to the multiple jobs they hold to pay that “affordable” mortgage. That’s great. But do you suppose that will prevent Grove Farm from creating luxury gentleman’s estates on agricultural land far away from all the riff-raff living in that dense (440 units in 52 acres) “smart growth” urban housing?

No. And why? Because that’s where the big money is, and Grove Farm wants its jewelry.

If we’re ever to achieve any semblance of sustainability here in Hawaii, we need to look at the model that was in place when Captian Cook arrived “and the economy was f….g thriving,” a friend said. “People had food, they had shelter, they had so much free time they went surfing.

“Economy,” my friend pointed out, “doesn’t mean money.”

And that’s true. It means:

Definition 1: Activities related to the production and distribution of goods and services in a particular geographic region.

Definition 2: The correct and effective use of available resources.

Now when you’re looking at creating a sustainable economy from that perspective, it takes on a whole new meaning and seems, suddenly, achievable. But if you’re all hung up on wanting your jewelry, well, that’s the dominant paradigm that’s created the completely unsustainable economic mess that now confronts us — the mind-set, held by so many of those in positions of power, that sees more of the same as the only way out.

Which one do you think is going to prevail in creating a template for the Lihue, and the Kauai, of tomorrow?


Anonymous said...

So building large homes on large should be stopped?

Anonymous said...

> So building large homes on large should be stopped?

Wrong question.

The question is, "how long can it go on?"

Anonymous said...

If the question is based on peak oil? Our winters are warm. Most houses on Kauai are less than 10 minutes from a beach. All guarded beaches are patrolled by lifeguards not armed guards. Most houses are advertised on the internet giving access to a worlwide market. There are non petroleum sources for production of jet fuel and small nuclear reactors has for decades powered submarines and can be easily converted for use in freighters. Most electricity on the mainland is generated by non oil sources I have the skills and the inclination to thrive in a stone age economy but the chances of that are slim. The question is as always, how will we manage growth?

If the question is based on climate change????

Anonymous said...

If the question is based on "what is an economy" it is already being answered -- in mass layoffs, mortgage meltdowns and market plunges around the world.

Kaua'i or Kansas, we can't go on eating ag land to build large homes on large lots that only enlarge the already-large bank accounts of the few.

We can want to. We can try to continue.

But it isn't going to work. Not this way. Not anymore.

Anonymous said...

"But it isn't going to work. Not this way. Not anymore."

Sure it is. The idea that we are running ourselves out of farm land is just silly. And to see in periodic economic contractions the End Of History is also silly. And to see the importation of goods as an evil is just stupid.

Anonymous said...

As the amount of tourism related dollars continues to decline, we're going to see less goods being imported to Hawaii anyway. Where is the bottom? The State has revised its economic forecasts downward twice in the span of, what, a month? Ain't much we on Kauai can do about that. I've expanded my garden just in case.

Anonymous said...

Recessions tend to last between 8 and 16 months.

Somebody mentioned bubbles. Bubbles occur when people think present conditions have become permanent. It's the same kind of thinking that occurs when people think economic contractions are the new permanent reality. They're not. The economy is dynamic.

Anonymous said...

"So building large homes on large should be stopped?"

If it is on good ag lands, yes. If the benefits of the:
1) construction,
2) profits from the sale, and
3) purchase

go to primarily outsiders rather than existing Kauai residents, yes, it should be stopped.

Anonymous said...

What's with the ag land fetish? Just because something is "good ag lands" doesn't mean is isn't better used as residential development or industry.

Joan Conrow said...

I guess that depends on whether you want to eat.

Anonymous said...

> What's with the ag land fetish? Just because something is "good ag lands" doesn't mean is isn't better used as residential development or industry. <

What's with the endless consumerism fetish? "Better used as residential development?" Better for whom? Residents, their children and their grandchildren? Or off-island richies?

Many of the posts above are just advocating trickle-down economics. It doesn't work. Not in the long run. It only works bubble-to-bubble. It makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. It's extractive. It's self-limiting. It isn't sustainable!

Anonymous said...

"I guess that depends on whether you want to eat."

Not so. We hardly need all "good ag lands" to produce plenty of food. Not to mention imports which, contrary to "sustainability" fetishists, is smarter in some instances than growing all our own.

The notion that the market economy is "unsustainable" is balderdash hippy-fried wishful thinking. Oh, and the notion that it makes the poor poorer is born of utter ignorance of economic history. It's the planned economies that have ended up starving millions.

Anonymous said...

atlas shrugged as kauai got left behind and wondered what happened

Anonymous said...

No jewelry in the idealized planned economy of tomorrowland. Just poi.

Anonymous said...

Before you mourn too loudly for the precious "Ag-land," it would be instructive to find out if anything but cane or wild vegetation could grow on that particular piece of land. A lot of our level undeveloped land is inappropriate for farming for a variety of resons. Don't let your opposition become automatic...for a variety of resons.