Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Let’s plan Honolulu—or is that too radical an idea?

by Larry Geller

Someone asked me on the phone the other day why I am supporting HOT lanes for Honolulu over rail by linking to the Stop Rail Now petition. No, no, NO! What I support is planning our community before we ruin it with an expensive developer-driven transit plan. Or, for that matter, with HOT lanes that benefit the rich.

I think Oahu taxpayers have been cheated of the chance to plan our own community. Instead, the “planning” process consists of rubber stamping whatever a developer brings through the door of our city government. 3,000 new homes? You got ‘em. Height exemptions? How high would you like? Rail station? Our pleasure!

But at City Council hearings I witnessed repeated testimony that the voices of ordinary people were not taken into consideration. That’s been my experience as well. Should we just let them do this to us without a fight?

Letting developers pave over us is not great city planning. It’s the same old “Land and Power in Hawaii” mentality which guarantees that we will continue to be surfs to big money interests. Where we live and how much we pay are not under our control if we let developers run the fiefs. Of course, we’ll also pay through losing Oahu as we know it today. Before long it will be paved over, built over, and ruined for us.

And of course, our loss will be a big win for the ambitions of our mayor and his supporters:

Contractors on Honolulu's $3.7 billion transit system and their employees have contributed $163,000 to Mayor Mufi Hannemann's re-election campaign.

Between November 2004, when Hannemann was elected, to December 2007, he has raised $2.26 million for his campaign, and $163,000, or 7.2 percent, has come from contractors involved in the planning of the project, their employees and families, according to an Advertiser search of Hawai'i Campaign Spending Commission records.

The $163,000 donation figure includes companies already receiving money from the city but does not include contributions from land owners and developers, labor unions, other future beneficiaries of the transit project. [Honolulu Advertiser, 5/4/2008]

There are plenty of examples of communities planning their own living environment. I’ve urged readers to explore Peter Calthorpe’s website as one resource. Here is a snippet from his work on the Metro Vision 2040 project for Portland, Oregon. The people pictured around the table are not, I repeat not, developers, they are community people like you or me. When they need developers, I’m sure they can ask for them:

Community Plans Together The Calthorpe team led visioning workshops with community members to determine land use and circulation alternatives for each of the Metro 2040 study areas.

Community members worked in small teams to develop rough concept plans for each study area, providing a forum for exchanging ideas among stakeholders with divergent interests. Using this community input, Calthorpe Associates developed masterplans for each site.

Again from the Calthorpe website, a snippet from one of his planning guidelines:

Street design

Why not take some of the money accumulated by the transit tax and spend it on a planning effort? In other words, what’s wrong with starting from the beginning, from step 1? In the end, the developers, architects, engineers and trade unions get theirs anyway.

How about this, from an article I posted in 2006, a diagram from Calthorpe’s 1988 article on “Pedestrian Pockets:”

So that’s what I would prefer. Let’s first stop this rail fiasco. Then let’s plan our own communities, including transit, and only then tell our mayor and City Council what we want. If the mayor continues to side with the big money interests and ignores what the people want, guess what, there are other choices for mayor.



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