Sunday, July 01, 2012


Hoopili, Koa Ridge: Part of Honolulu’s end game

To European explorers, it was Eden, a paradise of waist-high grasses, towering stands of walnut, maple, chestnut, and oak, and forests that teemed with bears, wolves, raccoons, beavers, otters, and foxes. Today, it is the site of Broadway and Wall Street, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, and the home of millions of people, who have come from every corner of the nation and the globe.

by Larry Geller

The pull quote is from a review of Gotham: a History of New York to 1898, by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Oxford University Press, Inc., New York, 1999.

Yeah, bears, wolves, raccoons, beavers, otters and foxes… by the time I was born in the Bronx, all I experienced was asphalt, concrete and automobile fumes along the Grand Concourse. Foxes and bears were known to me only as images in a little cloth-paged picture book I was given as an infant, while outside the window of the brick apartment building we lived in, there were no animals at all other than neighbors’ dogs.

When I was old enough to walk to the movies by myself on Saturday, for 25 cents I could see three feature-length cartoons, which were mostly about smart aleck rabbits, pigs and other “animals” (the 25 cents included popcorn). As to trees… we did have Central Park. I had no idea what kind of trees were there, just that there were trees.

Honolulu has no Central Park. We do have the North Shore, at least temporarily. Developers are after that, and the city seems quite willing to give up valuable park land to be paved over.

It’s just a question of time.

By the time my grandparents arrived at Ellis Island the transformation of New York City from Eden to concrete jungle was long complete.

No one would recognize this description of the place, snipped from the first chapter of the book:

Travelers spoke of vast meadows of grass “as high as a mans middle” and forests with towering stands of walnut, cedar, chestnut, maple, and oak. Orchards bore apples of incomparable sweetness and “pears larger than a fist.” Every spring the hills and fields were dyed red with ripening strawberries, and so many birds filled the woods “that men can scarcely go through them for the whistling, the noise, and the chattering.”  Boats crossing the bay were escorted by schools of playful whales, seals, and porpoises. Twelve-inch oysters and six-foot lobsters crowded offshore waters, and so many fish thrived in streams and ponds that they could be taken by hand. Woods and tidal marshlands teemed with bears, wolves, foxes, raccoons, otters, beavers, quail, partridge, forty-pound wild turkeys, doves “so numerous that the light can hardly be discerned where they fly,” and countless deer “feeding, or gamboling or resting in the shades in full view.” Wild swans were so plentiful “that the bays and shores where they resort appear as if they were dressed in white drapery.” Blackbirds roosted together in such numbers that one hunter killed 170 with a single shot; another bagged eleven sixteen-pound gray geese in the same way. “There are some persons who imagine that the animals of the country will be destroyed in time,” mused Van der Donck, “but this is an unnecessary anxiety.”

In Honolulu, the transformation from a Pacific island to Los Angeles by the Sea is approaching reality. Our city government sees no reason to restrain developers and gives in to each and every grand scheme. Residents of Honolulu, unlike, say, the concerned citizens of Portland, Oregon, are content to leave city planning, if there is such a thing here at all, to elected officials fattened by developers and related architects, engineers, and trade unions. The carpenter needs work, but here it comes at the expense of the farmer.

Paving over farmland is also well advanced. The lush Manoa valley used to be the breadbasket of Honolulu. Each day enough rain would fall, and then the sun would cause any kind of plant to grow. There were cows and horses, I’m told. But look at it now. Yes, lawns in the valley are lush and green, but they don’t feed anyone.

We already import almost all of our food, a situation which causes local money to fly out of state since supermarkets are owned by Mainland firms. What kind of idiots are we, to prefer canned vegetables to freshly grown?

The asphalt and concrete don’t just cover the ground. They pollute what streams we have left and the surrounding ocean. It takes imported oil and coal to feed energy into the structures that sprout from the asphalt, while before the pavement arrived, yearlong sunshine and gentle rain nurtured fields, crops and forests. Our predecessors squandered the self-supporting natural environment for greed and profit.

In New York, the transformation to a huge city is long completed. Honolulu is well on the way. The proposed (and no doubt soon to be built) Koa Ridge and Hoopili developments push Honolulu well towards the day when the island will be more city than country.  We’re at a point where each new little concrete neighborhood joins together with others to form a matrix of unnatural and unwanted cityscape. Unlike New York, which had the wisdom to put in an extensive system of roads and transit, Honolulu’s shortsightedness puts us more in the class of Calcutta. We’re well on the way to choke through overbuilding and underplanning, with an economy driven by bribery, corruption and wanton exploitation. Will tourists still come? I think there must be a point where they might not.

So instead of progress, I think it is fair to view Koa Ridge and Hoopili as part of the end game. These and developments to follow will one day connect, edge to edge, much as Tokyo and Yokohama join almost seamlessly into a mega-city devoid of nature and its beneficence. Indeed, the only foxes in Tokyo now are those mythical messengers of the gods that are said to steal the offerings from Inari shrines.

Honolulu no longer has an Inari shrine. The last one was torn down to make way for a bicycle shop on S. King Street.


...outside the window of the brick apartment building we lived in, there were no animals at all other than neighbors’ dogs.

I cry BS. No native New Yorker least of all a guy from the Bronx would fail to mention the rats.

No BS. No rats. They come out at night, we were not allowed to stay up past Howdy Doody Time, much less go outside to check out the rodents.

If theyʻre finished covering Oahu, guess whatʻs next? Outer islands. Watch out for Abercrombie. He is violating the constitution in almost everything he touches.

People from Oahu still may not understand the importance of why the superferry was stopped.

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