Sunday, June 23, 2013


One Hong Kong is enough

by Larry Geller

Why do I keep referring to Hong Kong? Because I’ve visited there many times, and let me tell you, it leaves an impression.

Here’s a picture of a section of Kowloon that no longer exists (aerial photo taken 27 March 1989 by Stevage).

Of course, Hawaii is not China and Honolulu is not Hong Kong. But it will take an effort to preserve the quality of life that we do have right now. Clearly, development took precedence over anything else in the photo above.

The area was demolished only in 1994. It was called the Walled City. There’s a good Wikipedia article here. To me, the history is not as important as the photo is scary.

Parts of present-day Kowloon seemed almost as dense to me when I used to visit. I got to see some of the buildings up close one day as the plane I was on approached the old airport. Those who used that airport may remember that the approach was right through a densely-built residential section of Kowloon. The flight path was literally between the buildings.

So that day I was relaxing at a window seat as the plane descended. I learned afterwards that some of the runway lights were out (not a rare occurrence). But so what. As the plane came in for a landing, it did look much too close to the buildings.

Forever fixed in my mind is an image of a couple standing on their balcony as the starboard wingtip of our airplane zipped by close enough to trim their potted plants. Or so it seemed. The guy’s mouth was wide open. On the plane, I was thinking that this might be the “final approach to Hong Kong airport” that the pilot had just announced.

Neither the pilot nor any of the crew said a single word as we landed and taxied to the gate. Everyone was completely silent. I heard later that up in the galley, one of the crew had thrown up after the landing.

So that’s my little story. It has nothing to do with building more high-rise condos in Kakaako. But on the other hand, it has everything to do with it.

If we believe in maintaining our “sense of place” or whatever, which comes down to preserving the quality of life we have now, then we need to think of what lies ahead if development without limit is allowed to continue both in the city and on our best farmland, and later, on the North Shore and pretty much anywhere else.

Aside from the quality of life issue, should tourism magazines in Japan or China begin to pan Honolulu as a destination, our economy could take a sudden and irreversible tumble. The world already has one Hong Kong, it may not need another.


Apparently Brian Schatz now feels that folks who deny global warming should be ridiculed and driven out of town through mockery. OK, maybe so. Now, will he then admit that the rail and the Kakaako development should also be hooted and derided into oblivion? Because both of these follies will be the victims of rising sea levels from global warming.

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