Big Island planning seen as prototype
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii » Residents and local government officials on the Big Island are trying to figure out the future without relinquishing the quality of life or sacrificing the environment.
The island is seen as a microcosm of the development challenges and sustainability opportunities that face every community in the world, said Chris Yuen, Hawaii County planning director and the keynote speaker at the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce annual Environment and Natural Resources Conference.
More than a half-dozen speakers at the event Friday focused on sustainability -- wisely using resources so future generations can enjoy them -- and its role in global preservation.
Yuen defended sometimes unpopular county policies as ways to manage growth responsibly and protect the environment. While acknowledging that the island, particularly the west side, has problems, he remained optimistic that development and environmental responsibility could be harmonious.
"I believe we can have an ecologically sound future. We can improve the environment and we can do better," Yuen said. "We have a tremendous growth problem here in Hawaii, but there can be a positive relationship between people and the Earth."
Flo Frank, an internationally recognized specialist in community development and strategic planning, also sees a bright future for the west side of the Big Island. "I see the beginning of a whole lot of energy. It's bubbling here," she said. "Things are just starting to pop."
The Canadian professor and author specializes in community-based economic development, based on creating a sense of ownership, followed by "inside-out" development, which starts and ends locally -- resources, workers, products and ideas.
This type of growth leads to greater accountability in communities, Frank said.
Yuen agreed local government has an obligation to keep its communities "a beautiful place to live."
He zeroed in on global warming as one of today's biggest issues, one that has impacts on many levels.
"And we are just starting to realize it now," he said. "We are part of the global environment, and we have to pay attention to global issues. We also have to work on this issue locally."
The county has taken steps to alleviate traffic. Under Mayor Harry Kim's administration, islandwide free bus service has been expanded and selective rezoning has focused development in the core Kona village area.
Traffic troubles and global warming are intertwined -- every vehicle contributes to pollution, and too many vehicles create gridlock. With people spending up to twice as long in their cars as 30 years ago, Yuen said, the problems are clear.
"Congestion is primarily a commuting issue," he said. "The only answer is to give housing options nearer to where they work. People won't stop moving to Kona, and the jobs won't stay vacant forever."
With one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, Kona businesses and the Kohala Coast resorts are looking for workers.
"A Kau High School graduate will eventually take a job at a resort and drive miles and miles," Yuen said.
Also, he noted some 200 building permits had been issued for new homes in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, 45 miles south of Kona.
"Very few of those people who are building there will work there," he said. "They will out of necessity work in Kailua-Kona or one of the resorts up north."