Hawaii 2050 Can Work
Around the time I spoke to the public conference unveiling the draft Hawaii 2050 plan in September, various people asked me, “Aren’t you afraid that Hawaii 2050 will just sit on the shelf and gather dust?”
The answer is that long-range plans have worked in Hawaii when we put our hearts and minds to them.
In the mid- to late 19th century, Hawaii’s mountains were stripped of vegetation by wild cattle and goats. The water sources were being fouled and flooding was common. In early photographs of Oahu, the mountains are shockingly bare. Over 40 to 50 years, a massive replanting restored the tree canopy and saved our watersheds.
In more recent times, the Land Use Commission Act of 1959 has done much to preserve agricultural land, open space and conservation lands.
Legislation in the late 1960s and early 1970s stabilized our air and water quality and brought significant regulation to construction in the coastal zones. In the sum of its parts, this was our first consciously environmental plan as inspired by the modern “Earth Day” concerns for the environment.
When I became governor in 1973, development was spreading rapidly up the Windward coast of Oahu. Through a planning and public involvement process, I became determined to preserve something of old Hawaii. The resulting Windward Oahu Regional Plan became the basis for saving scenic spaces, open space, and the rural and agricultural nature of the windward side of the island of Oahu.
With this experience, we moved on to the Hawaii State Plan in 1978, strengthening the cause of good land use planning, conservation, and the preservation of historic and cultural sites. With the idea that “Everything relates to everything,” the State Plan sought a balance among the needs of the environment, stewardship of natural resources, maintaining a vibrant economy, the financing of educational and social safety nets, building housing, developing diversified agriculture, wise use of water, etc.
I employed the Hawaii State Plan daily as a way of coordinating the sprawling and sometimes conflicting missions of government. Believe me, the State Plan did not gather dust on a shelf until I left office.
As a way of ensuring ongoing observance of a plan, the draft Hawaii 2050 plan emphasizes annual “report cards” on sustainability efforts. These are obviously designed to keep the emphasis on action and accountability, regardless of who is in office. The draft also provides for automatic updates of the plan.
While it is true that a plan cannot predict the future, this is no reason to abandon planning. A plan can and should articulate goals for the future. Achieving results is not about achieving perfection, but about heading in the right direction.
A good sustainability plan for Hawaii 2050 will be even more important than our past efforts. The reason is that our population has grown and life has become more congested, yet the resources of our islands are the same. We are additionally challenged by global warming, which as an island society we should regard as deeply alarming.
Around the theme of sustainability, other states and communities have been catching up with ideas that were pioneered in Hawaii. Meanwhile, our own planning mechanisms have been weakened, or fallen into disuse. With Hawaii 2050, I hope we are awakening from our slumber. We can say to ourselves and the world, “We’ve had a lot of experience with finding a sustainable balance, and we can help.”
Let’s lead. As an island society in the middle of the world’s largest ocean, let us return to the forefront of genuine concern for future generations.
George R. Ariyoshi, chairman and cofounder of Convergence CT and Cellular Bioengineering, is the former president of Prince Resorts Hawaii Inc. He is active in international business circles, particularly in Asia. An attorney by profession, Ariyoshi served in elective office in Hawaii from 1954 to 1986. He served as governor of Hawaii from 1973 to 1986 and was the first Japanese American to be elected governor in the United States.
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