Hawaii’s Unique Problems

By Brian Takahashi
Wednesday - August 06, 2008
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Brian Takahashi

By Brian Takahashi
Senior Associate, Architects Hawaii Limited

At Architects Hawaii Limited, we are guided by an understanding that individual elements of the environment affect the whole.

When we plan and design, we consider the quality of life for now and the future. This integrated sustainable design approach involves considerable analysis so that we can find the best way to meet people’s needs and still preserve and protect our home for generations to come.

Designing and building affordable housing is a good example. There is no one solution or “silver bullet” to address the lack of affordable housing in Hawaii, which is cresting to crisis proportions.

Consider that in the last eight years, housing prices have risen more than 103 percent while annual income averages have only gone up by 20-25 percent. That means just about everybody in Hawaii has a problem affording a home. And rents are climbing to align with the increasing value of homes and condos. Who is going to fill the jobs left by retiring baby boomers if people can’t afford to buy or rent?

The problem doesn’t bypass those fortunate enough to own a home. What about those the community depends on - teachers, nurses, police, fire-fighters, ambulance drivers, service providers, salespeople, etc. Where are they going to live?

Architects Hawaii Limited folks
Architects Hawaii Limited folks at their fourth annual beach cleanup of Slipper Island at Keehi Marine Center for Get the Drift and Bag

When we consider “affordable,” we also consider the quality of life. Is our current transportation system affordable? We have traffic approaching gridlock. It’s unsafe to cross busy streets. We have long commutes because affordable housing is farther and farther away from work, services and stores. And, as a consequence, we are robbing our families and communities of time and attention while we commute.

Is it “affordable” to use agricultural land for housing? Recent studies suggest that we have seven days of food to sustain us if we are cut off from other sources.

As a community, our eyes are now wide open. We want to thrive, but it is equally important to preserve our family life, resources, land and the aloha of our community.

To find solutions, significant issues unique to Hawaii need citizen participation. Our regulatory process is inefficient and needs to be re-examined. It’s estimated that one-third of the cost of housing is wrapped up in the regulations. What regulations do we need? Which are no longer relevant? Which are duplicative?

We have a finite amount of land, which drives up the cost. Construction costs have always been high, but that cost is furiously aggravated today by soaring fuel costs and the sub-prime crisis. What are our options?

Our vision of “home” may need to change. For generations, many of us have viewed the single-family house with a yard, fence and a dog as the ideal home. That vision is evolving as we learn more about the price we are paying in terms of global warming, strain on infrastructure, quality of life and the loss of “community” and family time as we sprawl.

What can new sustainable communities look like? These decisions cannot be made by any one group or groups. It requires a holistic approach that means bringing together citizens, academia, design and building professionals, land owners, developers, urban planners, energy and transportation experts, sociologists - whoever can contribute to the tomorrow that we can build.

AHL is participating on task forces and with groups such as the Urban Land Institute. This group is taking a first step in engaging the community by bringing in a series of speakers with experience and success in building sustainable communities. Not all their solutions will apply, but learning and discussion can and will help all of us find solutions that fit us - uniquely.


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