June 1996 Home   Newsletters

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1996 LWVUS Convention Action (Jean Aoki, Suzanne Meisenzahl & Jackie Parnell)
President's Message (Astrid Monson)
Convention Activities (Jean Aoki, Suzanne Meisenzahl & Jackie Parnell)
Growth or Sustainability (Astrid Monson)
Candidates in Focus
Drive-in Registration
Hawaiian Sovereignty Vote Count (Arlene Ellis)
League Testifies on City Camping Facilities
Action Alert
Voter Participation
Orientation Meeting (Grace Furukawa)
Court Monitoring Project
Voter Hotline
Leaguer Elected to Serve on Violence Prevention Board
Leaguer Cindy Spencer "Expert Witness"

Growth or Sustainability

"Waikiki Future: Is Bigger Better?" was the Advertiser's front page banner headline last March 31. The article quoted Administration officials. City Councilmember Duke Bainum, who represents Waikiki, and the League of Women Voters. It contrasted the City's view of a Waikiki redeveloped at higher densities with that of its critics who fear "massive buildings and lots of concrete cutting off the pleasant experience of Hawaii."

The issue of further growth in Waikiki was of great concern in the early 1970's. The rapid pace of new construction in the 1960's had led to broad agreement between residents, the visitor industry, and the City and State governments, that a way had be found to stop the acceleration of congestion and over-development. In 1976 – with no significant opposition – the Waikiki Special Design District regulations were adopted. These reduced allowable densities, increased the required open space, set up off street parking provisions, and in many other ways sought to keep the area's future growth and development within its carrying capacity. It is these regulations which current proposals seek to weaken, if not destroy.

For some years, people have looked to growth as a panacea for many of our national ills – for unemployment, for poverty, to reduce taxes, to provide opportunity for everyone. "The rising tide lifts all vessels." we are told. "We can grow our way out of economic stagnation," it is argued. "If we reduce taxes, business will grow and create new jobs." And so on.

Recently, these assumptions are being increasingly questioned. Donella Meadows, adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College, has coauthored a significant book entitled The Limits to Growth and its sequel, Beyond the Limits. In the Spring, 1996 issue of the Population Press, she has some interesting things to say about what many planners have been talking about, such as sustainability, sustainable development, and sustainable growth.

First, she defines sustainability as "the ability to sustain, to keep going, to provide for the long term – meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In practical terms, sustainability means not cutting a forest faster than it grows, not pumping groundwater faster than it recharges, not dumping wastes faster than nature can absorb or recycle them."

Applying this to growth on Oahu, we could add not using up excessive quantities of land by building low-density subdivisions faster than we can build infrastructure to service them, not locating – growing suburbs faster than viable transit can be provided, not wasting drinking water on golf courses when water to irrigate them can be provided through recycling waste water, and so on.

She alleges that seeking short-term gain "distracts our attention from long-term consequences. 'That's progress' we say, as we pave over fertile fields. Everyone knows you can't stop progress. 'Technology' is a magic incantation that will clean up any mess, and if technology won't do it, 'the market' will. The most powerful thought-stopping word of all is growth."

She asks, "Growth of what? For whom? How long can we keep it up? What will we do when it's over? Can we be sure it's harmless?"

She explains that growth means "an increase in physical size," whereas the dictionary defines development as "to realize the potentialities of, to bring to a fuller, greater, or better state. Development means to get better; growth means to get bigger."

She summarizes, "The planet Earth develops, diversifies, evolves. It does not grow. The same must ultimately be true of the human economy, if it is to be sustained on and by this planet. Sustainable growth is neither desirable nor possible. But sustainable development, providing more services to human beings while putting less load on the environment, is entirely possible, if we develop the words to talk about it, understand it, act on it, and bring it into being."

Astrid Monson
Planning & Zoning Committee

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