Thursday, November 10, 2011

With Growth our Century's Operative Principle, ‘Aroundward’ Joins Upward, Outward as Option

Aloha Tower (foreground) was Hawaii's tallest building 50 years ago.
We weren’t living here in the 1950s when the H-1 freeway was being planned and discussed, but we’re pretty sure there was plenty of opposition to this thoroughfare, without which driving through Honolulu today would be unthinkable.

We can imagine some freeway opponents arguing that Honolulu should either build the freeway or improve surface streets, but not both.

Both obviously were necessary to accommodate the travel needs of Oahu’s growing population. Doing one but not the other was not an option, and those who could foresee the future’s requirements won that argument.

Oahu population growth is an acknowledged fact of life in the 21st century, just as it was in the 20th, and Star-Advertiser columnist Cynthia Oi’s “Under the Sun” column (subscription required) today has her perspective on how and where it should happen.

Ms. Oi flatly declares there should be only one direction for Oahu’s future growth; it should be either upward in taller buildings or outward in suburbia.

Her principle focus is Governor Abercrombie’s recent proposal to raise Honolulu’s height limit to 650 feet. The Governor reasons that significantly taller buildings in urban Honolulu would include a mix of both luxury and affordable housing, with the latter available for Honolulu’s so-called “work force.”

Limiting the Options
Ms. Oi argues that planners need to decide whether to build upward with high-rises or outward in a continuation of the pattern of the past half-century. She concludes, “They can’t have both.”

Reading between the lines, we detect Ms. Oi’s familiar anti-rail sentiments that go back at least five years (see her “Under the Sun” column on 12/13/06). The inference we draw from today’s piece is that if future growth is channeled into town, it won’t be necessary to build Honolulu rail to support growth in the Second City on the ewa plain.

This either-or approach to planning Oahu’s future seems as far-fetched as the earlier one would have been to either build freeways or improve surface streets, but not both. We know the Second City is on the planning map. We know people will continue to drive their cars. We know there will always be pressure to provide homes where 50 years of planning says they should be – in ewa.

We also know building housing in town makes sense. It lessens the need to drive and add to the congestion on streets and highways. “They can’t have both” just doesn’t ring true in a century that is only 11 years old.

The Third Option
Both are going to happen, but there's a third option that will be an important component of the Honolulu rail project. The “aroundward” option in our headline is about creating housing and commercial opportunities around the system’s 21 rail stations.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is one of the project’s goals. It's going to happen in urban Honolulu with new high-rise buildings and along rail's 20-mile route linking Ala Moana with Kapolei out west.

Fifty years ago, the tallest structure in Hawaii (aside from broadcast towers) was 10-story Aloha Tower on the Honolulu waterfront – all 184 feet of it. We can imagine more than a few voices being raised in opposition to the first building that would exceed the Tower's height.

Predictions made in 2011 about where people will be living on Oahu 50 years from now will be accurate only if they embrace the obvious possibilities – upward (27 high-rises already are planned for Kakaako), outward to areas already designated for growth and around Honolulu rail’s stations.

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