This headline for a recent Civil Beat story (“Is Kapolei a Mistake?“) caught our attention, not only because of the question itself, but because, used as a headline, it has the impact of a rhetorical question. The implied, yet misguided, answer is: Yes, Kapolei is a mistake.

Headlines are very effective hooks to get you to read on. And while the story itself is relatively balanced once you read past the attention grabbing lead loaded with comments by critics who neither live nor work in Kapolei, it was like trying to un-ring a bell. We would like to ring a louder bell on behalf of Kapolei’s thousands of businesses and residents that embody Kapolei’s success.

We will grant you that this response comes from a group – the Kapolei Chamber of Commerce – that is unabashedly biased in Kapolei’s favor. However, we are not so myopic or self-interested that we do not appreciate the value of differing opinions on something as important as building a city. Our community engages in this kind of healthy discourse for issues that arise as Kapolei grows. But you ask the thousands of businesses, residents and workers who live and commute here how they feel about this headline, and we believe they may feel a bit insulted. We do.

20 may 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kapolei Hale

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Rather than engage in a point-by-point rebuttal, we want to make a few points by those of us who believe in and have invested our lives and livelihood in Kapolei.

  • Kapolei is a young city – a mere 25 years from groundbreaking. This is an extremely short time as compared to how long it takes a city to mature. Consider that Honolulu was named the capital city of the Hawaiian Kingdom by Kamehameha III in 1845 and adopted a city charter in 1959 after over 100 years of growth. Kapolei is decades away from being a complete city, but it is well on its way based on business and government presence, its level of infrastructure development and the fact that it is the fastest growing area in the state.
  • The Kapolei region is about 30 square miles in area or roughly the area between Kalihi and Diamond Head. Its population is over 112,000, not the lower community-specific figures quoted in the story. This population is expected to grow to nearly 170,000 in the next 20 years. That will make it not only the most frequently chosen area to live in the state by new residents over that period, but it will be just behind Maui County in population size.
  • Perhaps more important than population growth (although intrinsically tied to it), Kapolei’s job count is expected to jump from nearly 63,000 to over 103,000 jobs in the next 20 years. There is no other area in the state capable of or as well-suited for that level of growth in employment opportunities.
  • With more than 80 percent of the population feeling that, given a choice, they prefer to live in single family home or a town home (National Association of Realtors survey, 2013), Kapolei is the only place on Oahu offering diversified and affordable housing choices for a growing population.  This flies in the face of the notion of only pursuing high density/high rise development in Honolulu’s urban core, which is unrealistic and under supplies housing choices for local families. Kapolei has unique high density housing in projects like Mehana and Kapolei Lofts, but it also continues to offer the only new single family housing being built in meaningful quantities on Oahu.
  • Let’s not forget Kapolei’s importance to the state’s economy when the billions of dollars of investments in its development prevented the 2008-2011 recession from being much worse for Hawaii. Consistent investment in Kapolei continues through economic downturns unlike most other areas developing in Honolulu.
  • Kapolei’s development exemplifies smart growth with its emphasis on mixed land uses (commercial, industrial, housing), range of housing types, multi-modal transportation options, open space, and walkable streets. Kapolei has been the most diversified area for growth in the state over the last 25 years. We know it has a way to go and we’re more invested than ever in its development over the long haul.

Finally, we want to clarify that Kapolei is a planned urban center — not a willy-nilly attempt at city building. The best thinking of the time was used in conceptualizing that plan. Like all plans, it is subject to changing times, ideas and conditions, which call for reasonable flexibility.

Nevertheless, we believe the underlying premise of the vision is still valid. And it will take the combined effort and will of everyone who has a stake in Hawaii to move Kapolei towards realizing its intended purpose – to be a city where a growing population will have enough job opportunities and housing choices to help balance the traffic flow into downtown Honolulu. We point to your quote by Former Governor John Waihee:

“Everybody can look at something and hindsight is always better. But it’s a question of having a plan and then what are the forces around driving it, how well do you do with what you’ve got and what’s the potential will.”

Instead of second guessing growth decisions vigorously debated over several decades and the tens of billions invested to date, we feel the next 25 years in Kapolei’s evolution would be better spent contributing to its success.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author