About the Author

Jacob Wiencek

Jacob Wiencek is a member of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board and concerned resident of Honolulu. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the neighborhood board or his employer.

In 2016 the city of Honolulu was ranked by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network on the “Sufficiency” level of global influence. That ranking meant that GaWC put us on the minimal and most marginal ranking for analyzing global power. Their next round of rankings was in 2018 and Honolulu was dropped completely.

It is absolutely astounding that Honolulu is considered so marginal to the world despite what I think are several important strengths.

This year, specifically the election of a new mayor for a new decade presents us with a fresh chance to reinvigorate the city and to build up to becoming a truly global city, something that would be beneficial and something of which we are certainly capable.

We need to use our unique geographic position to our advantage, by combining already existing strengths in our strategic importance and the growing importance of sustainable development, along with a determination to improve our decaying infrastructure.

A Strategic Node

For decades, Honolulu has been a key strategic node for the United States to engage the broader Indo-Pacific Region. Most visibly this is represented in the headquarters of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command being placed on our island along with other major military commands including Pacific Fleet, Pacific Air Forces, and Army Pacific.

However, we should not just focus on the major military presence to see in full the importance of Honolulu bridging the divide between east and west. Major research institutions including Pacific Forum, East-West Center, and the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies all contribute to enriching the cultural and educational development of our city and the world writ large.

Downtown Honolulu buildings along Honolulu Harbor with Aloha Tower.
Why doesn’t Honolulu have greater status globally? It should. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Yet these resources, these bridges between the East and West, which can and already do contribute so much are not used to their full potential. This is a striking gap considering the increased attention the Indo-Pacific has received from Washington with a new Indo-Pacific Strategy unveiled last year and new funding for a Pacific Deterrence Initiative for addressing strategic and security concerns with China.

Capitalizing on these new initiatives would reap benefits for the city as we seek to build our global presence. Our federal representatives should continue to work to ensure this new focus and funding comes to the city, recognizing our importance as a link between the East and West. Crucially we need our city and state leaders to raise their voices and advocate for our city.

Sustainable Economic Diversification

Two of the most important challenges facing our city are sustainability and economic diversification. Our unique geographic position automatically challenges us to adapt to sustain ourselves, with global commerce being key to Honolulu’s prosperity.

Yet we cannot ignore the pressures of climate change, for Honolulu is very much on the frontline of it. Here too, however, we can turn these challenges into opportunities if we develop innovative solutions.

We can become a global leader in renewable energy sustainability; in some ways we are already set up for that. Instead of relying on vulnerable energy imports we can generate our own power, increasing resiliency and reducing costs for the people.

Solar and wind would form the core of any energy sustainability strategy here, but it need not be limited to large energy projects. Outfitting homes and businesses with their own microgeneration units would help tremendously.

A global Honolulu is possible and within our grasp.

State and city leaders could encourage modifying existing structures and even mandate it for new construction. Our federal representatives can additionally work to legislate beneficial changes to the tax code to make it easier and more affordable to make these changes. (Hawaii Business Magazine has an amazing article that outlines changes already underway.)

Another major way to diversify the economy is to become an information technology hub. Because of our size we cannot directly compete with the giants in Silicon Valley, but I see no reason we could not become our own “Silicon Island.”

Going back to leveraging our position as a “Strategic Node” we have much in the way of defense cybersecurity funds coming this way; in fact the federal government has infrastructure and resources in place which are already benefiting the community.

Leveraging federal investment against commercial need is a first step; we can follow this up with using our cultural and educational links with the U.S. and East Asia to become a synergetic hub of innovation. Let us leverage our unique island (we are freaking Hawaii after all!) to draw top talent here, which can create more business opportunities, and constructively contribute to the global economy.

Rebuild Our Infrastructure

All the above however will be unattainable without a modern and well-maintained infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ annual report gave Hawaii a D-plus grade.

Despite being a statewide assessment one can visibly tell Honolulu has subpar infrastructure. Most of the main roads are poorly maintained (Nimitz Highway and Ala Moana Boulevard are pothole messes), the airport is dilapidated (albeit now undergoing much needed renovations), and one need only watch the evening news to see a new water main burst from pipes well over 100 years old.

Quite simply and frankly we must prioritize building and maintaining a world class infrastructure that meets our needs. State and city leaders need to prioritize maintenance and renewal projects in budgeting and planning.

The Challenge

2020 has been a year of challenges, major events, and we are facing more dramatic choices now than we did when the year started. Specifically for Honolulu, I think we are faced with a choice about the type of city we can be, and that we want to be.

I think we can be a global city, with global influence for the better, leading by turning our challenges into successes. A global Honolulu is possible and within our grasp.

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 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.

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About the Author

Jacob Wiencek

Jacob Wiencek is a member of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board and concerned resident of Honolulu. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the neighborhood board or his employer.

Latest Comments (0)

THANK YOU - even though this has been said for decades (especially the part about our crumbling infrastructure), perhaps now is finally the time. "Two of the most important challenges facing our city are sustainability and economic diversification. Our unique geographic position automatically challenges us to adapt to sustain ourselves, with global commerce being key to Honolulu’s prosperity."

KailuaSurfRider73 · 3 years ago

This island and the people that are indigenous to them have been pushed aside in the name of progress, it has left them to live on the fringes of what was their homeland I am kapuna born before this island was a state that's not what we want it's painful to see local people struggle to make ends meet we already have shared enough with little aloha given back to us you,take your plans somewhere else we are island people this is our aina we no need be global city.

1234........ · 3 years ago

"Honolulu could be the Beijing of the Pacific!!"  "Let’s be the greatest, most successful, global city!!"  Why?  What do we gain besides more people and a higher cost of living?  If you want to live in a "global city," you can move to Tokyo, NYC, or some other major economic city.  

honoliisurfer · 3 years ago

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