Moving Hawaii Beyond The Pandemic - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Karl Kim

Karl Kim, Ph.D. is professor of urban and regional planning and executive director of the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center at the University of Hawaii.


If anything, the pandemic in Hawaii has heightened our awareness of movements both within our communities and outside. As a state so terribly dependent on tourism, the loss of visitors and their dollars has had a devastating impact on local businesses and jobs and incomes.

Because of our isolation and limited transportation infrastructure, it was easier to simply shut down the state than implement more flexible, smarter and innovative systems for managing the disease.

We’ve ended up relying too much on Washington and global industries, carriers, and outsiders for advice and direction and resources to muddle our way through this crisis.

Deep Structural Problems

The pandemic has taught us what we already knew. We are way too dependent on tourism. We are hugely vulnerable to external shocks and factors outside our control. There are deep structural problems with our economy and livelihoods and systems of production and consumption and exchange that affect not just paychecks but also rents, mortgages, tuition payments and tax revenues.

The sun rises over a deserted Waikiki in April 2020, one month into the pandemic. Now, Hawaii must learn to ensure a more prosperous future. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Many of those not harmed by the loss of family and friends due to the coronavirus were hurt by the economic downturn. Shuttered businesses, furloughs and permanent job losses have led to increased depression, substance abuse, hopelessness, criminal activity and other chain reactions hurting individuals and families in our community.

A Widened Gulf

COVID-19 has also increased the inequities and disparities in our community. It has widened the gulf between rich and poor and has forced many hardworking families struggling to make ends meet into poverty. It has happened not just here in Hawaii but across the nation and throughout the world.

The pandemic has set back efforts to improve social welfare, health, educational and economic opportunity and living standards for most of the world’s population.

Communities already struggling to deal with the consequences of global warming, sea level rise, drought and degradation of agriculture and fisheries, and other impacts of climate change face existential threats like never before. The pressures to leave and migrate to safer, wealthier and more stable places will continue to grow.

All of these pressures to change and adapt come at a time of increased distrust of government and growing mistrust of others. It is not surprising to see an increase in hate crimes and targeted violence against minorities and vulnerable populations.

In these turbulent and precarious times, political leaders often look to blame others or shift attention away from the failures in management, procurement and delivery of vital services, including public health. It is easier and more convenient to look for soundbites and quick fixes rather than to address the preexisting conditions of racism, inequity, profiteering and the structural deficiencies exposed by the latest disaster.

We need to protect our own human, physical and cultural assets from exploitation but also remain connected to and aware of global developments, threats, technologies and movements.

Too much attention and resources go toward short-term fixes and responses rather than investment in long-term capabilities, systems and transformations. Part of this is natural, because of our humanitarian instincts and need to support our front-line workers — those fighting the fires, rescuing those in danger, sacrificing to provide medical care and support to those in need.

Because of our isolation and limited mutual aid, we must do all we can to prevent our hospitals and other emergency services from becoming overwhelmed.

The Lessons To Learn

We need to learn from this disaster because it will happen again. The pandemic tells us loudly to invest in businesses and industries that support the resilience and sustainability of our community. We need to prioritize education and training and workforce development and job creation and entrepreneurial activity like never before.

Just like managing the pandemic, this is all about the movement and sharing of assets within and across our community and from outside. We need to relax and reform our zoning and development and regulatory standards, guidelines, processes, rules and practices to support innovation and investment and rapid job creation especially for clean, safe, restorative, environmentally friendly or nature-based industries.

We need new bold ideas to come from within.

We need to retrofit many systems, to make them safer, healthier, greener, more resilient and sustainable. This means more outdoor dining and classrooms. It means serious investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. It is back to basics like sunshine, sanitation, cleanliness and hygiene.

Planting more trees and growing more food. It is about addressing food insecurity. It means supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs who develop new products and services and startups that add to the vitality and energy of our community.

We need flexible, adaptable, accessible incubator spaces and to remove the institutional walls, silos, and barriers to growth and development. Above all, we need new bold ideas to come from within to move us collectively to a better and more hopeful place.


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About the Author

Karl Kim

Karl Kim, Ph.D. is professor of urban and regional planning and executive director of the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center at the University of Hawaii.


Latest Comments (0)

The pandemic merely accelerated an ongoing process. We are witnessing the decline of globalism and unfortunately we are one of the regions who depend on it the most. People are adapting but we are stuck behind a political behemoth that is based on an endless growth paradigm. Our entrenched elite have decided that the rest of us need to take the losses so that that they can maintain their unreasonable standard of living, and until that changes the situation will continue to destabilize. 

GetWokeGoBroke · 3 weeks ago

Thank you Dr. Kim.One of the unique challenges that Hawaii faces is our geography.  Our geographic separation has caused a hyper reliance on utilizing our natural resources for the short-term economic benefit at the expense of the long-term social and economic benefit.The reality is that we can't change our geography.  Therefore, perhaps we should look at examples of how other "island nations" have developed their economies.  While it is true that some of these "island nations" are not Western-Stylized Democracies, nonetheless, living on an island, or in our case a group of islands presents unique challenges and opportunities.  For example, even though we are the "State of Hawaii", we have unique challenges and opportunities that are to be found on each of our islands.  Lanai, Maui, and Molokai are very unique island communities even though all three make up "Maui County".  Kauai and Oahu are geographically close to one another, yet Kauai and Oahu are very different from each other.  Hawaii Island is perhaps the most unique since this is the only island that is still growing geographically.Thank you.

markbradley · 3 weeks ago

Long past time for first small-d "democratic" revolution since 1954,based on gradual re-localization, decentralization, and democratization of ownership and distribution of wealth and income generated by HI's econ assets--too much of which is exported to absentee owners, while what remains is too concentrated in too few hands, IMO.There are many ways to accomplish this, IMO, which could improve broad-based local standards of living, as well as quality of life--no matter what mix of biz and jobs are econ viable locally going forward--with much less dependency on indiscriminate "growth", currently simplistically MIS-measured by:- Gross State Product, which counts monies spent on mitigating negative social, enviro, and econ side-effects of indiscriminate growth as "positive" contributions to "growth";- the "official" unemployment rate, which counts growing number of part-time/temp low-paid BS jobs the same as the shrinking number of well-paid full time jobs; and- increases in median home prices, which more accurately measures HI's growing inequality, poverty, and homelessness over the past 30+ years, while visitor numbers and spending reached all-time highs, pre-Covid.

Slammer · 3 weeks ago

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