Someone told me recently that as far as health habits go, “Sitting is the new smoking.” So I made the decision earlier this year to go on more walks and just ramble through Wailuku Town on quick work breaks – down the hill and up it, across back streets and weird parking lots, taking deep breaths and soaking in the weather. What started as a reprieve from the eight-hour seated office day has become a ritual of gratitude for this place that I call home.
I swell with appreciation when I wander this place. How could I not? I recall the times, over 20 years ago, that my dad took me down these same streets to Wailuku Library or the old Down to Earth. And my mom, taking me along shopping at Ooka’s.
I think of riding my bike down Market Street as a middle schooler, weaving through people in careless adolescence, and later, high school aged, cruising it with friends, looking to outlet our teenage angst.
How can I walk along High Street, with the vast Central Valley to my left and Pu‘u Kukui towering on my right, and not imagine the centuries of people that walked here before me, and feel honored that my feet fall on the same Earth that connects us across time?
When the timing’s right, there’s a young owl I see there. It hunts, and I try to be as quiet as it is. I wonder, when I watch it float over the ice plant bordering Foodland: Will there be a Maui for you, little owl?
I have to ask. I remember when there was no Foodland there, or Longs, or McDonalds. When there was no street light at the bottom of the hill, there was no development across the street, and the asphalt ended rightthere.
You should have seen it then, little owl. This spot used to be yours.
Now it’s human’s. My family lives there, even, where the asphalt, cement, and lawns cover what your kind used to call home. Sorry. I’ll at least try to be quiet while you catch dinner.
Development is a reality of human progress I’ve come to accept. Two more housing projects are planned for the area, the 70-unit Waiale Elua subdivision and 324-unit apartment building across Longs Kehalani. Move over wildlife, don’t you know that we need 14,000 more homes on Maui by 2025?
I see the marks of “progress” everywhere on my walks, and often I think of the concrete monument to the automobile, planned for the center of Wailuku Town as part of the Wailuku Civic Complex. It’s a worthy idea, but one based on a similar superstition that goes into all man-made shrines: that if we build it, they will come. I pass by the skeletons of businesses, the empty commercial spaces that have been barren for so long they’ve become forgotten, chained off, perpetually labeled For Lease. According to some monument builders, it’ll just take concrete and tens of millions of dollars, and ta-da! Retail is saved.
Maybe they have a point. The Maui News today, as I write this on April 16, reported on Colliers International’s commercial real estate report for 2018. Their verdict? Retail vacancies on Maui are at an all-time high (17.8 percent), topping the last record set in 2017 (15.6 percent). While most of the market flounders, however, “large national tenants” are leading a transformation.
“Either through relocation or new construction, retailers such as Petco, Target, Planet Fitness, Verizon Wireless and Ulta Beauty have moved into the new Pu‘unene Shopping Center,” the article reads. “Lowe’s, which opened across the street from Target, and Petco and Verizon Wireless vacated the nearby Maui Marketplace, which has been hit in recent years by the loss of Sports Authority and Borders Books due to bankruptcy of their national chains. ‘The fallout of these relocations is the empty storefronts among Central Maui’s older retail centers,’ the report said.”
That must be the “revitalization” everyone keeps mentioning. It’s about convenience and familiar national retailers for the masses, who frantically speed through the island’s crossroads in dinosaur juice-fueled cars. It also has something to do with the newer, pristine cement, I suppose. Build it and they will come.
We’re told this revitalization is an investment: Rising property values in the development area will lead to more property tax revenue, paying off any debt incurred by the project and netting income cash flow in about a decade. Yet, even setting aside the human cost of raising property values in lowest median income census tract in Maui County (“West Central Wailuku,” the site of the Wailuku Civic Complex), there are costs from this brand of self-funding expansion that aren’t accounted for on any financial sheet.
Like concrete. Cement, the foundation for modern civilization, is produced globally at 4 billion metric tons a year and is also a major contributor to climate change accounting for 8 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the think tank Chatham House reported last year. At our current rate, in 30 years cement production will be up to 5 billion metric tons annually.
Sure, a civic complex here and a shopping center there aren’t much in the grand scheme of things, but when UN scientists tell us that we have just 12 years to limit the most catastrophic effects of climate change (i.e., adjust behavior to cause a less apocalyptic future), it’s probably worth considering slowing our roll.
Besides, by 2050, around when this whole Civic Complex is projected to be paid off, at least 95-percent of cars will be autonomous, Gene Munster of Loup Venture (a research based venture capital firm) wrote for Fortune magazine. In fact, his projection is closer to 2040. That’s right: The parking garage might be obsolete before it’s even fully paid off.
It sounds like science fiction, but consider Dr. Chip Fletcher’s projection of a climate-adapted future from his speech on the Youth Climate Strike: “The days of car-clogged roads will be long gone. You will walk or bike to work in air that has never been so clear… and quiet. The sound of engines will never be heard again. Electric buses will arrive at every street corner within minutes. Roads will become shady, tree-lined urban forests for walking, sitting, and enjoying the people in your neighborhood.”
See, there’s a different model of progress besides the one we’ve been sold – and this one is less about concrete monuments. It values slowing down, reconnecting, and re-examining development.
There are lots we can do to combat climate change and protect the environment (and let’s not forget that 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions can be traced to just 100 companies), but this Earth Day I offer a simple action, one that helped me: Take a walk. Reconnect with the Earth and the place you love and call home. Take some deep breaths.
As Edward Abbey said, “It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it.” Happy Earth Day.
Photo by Axel Beers