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Achieving Smart Growth in ‘Ewa, Hawai‘i

Rendering above, of what Kapolei, Hawai'i could look like, was done by Group 70 International

By Cindy Knapman, University of Hawai’i Sea Grant

On July 10, 2013 the Honolulu City Council voted unanimously to approve the revised ‘Ewa Development Plan, which was then signed by the Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu later that month. The adoption of this plan has profound implications for smart growth in Hawai‘i, and is a major achievement of the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program (UH Sea Grant) and its partners who started working on this issue nearly a decade ago.

“These changes are an exciting development for O‘ahu and are a testament to the important role that Sea Grant can play in creating great communities with better environmental outcomes.” -Geoff Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America

For many years UH Sea Grant has been promoting sustainable building practices and encouraging development that is beneficial to the economy, the community, and the environment. Land use practices are critical to the health of O’ahu’s ocean and coastal resources because what happens on land directly affects the ocean.

In 2004, on behalf of the City and County of Honolulu, UH Sea Grant partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Smart Growth Program to advance the principles of smart growth in Hawai‘i. They convened a nationally recognized team of experts in community design, building codes and ordinances, transportation, economics, and project development, (dubbed “the SWAT team”) to create viable, long-term solutions and elevate the quality of life within the existing and developing communities.

Two of the major focus areas for the SWAT team were the review of the ‘Ewa Development Plan and update to the City of Kapolei Urban Design Plan. At the same time, in a parallel effort, the team addressed the environmental, pedestrian, transportation, and urban design issues in Kailua, O‘ahu – a vibrant windward O‘ahu town.

As an organizer of the team meetings, workshops, and public forums, UH Sea Grant provided two critical elements – neutrality and credibility – which allowed parties with differing viewpoints to come together in forums that otherwise might have been viewed with suspicion. UH Sea Grant’s leadership and facilitation encouraged various public and private entities to interact and explore the possibilities of building livable, vibrant communities through smart growth principles.

Bob Stanfield, chief of the Development Plans and Zone Change Branch of the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting, noted the leadership brought by Sea Grant and the EPA, and the involvement of the SWAT team, was critical. It brought much more attention to the idea of “placemaking” and stressed that new developments should create identifiable and easily accessible town and village centers; highlighted the need for improved connectivity to reduce the problems associated with pod subdivisions; and showed the importance of supporting multi-family residential use above the first floor in commercial centers, which encourages walkability and vibrancy of the community even after the stores close.

Under the leadership of UH Sea Grant, EPA, and others, the City and County of Honolulu has laid the foundation for smarter growth in Hawai‘i. In particular, ‘Ewa is now well on its way to becoming a live-work-play coastal community designed to be transit, pedestrian and bike-friendly, socially and economically inclusive, and environmentally sustainable. 

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