Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Maui Utopia

By Mark Sheehan

Ah, yes, utopia. It conjures up visions of Makena beach at sunset, swimming with the dolphins, walking the crater, visits to waterfalls and weekends in Hana. But those are short ‘visits' to paradise. Meanwhile, much magic has been lost as resort-dominated development has provided flossy retreats for the wealthy and offered very little for the working class. Utopia for whom?

A sustainable future for Maui is possible, but we must shed our obsession with short-term profit and fix our attention on long-term sustainable planning.

Mark Sheehan

Here's an example of the pitfalls of short-term thinking: Even though it takes years, real estate developers have to bring product to market in a timely fashion. By necessity, development is driven by short-term profits. Missing the market can be fatal - just look at Kapalua and the folly of tearing down a great hotel to build luxury condos that don't sell. Yikes.

Years of high-end building is reflected in the current Maui real estate offerings where there are more homes for sale over $10M than under $300K! How many of these fabulous homes are occupied? Not many.

So, there's an abundance of empty mansions and a severe shortage of affordable housing. Not quite utopia yet.

Then consider our 4 or 5-day supply of food and our inability to produce fuel and food locally - why do we tolerate this state of affairs? Probably because our colonial mindset says, “as long as Maui is a playground for the rich and visitors come with their money and leave, we can afford to import our food and goods and not care about resource-building.”

This sacrifice of self-reliance in exchange for exportable crops like sugar and pineapple has resulted in dead plantations, depleted soils, poisoned water and a minimum of locally grown food. The short-term profit approach looks very short-sighted indeed.

Long-term abundance would look like what was here before the plantation era when the Hawaiians were providing for their current needs while planting for the future. Could our sustainable future echo our sustainable past?

Visualize forested upper slopes producing timber and bamboo for building, water stored in hillside ponds that flow into extensive orchards and gardens (not into the ocean). Permaculture designers remind us that diversity creates stability and year-round planning assures a continuous supply of food.

We could plan for many beneficial connections: water can flow from fish ponds to vegetable gardens. Wind, water and shade can all be used to cool. Notice how, with all the trees planted, the rainfall patterns of South Maui have changed.

Superior design also reduces labor. Organizing the elements of a landscape integrates energy, wind, water, sunlight, building, roads, fences, views. It is thought-intensive rather than labor-intensive.

Permaculturists believe that the solution lies inside the problem. Their plans look at preserving archeological sites for educational and cultural access. Such plans provide for wildlife corridors and look at long-term solutions to flooding, drought, soil loss. Since Maui has some of the highest topsoil loss in the world, we need a plan to stop the loss and rebuild nutrient-rich soil.

Well, all this sounds like a lot work, and it is. We need to start now working toward that abundance in the long term. The short- term profits are not paying off. Food will get us through times of no money better than money will get us through times of no food.

Are their wonder crops that could save us? Hemp used to be the crop we couldn't mention. But it is time to grow up and stop spending billions incarcerating dopers; we need to look at all crops that have multiple uses: e.g. food, fuel, fiber.

Bamboo is legal, does not require pesticides and does not use massive amounts of water like sugar. A group of forward-thinking growers has been importing timber grade bamboos into Hawaii for the past 20 years. Here on Maui we have Wisperwinds bamboo nursery in Kipahulu and Yellowseed bamboo in Haiku. We also are home to Bamboo Living, a company that has been building bamboo homes for 10 years (I have 3 of them on my organic farm).

While I am not hoping for the demise of tourism, I believe that we need to balance luxury development with long-range planning for abundance. Rather than replicating the resort/golf course model, let's develop new ones: eco villages, farm communities, learning centers, and more.

To understand more about the art of the long view, go to the following design sites: MauiPermaculture.org, PermacultureMaui.com, Bambooliving.com.

Mark Sheehan is a Realtor® who works with conscious investors. He is president of Maui Tomorrow Foundation. Inc. and owns an organic farm. Maui's preservation is his passion. To reach Mark, call 808.283.2158 or visit MarkSheehan.com.