Do we really need more asphalt landscaping?

Folks all over the islands have been complaining about the hot summer temperatures. And sure enough, temperatures in Honolulu as well as Kona have been higher than what seems normal. When temperatures are reported to be around 90 degrees or more, it feels pretty hot, but if you happen to be in the sun on a shopping center parking lot, it can be well over 100 degrees!

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Folks all over the islands have been complaining about the hot summer temperatures. And sure enough, temperatures in Honolulu as well as Kona have been higher than what seems normal. When temperatures are reported to be around 90 degrees or more, it feels pretty hot, but if you happen to be in the sun on a shopping center parking lot, it can be well over 100 degrees!

Just when it seemed like we were finally beginning to appreciate well landscaped roads and parking lots, it looks like we are degenerating into our past behaviors of wholesale tree chopping again. In Kona, where we really need trees for shade and beauty, trees are being cut down in some of our major hotels, roads and shopping center parking lots.

Of course, the excuse is always that it is to reduce maintenance, for safety, or the trees are too big. What it boils down to is that these shopping centers were given building permits based in part that they were including attractive landscaping. The community supported the developers’ plans based on the inclusion of sufficient landscaping. When landscaping is removed or not properly maintained, it is a break of trust.

Highway maintenance is another issue. The opportunity to have a really beautiful entrance from our Kona airport to Kailua is ignored with excuses of cost and upkeep. We are a visitor destination that counts on a beautiful environment. If we mess up too much, there are many other places folks may find more desireable.

Over the last several years, well landscaped areas along Alii Drive, Henry Street and Palani Road have gradually deteriorated, with several hundred palms cut down. It has happened so gradually that most folks don’t notice it.

Rumor has it that there are plans to cut down many of the monkeypods and other trees that have given shade for shoppers and made the asphalt acres bearable. These beautiful trees are to be cut down because they are lifting the sidewalk. What will the area look like with all the tree removal? Picture Devil’s Hole, New Mexico!

There are ways to mitigate the concerns for safety and maintenance if we are willing to explore them. The absolute last resort is to destroy the trees.

Unfortunately, one of the great community guardian organizations in Kona, Hilo and Puna, The Outdoor Circle, has lost it support and momentum since the beginning of “the great recession.”

At one time, developers and politicians went to these community service groups before any plans were considered. The Outdoor Circle statewide has been instrumental in keeping our islands “Clean, Green and Beautiful.” Thank goodness the Waikoloa Outdoor Circle is still active in these endeavors. What we need around the rest of the island is a rebirth of the local Outdoor Circles.

Over thousands of years, human cultures have had an impact on the planet. Some have fought to subjugate the natural order and some have worked within the ecological system. The cultures that seem to have lasted the longest are those that were in tune with the environment. All this changed within the last few hundred years as our human populations expanded and began to impact one another through territorial wars, colonization and thinking that land, or the “aina,” as Hawaiians knew it, was just another commodity to be used.

During the past 50 years, a new awareness of our relationship with our world has been building. Rachael Carson’s “Silent Spring” brought environmental concerns to the general public in America. Since then, all kinds of organizations like Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, Audubon have expanded and become mainstream.

This same environmental awareness has made a tremendous impact on the agricultural industry. The landscape portion is of particular concern, since it is extremely visible to the typical urban and suburban dweller.

Even if you are not commercially involved in landscaping, here are some things all of us should know about gardening in a way that is friendly to the other creatures both animal and plant that share the space around us. The concepts of conservation and sustainable gardening are based on these as well as other principles. These could be encompassed in the theme “as nature would have it.”

Of course, it is important to remember that nature can be pretty rough on us at times, so that we should attempt to manage in a way that those other creatures of the planet are somewhat friendly to us as well.

Some simple rules to remember are, first to design a landscape using the correct plants in the right place. Massing plant materials to discourage unwanted plants or pioneer species is one approach. Using materials that are adapted to the location so as not to require lots of extra water, fertilizer, pesticides, pruning and other expensive resource-consuming inputs is another.

Native plants should be considered where appropriate, but non-native or multicultural heritage plants are most commonly used, since most of these have been tried and tested in many environments and have proved readily adaptable. Multicultural heritage plants are those that each culture has brought to Hawaii since humans first set foot on our shores. Coconut, kukui and breadfruit, for example, are examples of Polynesian heritage plants. Jakfruit and Moringa would be plants representing our Filipino culture.

The second rule is to use what special resources already are available on the land. For example, some folks bring in a bulldozer on the property to be developed, flatten it and start from scratch. The value of existing trees, land contours and rock formations are often ignored. Today, sensitive developers will take advantage of these special features. For example, developments along the west coast of the island have preserved the lava formations around the golf courses, hotels and residences. Great care is being taken to minimize pesticide use that might impact offshore waters.

The third rule has to do with pesticides. More effort is being made to reduce the use of any pesticides where possible. Where they are necessary, using the safest available is a must. A whole new group of materials is becoming available. They are not new, however. Neem, pyrethrums and the like have been used for ages. And if you selected the right plant for the right place, then pesticides should seldom be required. Be prepared to live with a few bugs, both the pesky types and their predators, unless you plan to sterilize your environment.

Fourth, don’t over water or over fertilize, especially with high-nitrogen types that give a quick boost which can actually make the plant more susceptible to insects and disease.

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Remember, it is important that we learn to appreciate all the life on this planet by practicing wise management of all our resources. Maybe then, we can learn to treat other humans with the same respect.

This weekly column is provided by the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

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