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Other Letters to the Editor on Smart Growth for Maui

May 15, 2002

The Upcountry Town Center: Reject and Resubmit.

Lee Altenberg, Ph.D.

The design for the proposed Upcountry Town Center, as published in the April 29 Maui News, shows it to be nothing more than "sprawl writ small".

This project simply takes the designs from single-use zoning developments---for residential "communities", office "parks", strip malls, and light industry, and shoves them together into a small space. This is in no way to be confused with Smart Growth design.

While it may be possible that I have mistakenly interpreted the schematic, it appears that the proposal envisions the typical components of sprawl: buildings connected to parking lots connected to roads.

Also, it shows no integration with the surrounding developments, nor a plan on how such integration may occur in the future. This will guarantee that most access to the development and within the development will be by automobile. Traffic will not be abated.

The optimal diameter for a village that people will be willing to traverse by foot has been found in the New Urbanist research to be 1/2 mile across. The project area is approximately 0.35 miles across (since 41 acres takes up half of the triangular region, 2 * 41 acres/640 acres per square mile = 0.35 miles squared). Thus, the current parcel and the area bordering it should be considered to be part of a single village development. Therefore, there needs to be integration with the surrounding parcels through a grid of roads and pedestrian access. None of this is evident in the plan.

The segregation of senior multi-housing, shopping, cottage industries, offices, and civic space into separate parcels is antithetical to smart growth design. It is sprawl design. The proposal needs to be totally revamped along the following guidelines:

  1. The parcel needs to be organized into a grid of streets that create blocks. Blocks are typically 1/20 of a mile wide, which would mean the parcel should be around 7 blocks wide. They need not be linear, but may curve to accomodate the boundaries of the parcel. European villages have made very interesting use of non-square parcels yet maintain an essentially grid design.

  2. The civic space should comprise a town square at the center of the development.

  3. The buildings surrounding the square should be at least three stories high. Any denisty lower than this will prevent people from having the proximity to the rich combination of economic activities needed to make it a functioning pedestrian village, and will force the entire development to be organized around automobile access.

    1. On the bottom floors should be all the storefronts that, in the current proposal, would be stand-alone buildings surrounded by parking lots. These storefronts should have awnings that allow pedestrians to move through the entire village even during the rain.

    2. On the second and higher floors should be:
      1. the offices that the current proposal places in stand-alone buildings surrounded by parking lots, and
      2. apartments, flats, hotels, etc., so that a substantial population will be living in the development, a population not segregated by age, income, or other factors.

  4. Parking for the development should be placed in the interior of blocks behind buildings so as not to create a street environment alienating to pedestrians.

  5. The blocks that are further out from the town square should contain the proposed "cottage industry" buildings, as well as the proposed senior multi-family housing, but not as stand-alone buildings surrounded by parking lots. Instead, they should be integrated into the grid of blocks so that no single-purpose building is more than a block away from the other diversity of functions---shopping, office, retail, dining, housing.

  6. Additional single and multifamily homes should form the outer circle of blocks farthest from the town square. The residences should not be set back behind driveways and garages, but should come out to the street, with garages placed in the rear of the properties, and alley ways provided to allow for trash pickups, and other utilities.

  7. All streets should have sidewalks, on-street parallel parking, strips for trees between the sidewalks and road, and bike lanes.

  8. Power lines should be undergrounded.

  9. All outdoor lighting should be fully shielded.

If the current plan were to be approved, it would fail as a "smart growth" development, because it does not have the density nor pedestrian functionality, nor aesthetics, to create a place where most access will be by proximity. It will not function to create community because it isolates its different functions into different areas, as is the case with all sprawl design.

Therefore, I urge that the design be rejected, and that new urbanist architects be recruited to draft an alternative design. With appropriate design, this Upcountry Town Center could create a truly marvelous addition to Maui, a real village, that would actually reduce traffic by providing for peoples' needs where they live and work.


At the May 16, 2002 meeting of the Kula Community Association, Maui Land & Pineapple Company gave a presentation on its Upcountry Town Center project, with Project Manager Donna Clayton, and Group 70 International architect Jeff Overton.
"Bob McNatt, VP Maui Land & Pineapple Company, was asked to comment on Dr. Altenberg's article in the Haleakala Times. ML&P does not feel this higher density proposal is the right concept for the site. The ML&P plan is more rural and low key."

Unfortunately, ML&P is promulgating a false idea of "rural". If one has seen any of the villages in rural Europe, they are quite compact and dense, but just not very large. The function of a village in a rural area is to provide central place in the countryside where "all the action is" — shopping, dining, entertainment, government, religion. A village is not supposed to look like the surrounding rural land; it is there to make up for what is missing in the rural environs. Rural villages in Europe are optimized around the scale and pleasures of pedestrians, as even today cars are a rarity. Group 70's plan is absolutely auto dependent, and is not rural in the slightest. Here is the layout of a rural village in Bohemia, Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO designated world heritage village. Why shouldn't Maui model its villages after world heritage sites instead of Southern California strip malls? Maui deserves nothing less.

Post-Postscript — 2004.

New leadership at Maui Land and Pine has completely turned around their concept of development. Their new plans for Pulelehua in West Maui and Haliimaile upcountry are based on the principles previously dismissed:

Imagine the neighborhoods of yesterday. Where communities once encouraged pedestrian activity, allowed for mixed-use of space, and featured street alignment that allowed easy connections between them. That's the vision for Pulelehua.

By following the Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND) model to understand the way traditional communities were created, Pulelehua will be a holistic and sustainable community that provides a high quality of living for West Maui's working families by offering:

  • A mix of residential, commercial and public uses
  • Parks and open spaces
  • Neighborhood school
  • Biking and walking paths
  • Lively town center
  • Pedestrian-friendly streets
  • Inviting, accessible public places

These components form a community that encourages residents to build relationships with each other, rely less on cars, walk and bicycle more often, enjoy the outdoors and engage in civic life.

In a community that offers a broad range of activities within a condensed area, you can spend less time getting from one activity to the next and more time on what you want to do, whether it's playing in the park, barbecuing with friends, or running to the corner grocery store. Pulelehua will truly be a "live, work, play, learn" community.

Haliimaile Traditional Neighborhood Design allows us to revisit the past by understanding the way traditional communities were built. Communities once encouraged pedestrian activity, allowed for mixed-use of space, and committed themselves to street alignment to allow multiple connections between them. Can you imagine walking everywhere you need to be?

Text Copyright © 2002, 2007 Lee Altenberg.
Graphics from Upcountry Town Center: Draft Environmental Impact Statement, April 9, 2002, by Group 70 International for Maui Land & Pineapple Co, and the Village of Cesky Krumlov.