I’m off getting married and honeymooning and all that so, in my absence, some good friends are filling in. Today’s look at Honolulu comes from Casey Ishitani .
In the 2010 Mercer Quality of Living Survey, Honolulu was ranked as the top American city. The findings were based on factors such as transportation, ecological development and medical services. However, the city provides paradoxes to the generalized perception of “Paradise.” Honolulu is second only to San Francisco in average apartment rental prices ($1255 for one-bedroom apartments, with an average of $1693). Adding to the high-priced rent is high-priced food, even with local farms and markets. Not to mention the often-conflicting reports on the violent crime rate, which is either climbing or falling depending on which newspaper you are reading. That is, if the newspaper you are reading isn’t in danger of going under.
As the minimum wage holds anchor at $7.25, the income levels of most local workers and families continue to droop - especially in Native Hawaiian families, which have been struggling with low wages and soaring prices for years, if not decades. Within sight of the new Disney resort at Ko’olina, one can see a makeshift tent-city along the Nanakuli beaches at Maili Point (UPDATE: the site has been bulldozed as of July 20, 2010; the scrap and tents have been replaced with “No Trespassing” signs all along the coast).
There is also the issue of transplant homeless from the Mainland. Essentially, homeless people from the mainland buy a one-way ticket to the islands and don’t leave. This has put a strain on shelters around the state, which were already in trouble before the supposed migration. Reciprocation is inevitable as it all dovetails into a game of Musical Chairs with relocation politics.
To top it all off, Micronesians continue to be one of the fastest growing populations as well as the most marginalized. Granted, their relocation is due to some unfortunate testing done by the United States military and that they are a state-funded workforce , but it hasn’t made their assimilation into the Honolulu community any smoother. These paradoxes show the cracks in a system that is purported to be the best that this country has to offer, a state in the middle of the ocean where packing up and leaving in search of a new life means traveling thousands of miles in each direction. But, Honolulu does include some of the most insured residents in the country. With a health care system that insures anyone working over 20 hours at a single job, Honolulu has been ranked as one of the nation’s healthiest cities, behind Holland, Michigan. In fact, it is the closest model for the Obama administration’s new health-care policy, so eloquently explained here. Of course, to get that insurance, one needs to work. In order to work, one must have a job. And, to have a job, one must live in a city that, while job-growth is scarce, unemployment is low.
Luckily, Honolulu has an average jobless rate lower than 6%. And, what with the legal and sociological rumblings on the mainland regarding immigrants and racial tensions, Honolulu remains one of the most racially mixed areas in the country. Another distinction is the sheer number of minority owned businesses. Granted, these gains come with their consequences and an undercurrent of racism exists (as it does in any major city), but the casual manner in which it is discussed is what sets it apart from places like Los Angeles and Phoenix. The quality of life in a city cannot be fully determined, not even by those who live in it.
To assume Honolulu or any other city is an American Paradise is not only logically flawed, it is dangerous in that it invites an influx of new arrivals who want to take advantage of a rumor. The same is true here as it is everywhere else: the work is hard, the pay is soft and the talk is cheap. Keep in mind that the Mercer ranking places Honolulu behind cities that have to contend with the tumultuous Euro.
Casey Ishitani is a writer and cartoonist based in Honolulu. His works have been published in Ka Leo O Hawaii (the University of Hawaii’s newspaper), Metromix Honolulu and The Honolulu Weekly. He is also an indie rock DJ within the Downtown Honolulu nightlife scene.