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How long will Honolulu's APEC-inspired face lift last?

By David Shapiro

LAST UPDATED: 4:49 p.m. HST, Nov 9, 2011

Local leaders tout the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings as a chance for Hawaii to build business relationships, attract regional investment, increase trade and spotlight our state as an innovator in renewable energy.

The visitor industry sees APEC as an opportunity for Hawaii to shed a reputation as a place for frivolous junkets and step up in class as a host of meetings where important work gets done.

We'll have to achieve at least some of these lofty goals for APEC to be worth the huge expense, diversion of scarce resources and considerable inconvenience to local residents.

And the measure of success will be more in the follow-through than how well we pull off the logistics this week.

In 1980 I covered the two national political conventions: the Republicans in Detroit and the Democrats in New York City.

The Republican National Convention, which nominated Ronald Reagan, was a big deal for Detroit in its effort to repair its riot-torn image and gain respect as a city on the rise.

The city got a major sprucing up, and committees were formed to spotlight local industries, culture and leisure attractions.

A tight security net was thrown over the city, with a police officer on virtually every corner so conventioneers could safely go wherever they pleased.

Sound familiar?

Well, a month later a friend who returned to Detroit for another story was mugged outside the hotel where he had stayed during the convention.

When I visited Detroit a decade later, there was no sign of the improvements that had been made for the GOP, only abandoned buildings all over the city. The next civic restoration would start from a deeper hole than had existed before 1980.

The 1980 Democratic Convention in New York, where Jimmy Carter fought off a challenge from Ted Kennedy, was a different story.

New York is used to hosting big events and took the convention in stride. There were no obvious signs of sprucing up, the city's attractions spoke for themselves and police maintained security without locking residents out of the city.

Citizens went about their business without grumbling more than New Yorkers usually do; when the Democrats left, the city moved on to the next big event.

If APEC is to have long-term meaning for Honolulu, we can't squander the civic improvements we've made as Detroit did. Like New York, we must make big meetings a part of our business that we're always ready for without major disruption.

It would be a wonderful outcome of APEC if from now on our airport is always welcoming and well maintained, the route to Waikiki is always attractive, the Kalakaua-Kuhio visitor center is always spruced up and our parks and sidewalks are always clear of squatters' tents.

Reach David Shapiro at or

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