George F. Lee
Celia K. Downes
There are myriad facets to Hawaii island — the raw power of Kilauea volcano, the trendy Kona Coast, sleepy Hilo, the roots of Hawaiian royalty, the ranching traditions of paniolo country. A land of verdant pastures, rugged aa, snow-capped peaks and sun-splashed beaches, the Big Island easily accommodates rustic living, world-class resorts, mom-and-pop shops, cutting-edge astronomy, marine science and geothermal energy.
The county’s population is increasing faster than any other in the state, so its future hangs in the balance. Reporter Mary Vorsino and photographer Jamm Aquino recently spent time there to capture firsthand the stories of coping with more homes, more people and more need for the conveniences of modern living. Small towns and neighborhoods on Hawaii island are at a critical juncture — hoping to carve out an economically viable future while preserving a sense of community and local culture.
This section examines the island in three parts: the hub of growth, the everyday struggle of expansion, and the future envisioned by island youth, who must decide whether to stay or leave.
OUR BIG ISLAND TEAM
Mary Vorsino has been covering Hawaii news for more than a decade, writing everything from breaking news to long-form enterprise pieces. She joined the Star-Advertiser in 2010, and has a master’s degree in political science from the University of Hawaii. Follow her on Twitter @mvorsino.
Jamm Aquino has been a staff photographer since March 2005, when he was hired by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin while finishing up his bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Hawaii. He has won numerous photojournalism awards. He maintains a photo blog on the Star-Advertiser website, “Aperture Cafe,” and can be followed on both Twitter and Instagram with his handle, @jammaquino.
PART 1: HEART OF CHANGE
Over the last decade, Hawaii County’s population swelled by nearly 25 percent, the highest growth rate in the state. The epicenter of that growth has been the Puna district, where the new neighbors have brought the promise of new industry and development but have also spurred questions about inadequate infrastructure and overdevelopment.
>> Pahoa striving to balance progress and preservation Page 4
>> Bad infrastructure lacks easy solution Page 8
>> ‘Your life is the bus’ Page 12
>> Highway is rife with hazards Page 14
>> Photo gallery, Part 1
PART 2: A NEW ATTITUDE
Kau is the largest district on Hawaii island. It is also its least populated. But more people have been venturing into Kau to find land bargains in Ocean View, once known as a place rife with drugs and crime. Today about 6,000 people call Ocean View home — up from less than 1,000 in 1990 — and the influx of families and retirees has brought a sense of community to a place once known as the “wild, wild west.”
PART 3: THE NEXT GENERATION Page 28
Hawaii island youth face big challenges, from a high unemployment rate to a lack of opportunities. To make ends meet, many migrate to Kona or Hilo or leave the island altogether. Educators and officials acknowledge there is considerable work to do to give youth more choices after graduation, but there is also hope in the future.