Lee Cataluna: The term ‘world class’ has lost its meaning
What is it with the term “world class”?
Hawaii political and business leaders have been throwing around that term for the past two decades now, maybe longer, often to justify developing some weedy stretch of land into a big complex with an even bigger parking structure or re-developing a lowly cluster of un-fancy but serviceable buildings into a gleaming shopping experience.
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What is it with the term “world class”?
Hawaii political and business leaders have been throwing around that term for the past
two decades now, maybe longer, often to justify developing some weedy stretch of land into a big complex with an even bigger parking structure or re-developing a lowly cluster of un-fancy but serviceable buildings into a gleaming shopping
Used as an aspirational term, “world class” is great, as in developing Hawaii athletes into world-class competitors or supporting local schools to offer a world-class education. But too often it’s more justification than aspiration, and specifically, justification for upzoning a parcel of land or building something out of scale with the surrounding community. “World class” seems like such an ’80s ideal, a holdover from a time when bigger was better, wealth had to be ostentatious and being rich was a competitive sport. “World class” makes it seem like it’s not good enough to please local aesthetics; it has to be bigger.
Recent case in point: Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s plans for the Blaisdell Center were supposed to make the venue “world class,” which would be nice, I guess, but is honestly not how the venue is used right now. The Blaisdell is for high school science fairs, rows of crusty vendors selling vintage lunch boxes and soda bottles, adult-school graduations, gun shows and selecting the jury pool for the Kealohas’ federal trial. Prince played at the Blaisdell back in the day. “Rent” played at the Blaisdell just the other month. Any more “world class” and maybe local people can’t afford the tickets
to shows and local schools can’t afford to rent the stage for year-end concerts.
Maybe the whole “world class” mantra started with the Hawai‘i Convention Center, which, when it was being built, was considered controversial and perhaps a stretch for the state. The convention center was billed as “world class” in that only the best and the wealthiest groups would be able to book space in the rooms behind those soaring metal palm trees. It didn’t take long for reality to set in, and pretty soon those rooms were for high school science fairs, teacher training conferences and modeling school graduations.
Then came talk in 2016 of the “world class” aquarium that was going to be built at Ko Olina, as though that wide sun-swept coast and dark blue ocean that stretches out to the sunset needed any sort of decoration or “experience destination” to be more world class than it already is.
And that’s the thing.
Hawaii, just by being Hawaii — undeveloped, unspoiled and, especially, uncrowded — is unique in all the world. It is a place possessing natural beauty, awe-inspiring power and myriad cultural attributes, including the enduring strength and wisdom of the Hawaiian people and the spirit of compassion and righteousness that informs the concept of aloha.
Merrie Monarch, for example, is without a doubt,
a world-class event, and it
is held in a packed stadium with bleachers and folding chairs. There are not enough hotel rooms and rental cars and flights into Hilo during Merrie Monarch, so people going to the event have to get creative and sometimes “rough it,” which is part of the richness of that experience; it is something that requires commitment even if only to go and watch.
Yes, we should have nice things, but Hawaii is already world class.