Finding Balance Between Development and Conservation: The O'ahu Greenprint

Development and Conservation

The 0‘ahu Greenprint

Holly Bostrom, Lea Hong, and Breece Robertson


The island of 0‘ahu is diverse and multi-faceted. From fast-paced downtown Honolulu, to the agricultural plains of Central 0‘ahu, to heavily touristed Waikiki beach, to the small communities along the wet Ko‘olau Range and arid Wai‘anae range, to the big surf of the North Shore, O'ahu is a study in contrasts. While the island and its people have experienced urbanization, residents and visitors love the island’s cultural, historical, and natural landscapes. Outside of Honolulu’s urban core, residents demand to “Keep the Country, Country.” 0‘ahu is not the largest Hawaiian island, encompassing just 600 square miles of land, but with approximately one million residents it is the most populated and most dense. And its population continues to grow. The resident population of the City and County of Honolulu is projected to increase at an annual rate of 0.4% from 2010 to 2040.1

Along with this increased density, large areas of 0‘ahu are for sale, and development is planned or occurring on productive agricultural and scenic open space across the island. These changes are resulting in community tension, conflicts, and even costly litigation. How does 0‘ahu plan for future growth while preserving lands most vital to the island’s past and future? The people of 0‘ahu are currently grappling with a number of issues related to increased development, congestion, and sprawl. Some of the pressing issues, as identified through interviews with community stakeholders, include:

  • • Managing population growth, which may include directing development toward urban centers, reducing congestion, providing the amenities needed for urban communities to thrive, ensuring affordable housing and maintaining quality-of- life for residents.
  • • Reducing divisiveness around development.
  • • Increasing food and energy security through the protection of lands for agriculture and renewable energy.
  • • Reducing invasive species in a fragile island environment.
  • • Adapting to climate change, particularly on the coast.
  • • Ensuring access to parks, trails and open space by residents.

It is clear that O’ahu’s farms, sacred places, picturesque communities, pristine beaches, and verdant mountains weave an important part of the interconnected story of the island and its people. These landscapes hold mo‘olelo (stories) that tie us to

Hawaii’s ancestral past and current practices; give us beautiful places to enjoy and explore; give us the opportunity to achieve food diversity and security; and keep us connected to a flourishing and vibrant Hawaiian culture.

In this context, much of The Trust for Public Land’s work in Hawai‘i focuses on returning culturally significant land to Native Hawaiians through nonprofit ownership, or structuring government agency land purchases with co-stewardship roles for Native Hawaiian organizations and agencies. To protect and support the return of culturally significant land to Native Hawaiians, The Trust for Public Land, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Castle Foundation, and others, worked with local community and agency partners to map O’ahu’s most culturally significant lands through the O’ahu Greenprint.2,5 In the Native Hawaiian worldview, all land is culturally and spiritually important. The O’ahu Greenprint Cultural Resource layer is NOT intended to label any particular parcel land or site to be better or more culturally significant than any other. The layer is intended to help communities identify and prioritize those lands that have the greatest opportunity or likelihood of success using voluntary land conservation tools.

Why a Greenprint for O'ahu?

The Greenprint for O'ahu is a way to address the environmental, cultural, and land use concerns facing the island today. The process began with a Greenprint for the North Shore (in partnership with the North Shore Community Land Trust) in 2012. The effort expanded to all of 0‘ahu in 2013 in partnership with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (ОНА) and others. Together, these entities worked to create a set of maps that identify high priority lands for voluntary conservation and develop strategies for implementation. In order to accomplish these goals, ОНА and TPL, with support from Townscape, Inc., engaged with a broad cross-section of residents to quantify the subjective values that the people of 0‘ahu hold for conservation. These values were then translated into maps that highlight the special areas that embody the conservation values of residents. The result is a sustainable plan based on local priorities and grounded in science designed to meet community conservation goals of protecting the island’s iconic cultural, historical, agricultural, natural, coastal, and scenic landscapes. Ultimately, this plan can guide voluntary land conservation with willing landowners in order to honor local values and culture as it incorporates hard science.

Mission and Objectives

The 0‘ahu Greenprint kicked off with stakeholder meetings in which participants (collectively called the Island Leadership Team) developed and then confirmed a mission and set of objectives for the project. They are as follows:

Mission Statement

To understand the values 0‘ahu residents associate with land and water resources and to use that community-based knowledge to develop a conservation plan that will help perpetuate those values for present and future generations by guiding purchases of threatened, privately owned land and resources through voluntary fee simple acquisition or conservation easements from willing landowners.


  • 1. Establish the relative priority of values residents place on land and resources from the mountains into the ocean, including cultural, recreational, natural, historic, agricultural, subsistence, and other values.
  • 2. Identify which important lands and water resources are most threatened or most in need of restoration and develop strategies to protect them and the associated values that make them important.
  • 3. Strengthen and coordinate existing conservation networks island-wide.
  • 4. Promote long-term conservation, restoration, and stewardship (aloha ‘aina) that is strategic and responsive to community needs and values.
  • 5. Increase community awareness of and ensure proactive community action related to:

a. The value of and need to protect and revitalize Hawaiian cultural sites, places, landscapes, and historic properties.

b. The importance of other conservation values such as agricultural, natural, and recreational values.

c. The importance of creating synergy between all conservation values.

d. The imperative for a balanced approach to growth.

e. The tools for preserving critical lands.

6. Acknowledge and honor important resources that can’t be mapped.

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