This story – concerning the justifiable resentment of working class residents in a highly-popular and extraordinarily beautiful place where the main industry is tourism – brought to my mind again a peculiar kind of divide. That would be the tension between those with long roots in the area, and those (usually wealthier) newcomers who come to take full advantage of gorgeous scenery, lovely weather, quaint architecture, fascinating culture, interesting history … or just plain old small-town country quiet. And eventually, the regular folks, the working class or even just middle-class homeowners find themselves unable to live in that place, at a price they can afford. The houses that their grandparents built, the gardens and fields that their parents and grandparents wrested a living from, the businesses that used to line main street, the parks and open fields that they played, or hunted, skied and hiked in, the beaches that they surfed are all taken over by newcomers, usually considerably wealthier.
Grand new construction projects swamp the humble and ordinary dwellings and businesses – or else they are gentrified all to heck and gone. It’s happened to certain small towns in the Texas Hill Country just over the years that I have lived in San Antonio, so I can sympathize and understand the resentment of Hawaiians over the perceived ruination of their islands. The post linked earlier today in Instapundit touched on this – what happens when people can no longer afford to live in a place with a reasonable degree of comfort and security?
It’s so much worse when tourism is the one and only driver of an economy, especially when the wealthy swoop in and essentially take over – as it seems many well-to-do and famous have done in Hawaii. It’s been happening all across the US (also in scene parts of the British Isles, where so many scenic villages have devolved into colonies of infrequently used holiday homes). It wasn’t long ago that I read about how people employed in such playgrounds of the wealthy in the intermountain west (Jackson Hole, Telluride, Boulder) were having to move far from the town where they worked in order to afford a place to live. And these were comfortably employed workers like teachers, police officers, and those in skilled trades. Even here in San Antonio, which does have a draw for tourists, people who work in downtown can’t afford to live there, as my daughter has discovered as a working real estate agent.
But the wildfire on Maui which destroyed Lahaina town and most likely killed hundreds … that added a whole new aspect to the tension between the wealthy residents of a place, and the regular working class. There have already been comments on various stories regarding this disaster – suggesting that the destruction of Lahaina was a deliberate property grab. Kill off the local small-property owners (as well as their kin), goes the usual suggestion … now that their homes and businesses are burned down to the ground, pick up the land for a pittance, rebuild something more elegant, more in tune with the tastes of the rich and grasping.
One has to wonder, looking at the various news reports; no brush trucks among the fire engines, so as to readily go off-road and fight brush fires; recommendations made to ameliorate the threat of runaway brush fires ignored for years, no alarms sent, everyone trying to get out of town too late, on a single road, a request for additional water drawn from a public source refused by a bureaucrat an island away, until too late, no public alarm sounded – or confusing and contradictory … One has to wonder, reading the various stories, and seeing the rows of burned cars along the main roads in Lahaina town, where does crashing political and bureaucratic incompetence cross over into mass murder, mass murder by incompetence and dereliction of duty? Discuss as you will, and while we still can.