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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, February 4, 2005

When did 'visioning' go bad?

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

In some circles, people dare not speak the word at all.

Others say it in a whisper and never in mixed company, and it's always followed with a quick apology to erase any offense.

It has become akin to profanity:


Honolulu's new dirty word.

Imagine roughneck teen hooligans flipping each other the V sign behind the school gym:

"Yeah, braddah, keep acting wise and you asking for some serious VISIONING in your 'hood."

Picture clandestine groups of neighbors huddling in a dimly lit garage to speak in hushed tones about "those folks down the street and their VISIONING."

The hopes of a would-be political candidate could be crushed if word leaked out that he once "visioned."

Government officials, especially, are leery of using the V-word. One of my colleagues noted that two state government officials he spoke with this week begged forgiveness for using the word. One put it this way:

"I hate to say it, but I think the department would be open if the community got together and came up with a — pause — I hate to use this word, but a 'visioning' for the area. That is a bad word, but it is what is needed."

What happened between the birth of "visioning" in Honolulu in September 1998 and its shameful demise? What made this once-lofty term a slur indicating a happytalk project overtaken by the mangrove of bureaucracy?

The Nu'uanu sign happened.

The monument (actually, there's two, one coming and one going) with a rock-wall platform, fancy standout lettering and landscaping (with sprinkler systems for regular sprinkling) topped out at $576,000. Did it change daily life for the folks in the neighborhood? Did it, as Jeremy Harris put it at the first

Vision Teams workshop, "empower the communities, the neighborhoods, to be the ones to determine what their future should be"?

Uh, no.

Instead, it became the prime example of the "visioning process" gone cuckoo.

By giving the hand-picked teams a budget of $2 million each to do as they saw fit, Harris essentially handed them a $250 Macy's gift certificate and told them to rebuild an entire house. Yes, you can buy a fancy bedspread with that amount, but you can't exactly fix the sagging foundation or the puka roof, yeah?

Mayor Mufi Hannemann thankfully had the guts to pull the plug. Now we can go back to focusing on our good-old unglamorous-sounding Neighborhood Boards to talk about adding traffic lights or a covered bus stop or other things that matter where we live.

But the hauna remains. Good people do not want to get caught "visioning." Planning, OK. Brainstorming, sure. Taking action, right on. But "visioning"? Nooooo.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.