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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 6, 2006

Leadership corner

Full interview with Kiersten Faulkner

Interviewed by Dan Nakaso Advertiser Staff Writer

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KIERSTEN FAULKNER

Age: 37

Title: Executive director

Organization: Historic Hawaii Foundation, formed in 1974

Born: Provo, Utah

High School: Mancos High School, Mancos, Colo., (1987). "K-12 had about 150 students (including 36 in the senior class). We were the big class."

College: Brigham Young University-Hawai'i, B.A. English, minor in psychology (1991); Tufts University, M.A., urban and environmental policy, emphasis on land use planning and environmental policy (1997).

Breakthrough job: Peace Corps volunteer, serving in Thailand from 1992 to 1994. "I was in community development work in a rural agricultural village assigned to a middle school. Half my time was teaching English as a foreign language. The other half was doing community-based development programs such as reforestation work, AIDS prevention and education, economic development, specifically with women's groups."

Little-known fact: "The Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency, named a soil after me. There is a Kiersten Soil on the Yute Mountain Yute Reservation in Southwestern Colorado. ... I was a volunteer intern with NRCS during graduate school and on my first day on the job we discovered this previously unmapped soil. It's not a pretty soil. It's very dry and dusty and supports jack rabbits and sage brush, not much else."

Mentor: "Dennis Swain, who just retired as comprehensive planning manager with the city and county of Denver and trained me as an urban planner. He is able to see both the big pictures of what communities are and how the built and the natural environment support them, but also the people that inhabit the place and how the elements of community work together."

Major challenge: "I have had an incredibly warm welcome and there are all these good ideas that are coming fast and furious. It's kind of too much of a good thing. The challenge has been to keep track of all these good ideas and maintain that level of motivation and enthusiasm while buying time to really understand how we got to where we are and then to really focus on where we need to go to next. We are a preservation organization and there are some wonderful buildings and neighborhoods that are threatened. So people who love those places look to us to be the leader in preserving and protecting them and rehabilitating them and bringing them back to useful life. It's knowing which ones are in immediate danger versus not being on anybody's priority list."

Hobbies: Hiking, camping, travel.

Books recently read: "I've been reading a lot of Hawaiian history and architecture."

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Q. Tell us about your sense of the foundation's mission?

A. Back in the 1970s, a committed group of community members said, "Hawai'i is too important to lose and make it just like every place else the idea that Hawai'i is special as a distinct and unique environment. As such, it deserves the best we have to offer." The foundation was formed around that concept. It's not just limited to buildings. It's historic objects, communities and sites relating to the history of Hawai'i. It's not about putting Hawai'i's past under glass. It's alive. It's inherently useful and meaningful to the community.

Q. The impending end of Del Monte Fresh Produce's O'ahu operation has been in the news of late, which will end a way of life that has been around for more than a century. Are issues like that of concern to the foundation?

A. That's an interesting new issue in historic preservation, the examining and understanding of cultural aspects. The plantations are a great example. That's more than a story on the changing way of life. It's also the story of the impacts on the land and what is distinctive about those lands and how much of that land we can save.

Q. How does a newcomer who has been on the job three weeks absorb all of that history and help steer the foundation at the same time?

A. Historic Hawai'i Foundation is not about a single person. As the leader of the organization, it's my responsibility to convey the passion and commitment that we have to sense of place and to Hawai'i's history, but it's also the board of directors, our members and our partner organizations. Collectively, we are advocates for Hawai'i's past and its present and its future.

Q. Are there any particular preservation bills before the current legislative session that you're involved in?

A. The Heritage Caucus was created this year by the legislators. One of the bills that Historic Hawaii Foundation was really advocating is for a tax credits program for rehabilitation of historic projects, both commercial and residential buildings that are registered state or national landmarks that have been rehabilitated to appropriate standards. It's a 25 percent tax credit of "qualified costs," not if you want to add on a great room. It's to bring your plumbing and electricity up to code, get rid of termites, that sort of thing. It's been used in 26 states so we can benefit from other experiences.

Q. What kind of pressures are there on communities undergoing changes like Chinatown and Kaka'ako?

A. Part of our challenge is to integrate the old with the new. It's striking the proper balance. Often that's a matter of design rather than use. We can still have new offices, new housing, new commercial areas coming in. What's critical is to build on the strengths of what worked in the past. What that usually means is active pedestrian areas and interest in the architecture, that there's transparency of the buildings, that it's not dominated by parking garages and blank walls. Urban design and commitment to preservation and scale needs to be part of the development from the beginning. It can't be artificial and added on as some sort of mitigating element. As these new developments are conceived, it's important to set out the values of the development. Those values need to be part of a community dialogue.

Q. Kaka'ako seems to be one of those places where these issues are especially playing out.

A. Absolutely. Many of those issues are seen in microcosm right there.

Q. Any particular upcoming projects for the foundation?

A. We have a collection of photographs and slides and documents, some of which aren't collected anywhere else. Right now they're kind of in manila folders and aren't really being taken care of the way they should be. We have a new project classifying, cataloging and preserving those and then digitizing them to have sort of an online catalog. There will be lots of work for volunteers and of course we'll train them so they can learn that skill of digitizing.

Q. How many pieces are you talking about?

A. That's the first task, to inventory, because we don't know what we have. We expect to have the contractor starting work in April setting up the system. By late May or early June, we'll be ready for volunteers.

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.