Asians in city setting looking at phone and wearing headphones.

Hawaii Problems with Housing Density, pt. 4 of 5: Technology Interference and Homeless Park Use

This is part 4 of a five-part series on higher density housing in Hawaii. Parts two to five address Hawaii’s seven issues that discourage higher density housing and its goal of reducing cars.

Part 1 A summary of guest lecturer Allison Arieff’s presentation on pros and alternatives for housing density

Part 2: Crime and Dogs

Part 3: Neighborliness and Multi-generational Living

Part 4: Technology Interference and Homeless Park Use

Part 5: Cars for Families with Children and Elders

This is the intended use of parks and green spaces. Photo by Helena Lopes on

City planners should consider human obstacles to high density housing goals, such as how people’s use of technology interferes with forming community and the spread of homeless encampments into public spaces.

Who do we want to be as a place, as a people? And then let’s design public spaces that nurture that vision and open our minds to the understanding of “neighbor.”

-John Robert Smith, Chairman of Transportation for America and former mayor of Meridian, Miss.
Another intended use.

Humans and technology

Higher density neighborhoods are hotter because of fewer green spaces and individual yards. Hot humans seek air conditioning inside, preferring not to walk around or mingle outside. Although mostly single-family homes, Ewa Beach is an example of a hotter neighborhood in which residents of the newer developments turn on their air conditioners, often all day, and stay inside. Proof you need more than a yard and a house to encourage neighborliness. You also need the desire to connect, put down roots, and form a community. Without it, residents are disconnected and isolated.

black and white photo of man and woman sitting next to each other in park while using their phones
The way people often use public spaces. Image by MabelAmber on Pixabay

People are moving out of crowded cities and into suburbs, according to housing density experts Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox. Yet, even in suburbs, Millennials and younger generations are not socializing and enjoying their walks; they are looking down at their phones, wearing headphones, refusing to make eye contact, and rarely returning greetings. A woman in my neighborhood walks her dog while scrutinizing her phone, much like this man:

black and white photo of man walking dog while looking at his phone
Image by MabelAmber on Pixabay

Dog walkers also tend to avoid interacting with each other. Out of every 10 dogs going on a walk, one or two are socialized well enough to sniff noses without barking and lunging. Owners usually pick up their small dogs or cross the street to avoid other dogs. I consider it a win if the humans at least wave at or greet each other, even if their dogs don’t.

Higher density housing is not going to change these antisocial human behaviors.

Danger afoot

Although walking and cycling are environmental, more pedestrians and cyclists also present more potential victims of distracted driving which caused 100,000 more accidents in 2015 than drunk driving (391,000 vs. 290,000). 54% of drivers in the 2018 Distracted Driving in America report admitted to texting, watching YouTube, and checking social media while driving.

sepia photo of two guys in t-shirt and jeans walking while using phones
Image by MabelAmber on Pixabay

Pedestrians are also increasingly texting and watching videos while crossing the street, increasing their chances of stepping into oncoming traffic. Councilman Brandon Elefante’s law Banning cell phone use (the first in the country) while crossing the street may not be enough of a deterrent. Increased housing density puts more potential victims and perpetrators of distracted driving in the same place.

Park use

Locals love our parks. Every day, after school and during the summer, some sport is in season. This means full parking lots and busy parks crawling with geared-up kids lugging water bottles and sports equipment. With so many club teams around, it’s practice time year-round.

Parks in suburban areas of Oahu are well-utilized by kids’ and adults’ sport teams, runners, dog-walkers, strollers, and other recreational users. Central Oahu Regional Park, Ke`ehi Lagoon Beach Park, and Kapiolani Park are sports practice destinations for lacrosse, cross-country, soccer, tennis, frisbee, football, and paddlers.

homeless person lying down next to cart covered with blankets
Image by Gerry on Flickr

But in higher-density Honolulu, green spaces are often overrun with homeless people, their carts, and tents, discouraging recreational users. As a parent, I worry not about people down on their luck, but about loose dogs, drug use, erratic behavior, and inappropriate activities in bathrooms that often coincide with a significant homeless presence. Kaka`ako Makai Gateway Park, Thomas Square, and Neil S. Blaisedell Park fostered homeless camps instead of intended park users for years.

Housing density issues go beyond costs, space, and logistics. In Hawaii, it always comes down to people.

What about you?

How is technology affecting your neighborhood?

Next, Part 5: Cars for Families with Children and Elders in which I discuss how the higher density housing goal to reduce individual car use conflicts with the needs of families.

Works Cited (in case Links break or are taken down)

Drivers-Ed Staff. “ Survey Reveals Majority of Drivers Admit to Distracted Driving.”, October 1, 2018, Accessed 25 May 2019.

Held, Joey. “Distracted Driving vs. Drunk Driving: Which is More Dangerous?” The zebra, June 9, 2017, Accessed 22 May, 2019.

Kotkin, Joell and Wendell Cox. “Densification Efforts Like SB50 are the Wrong Fix to California’s Housing Problem.” New Geography, May 13, 2019, Accessed 16 May 2019.

Smith, John Robert. ”America’s New Front Porches: Public Spaces.” Governing the States and Localities, September 18, 2017, Accessed 22 May 2019.

Thorbecke, Catherine. “Honolulu Passes Law That Makes Texting While Crossing the Street Illegal.” Abc News, October 25, 2017, Accessed 16 May 2019.

Featured image cropped from an image by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash.