The question was simple. The answer is complicated. "How has Maui changed?" The major complications: Since when, and who is answering? Perceptions depend on lifestyle, source of income and whether home is on the coast or up the hill.
Even so, there's a good chance there is a change everyone can agree on - population. In 30 years (1970-1990), the number of souls on Maui went from some 45,000 to more than 90,000. In the last couple of decades, the island has become home to around 150,000. Add another 40,000 to 50,000 tourists on any given day.
That's a lot of people. A side note: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the increase in population during the last decade is due to babies, not the number of people getting off the plane.
More people means more crowded roads, more demand on water supplies, more schools (babies rapidly turn into students), more opportunities to spend money, more developments, more people in the ocean, more entertainment, more strangers, more jobs, and less aloha.
One man's opinions:
Maui has gone from rural to exurban, not quite suburban with urban pockets, but definitely not rural. A kama'aina islander looked around a home once surrounded by horse and cattle pastures in an Upcountry area where the roads were crappy but largely empty. She motioned toward the unbroken string of houses along that still crappy road.
"It feels more like town today," she said.
Is there anyone on the island who hasn't fumed while stuck in a line of cars baking in the sun? Nuff said.
Population growth has its tendrils firmly attached to the island's cash cow. Maui is now known in the visitor industry as a beautiful place boasting most of the housing and entertainment amenities found in more urban settings. Travel magazines have repeatedly named Maui the best island destination in the world. Good for jobs, sort of.
The reputation allows the luxury resorts to charge the highest room rates in the state and has prompted a proliferation of time-share apartments. Too bad the profits go to the off-island owners. Too bad it means more crowded beaches and roads.
It does mean more small businesses, particularly those offering "activities." Too bad that means tourists everywhere. There are few if any "local" spots left on land and sea due to visiting travel writers who encourage tourists to go where they probably shouldn't.
Maui's reputation for beautiful open spaces ranging from big-sky deserts to tropical forest hideaways and exotic cultures where English is spoken is alluring to visitors looking for unique, "authentic" experiences far from the coastal resorts. Before the county cracked down on bed-and-breakfast operations, the off-the-beaten-path tourists could easily find accommodations tucked here and there. All they had to do was browse the Internet. The World Wide Web allowed cheap marketing. It also made it easy for the county to track down on more than 800 unpermitted operations.
The increased numbers have resulted in an erosion of "aloha." Islanders with aloha in their hearts pay attention to individuals around them; newcomers and tourists don't. Two things identify individuals as islanders: being aware of and friendly toward others and the willingness to help without being asked. Of course, that's difficult if eyes are constantly glued to smartphones.
The old ways are also under attack by the increasing adoption of Mainland culture, particularly by younger folks watching TV and listening to nihilistic rap. One small indication: In some island mouths, "brah" is now "bro." There's way too much over there over here.
There are entirely too many individuals - both malihini and younger kama'aina - who couldn't care less about island ways that were established for very real reasons. These folks seem to think Maui is just California West, or maybe a theme park. Getting caught in a flash flood or lost in valley or smashed by waves or being nibbled by a shark are all hazards generally ignored by tourist promotions. Maui is a real place.
This all sounds cynical. Too cynical. There is still aloha on the island, although you might have to actively look for it. The island still has soul-satisfying vistas surrounded by a blue ocean. Most of all, there are beautiful Mauians ready to add a stranger to their ohana.
Maui no ka oi? Definitely. Despite all the changes, there is no better place in the world to live and love.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.