On the rainy eastern side of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, the cycles of destruction and regeneration in Hawaiian Paradise Park (what locals refer to as HPP) are impossible to ignore, almost like watching a time-lapse video on fast forward.
Physically, economically, and culturally, the forces of change in such a raw environment always remind you: this land, the sacred ‘aina, will reclaim itself—from the lava below to the invasive Albezia trees above, from the rust and mold to the vigorous growth of plant life—it’s a matter of when, not if.
Said to be the second largest subdivision in the United States, HPP sits on over four square miles with more than 8,800 one-acre lots, though only around half of the land is actually developed. Given that scope, just exploring this neighborhood has been a fascinating study in the unique qualities of island living. This is not the postcard paradise you see in travel brochures. That’s part of what makes it so interesting to live here.
Hawaiian Paradise Park was established in the late 1950s and residential lots were marketed across the U.S. in anticipation of statehood in 1959. Parcels originally sold for $795, often sight unseen, and the subdivision sold out in 1967. Although developers set aside lots for future shopping centers and school sites, their original visions for HPP (including many paved roads, water systems, and other basic infrastructure that the area lacked) proved difficult to manifest.
The turbulent story of the ongoing development of HPP over time has yielded a reputation of it being a “substandard subdivision,” particularly among those who have long expected the kinds of amenities that are taken for granted elsewhere. Even today, services such as mail delivery, water, and cable and internet are available only in certain locations. In many ways, HPP is still a work in progress.
There’s a roughness and transient nature to the state of things here that appeals to my personal aesthetic. I find humility and comfort in observing the ever-changing landscape, knowing there is little I can do other than watch, leave as little of a mark as possible, and keep a camera on hand.
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Britten Traughber is a photographer and artist based in Hawai‘i whose work focuses on rural cultures and environments. She holds an MFA in photography from Illinois State University, and is the founder of RIPE Hawai‘i: Real Women, Real Stories, Real Hawai‘i. Britten has walked, biked, and driven almost all of the 100+ miles of roads in HPP. Her work can be seen at www.BrittenTraughber.com.