Honolulu Bigger than Boston? No Way!

About two-thirds of the full-time residents here in Hawaii are located on the Island of Oahu.  Of course Honolulu is our state’s capital city and it’s located on Oahu. Depending on who’s counting, most people don’t know that Honolulu is something like the 8th largest city in the United States. That’s because there is only one municipal government for the entire island of Oahu. It’s commonly referred to here as The City & County of Honolulu. In fact, that’s what Honolulu’s official letterhead says.

Honolulu Hale . . . or Honolulu’s Home

If it’s a question of population, with just about one million people, the City & County of Honolulu is bigger than San Francisco (824,961) or Seattle (724,305) or Denver (705,576) or Boston (684,379) or Atlanta (488,800) or St. Louis (308,174). 

And, yes, I do understand that each of those cities has—what should we call it?—a “greater metropolitan area” that includes a much larger population than Honolulu. But each of those neighboring communities is incorporated as a separate town.

For instance, looking across the Charles River from Boston’s Back Bay, do you see all those buildings over there? That’s not Boston; it’s Cambridge—a separate city of 120,000 people, with its own mayor and its own police department. And, more to the point, it’s own budget.

There are benefits to having a combined City/County government like Honolulu’s—starting with the fact that four or five little towns on Oahu do not have their own mayor . . . or Police Department . . . or Planning Department . . . or Parks Department.  One government administers the entire Island of Oahu.

The Islands of Hawaii and Kauai are their own separate counties, but what started out as a good, efficient system, suddenly becomes more cumbersome when we get to Maui. The County of Maui, you see, consists of three islands: Maui, Moloka’i and Lanai . . . and that’s the cause of a myriad of minor inconveniences. 

If you happen to live on Molokai or Lanai, and your number comes up for jury duty, that means getting up at 0-dark-30 and catching a ferry for the 90-minute ride to Lahaina. From there it’s 40 minutes by taxi to the courthouse in Wailuku . . . an hour if there’s a lot of traffic.

And the system works in reverse for the various commissions, meaning the Planning Commission or the Police Commission or the Liquor Commission have to meet periodically on Lanai and on Molokai.

Yes, it’s cumbersome. And inefficient. And expensive. But it’s fair . . . and it works.