Maui News Interview

Aram Armstrong to discusses a wide range of issues facing Maui County with Maui News reporter Sarah Ruppenthal.

Name: Aram Armstrong

Age: 43

Birthplace: Sedro-Wolley, Washington

Town of residence: Haiku / Haʻikū

Occupation: Design Strategist, Educator, Workshop Facilitator, Media Producer, Farm Manager, Radio DJ

Education: Interaction Design Institute of Ivrea, Masters in Fine Arts, 2001

Political experience: Campaign manager for Simon Russell for State House District 12, 2020

Community service: Save Maui Wetlands videographer (2021-2022), Maui Mediation Services (2021), Maui ʻOhana Gardens tech sherpa (2020), Maui Farm Laulima organizer (2017)

Question 1

Housing prices continue hitting record levels alongside rising costs of living. What can we do better as a county to help people find and afford homes, whether that's renting or owning?

Develop a kuleana-based housing system. We are the inheritors of a broken housing system. We need a new (ancient) system that makes the current one obsolete. I suggest a series of small-scale homesteading pilots in zones ripe for ecological restoration. One pilot could have homesteaders doing dryland forest restoration where processing mesquite (kiawe) as timber, fuel, and food source makes space for coconut (niu) and sandalwood ('iliahi). In a kuleana-based housing system, each resident contributes sufficient value to the system to feed their family and better their community. And they are welcome. E komo mai!

Question 2

Drought, while an annual issue, has been raising more concerns of late, leading to emergency declarations at the state and federal level. How can we use our water resources more sustainably and help those most impacted by drought?

Empower those closest to the water resources to steward them. Rehabilitate water transportation infrastructure. Offer incentives for water catchment systems. Transition non-productive grass-scapes to xeriscaping. Fine corporate negligence of water resources and preventable soil loss. Plant choke dwarf coconuts.

Question 3

Tourism has long been our primary economic driver. What do you envision as the next most viable industry to help balance out our economy, and what steps would you take to support that industry?

Biocultural Restoration Tourism. "Great Hunt: Natureʻs Tithe" runs every two week, welcoming ethical, culturally-sensitive hunters, skinners, wild meat processors to Maui County for a managed camping-hunting experience which places a bounty on mature female axis deer. Kamaʻāina guides are required. The operation is jointly managed by State, County, local, and native Hawaiian leadership. Excess meat is donated to the community for consumption and preservation. Carcasses are composted, used to create planting zones for dryland forest restoration with Re-Tree Hawaii partners. A documentary television crew insures pono participation and provides valuable marketing for the introduction of bicultural tourism. Maui Moccasins, anyone?

Five contend for council seat covering Makawao-Haiku-Paia

Reported by Sarah Ruppenthal on JUL 16, 2022


Two years ago, Aram Armstrong took a deep dive into local politics while campaigning for Simon Russell, a candidate for the House District 12 seat. Russell lost his primary bid, but Armstrong says the experience gave him greater insight into the dynamics of local government, as well as the issues facing Maui County. That’s when the idea of his own candidacy began to take shape.

“It’s been on my mind for a while,” he said. “I love complex challenges. And I love Maui.”

Armstrong has lived on Maui since he was a toddler. After graduating from Maui High School, he braved the frigid winters of the Midwest to attend the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where he earned a degree in interactive media. He went on to earn a master’s degree in interaction design from the Interaction Design Institute of Ivrea in Milan, Italy. Today, Armstrong is the farm manager at the Mālamalama Sustainability Center, a nonprofit training center for youth in Haiku. He is also gearing up to launch a new school, called the Maui Mind Academy, and is working on a visual map of the state’s food system for the “Transforming Hawaii’s Food System Together” initiative.

Armstrong said there are many issues he would tackle as a council member. Among them: Addressing Maui County’s housing shortage, improving community spaces and encouraging more public participation in local government.

Over the years, Armstrong has visited, lived and worked in several countries. While abroad, he says he took note of different national models, many of which could be adopted in Maui County. This includes Singapore’s citizen-centric government services, Taiwan’s ultra-efficient recycling program and Denmark’s cycling infrastructure and water quality testing program. To remedy its housing shortage, Armstrong said the county should look at Tokyo’s affordable housing strategy, known as the “Tokyo Model,” and consider the concept of by-right development. He also proposes using locally sourced building materials, including bamboo and hempcrete, to lower construction costs.

Inspired by China’s community-oriented “park life,” Armstrong said he would like to see more classes, programs and services offered at parks and community centers countywide. For example, he said, if staffing and programming were provided, the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center complex in Pukalani would be an ideal location for an intergenerational center to bring local youth and seniors together.