I don’t know of any blog that focuses specifically on development patterns on O‘ahu – so here goes.
Typically film site blogs are intermittent affairs, which simply report the latest news about the film – where it will be playing, what the reception was like at such and such a festival, what a recent review had to say… pretty quotidian stuff. We’ll be doing some of that ourselves and Mike and I will send you an occasional video postcard telling you what we’re up to or sharing a snippet of an interview or an event we just filmed.
But our films are about issues that people feel passionately about, not just in Hawai‘i but across the nation: development pressures, suburban sprawl, traffic congestion, preserving nature, mass transit, gentrification, housing, sea level rise, the nature of urbanity, big box stores, aging infrastructure, patterns of growth, agricultural economies, allowing seniors to age in place, bicycle paths, mixed use communities, changing family structures, protecting traditional ways of life, population rise, growth…
All these issues are intricately connected. And there is news about at least one of these topics almost every day of the week.
Take today for example. Hawaii Pacific University, which has purchased the lease to Aloha Tower Marketplace, revealed details on its plan to turn the second story of the complex into dormitories for nearly 300 students. You can watch the KITV news story here.
What on earth has this got to do with Railroading Paradise? Or with a conversation about The Future of Paradise?
Well quite a lot, actually.
You see Aloha Tower Marketplace was an attempt to revitalize Downtown. And it failed. There weren’t enough customers. Cruise ship traffic dropped. Parking was difficult. Ala Moana Boulevard acted as a barrier to pedestrians.
Which is a shame, because we desperately need places like Aloha Tower to work. How many places are there outside Waikiki where locals can stroll along the urban waterfront, enjoy an open-air meal, listen to live music and shop? We need attractive urban locales close to Downtown to encourage people to think of the city as a pleasant and convenient place to work, play AND live. If we can do that, we can start to reduce the demand for single family homes in suburbs built on our precious farmland.
Creating housing for 300 students at Aloha Tower will immediately give the place a huge jolt of energy. Surely the Marketplace will become a venue for all sorts of entertainment, and since students aren’t typically very wealthy, we can anticipate that the activities should be at an appealing price point for the average local resident.
Because the students will constantly be crossing Ala Moana Blvd to access classes in Fort Street Mall, they will begin to physically tie Downtown to the waterfront.
Another significant aspect of this story is transportation. To get people to live in the city you have to have a great transit system. The HART rail project is designed to fill that need, but it will only work as intended if the areas around the stations become attractive neighborhoods - urban nuclei, each with its own housing, shopping and attractions to create a focus of energy or critical mass that will bind each area into a true community with its own unique character. If these neighborhoods continue to rely on automobiles, they will not work.
But as HPU President Dr. Geoffry Bannister says in the KITV piece: “We will reduce the need for parking because the students won't need cars. We'll have a train station here as well. I hope we'll have a bike share program for the city. This is a very busy service. We should be able to reduce the parking pressure.”
Finally, we should not forget that HPU has more than 1000 foreign students from more than 100 countries. They bring not only their money, but their culture and energy – qualities which should help infuse Honolulu’s urban experience and which likely will lead to some of them creating businesses here.
A successful HPU - Aloha Tower development will help boost the trend to a new urbanism. It will deliver passengers to the HART project -helping ensure the train’s success- and ultimately it will help reduce the pressure for development in The Country. It is the sort of development that should help shape the Future of Paradise for the better.