Max Goes Urban-Edgy

Kaka'ako - this is ground zero for urban development on the island of Oahu.

Kaka’ako – this is ground zero for urban development on the island of Oahu.

Today, our perambulations took us out of our K Street neighborhood for a visually stimulating walking tour of the wilds of urban Kaka’ako; specifically, the district owned and master planned for development by huge, local land owner Kamehameha Schools.

Kakaʻako was once a thriving Native Hawaiian community with agricultural terraces where Hawaiian royalty once lived.

Hawaiians used the region for fishpond farming, salt making, wetland agriculture and human burials.

Early urban development. Very early. Mid-19th century perhaps.

Early urban development in Kaka’ako. Very early. Mid-19th century perhaps.

Today, the area is ground zero, the bull’s-eye, the epicenter for re-development activities in Honolulu.

Right now it is largely a collection of re-purposed Quonset huts, low-rise concrete buildings and a chunky stew of mismatched structures that put some gritty in our city.

However, within the next few years all that will change as towering new condos will viagra their way into the skyline and an unbelievably expensive elevated train will pass through here on its route between suburban sprawl on the island’s west side and a shopping center so focused on expensive brands that it makes the Kardashians blush.

Graffiti? Street art? How about a little of both.

Graffiti? Street art? How about a little of both.

At one point there were plans to construct a 700-foot residential tower. That doesn’t sound like much to mainland folks but remember our current building codes limit heights in the area to 400 feet.

This mural is around the corner from the State development agency charged with re-development of the area.

This mural is around the corner from the State development agency charged with re-development of the area.

The Kaka’ako re-development vision has been evolving for almost a decade. Central to the master plan is the concept of creating a new neighborhood in which residents can live, work and play with alternative transportation options – bikes, train, walking – that obviate the need for a car.

Urban Hawaii, a concept that seems oxymoronic. Giant shrimp. Resident alien. Sanitary landfill. Butt head. Microsoft Works. I’ll stop now.

The plans are controversial, and as construction goes into overdrive, public discourse has become noisy and sometimes less than civil.

What puzzles me is that so many folks want the new Kaka’ako to mirror the design elements of urban renewal projects found in the big cities on the mainland. They think the new town has to be edgy, avant-garde, a bit hipster and exuding an attitude of urban toughness.

It's urban, it's edgy but is it Hawaii?

It’s urban, it’s edgy but is it Hawaii?

She seems somehow disappointed with how things are turning out.

She seems somehow disappointed with how things are turning out.

Their vision incorporates a lot of street art, explained to me by a fellow curmudgeon as essentially high quality graffiti without pejorative connotations.

The folks who work next door have this strange feeling of being watched.

The folks who work next door have this strange feeling of being watched.

We celebrate painting old buildings and walls in the new Kaka’ako. Each February during Valentine’s Week we host “Pow! Wow! Hawaii” which brings over a hundred international and local “street artists” together to create murals and other forms of art. Banksy gone wild. Spray paint dealers sing Hallelujah.

The result is as you see in the accompanying photos. Do you like it?

Some folks rave about the addition of street art. Some folks rave about the proliferation of self-indulgent graffiti. And since this is Kaka’ako, some rave about extra-terrestrials, the grassy knoll, and the existential threat posed by Hillary’s cankles. But I digress.

I really don't know how to interpret this.

I really don’t know how to interpret this.

As they say, chacun à son goȗt and, yes, it took me awhile to find the “u” wearing a little hat.

To me, the urban copycat approach seems wrong.

I think we should be creating a new vision, one that I call Island Urban that eschews the subway graffiti of the East Coast and the hip-hop memes of LA for a development scheme more reflective of our lifestyle on a small dot of palm tree studded, volcanic land 2,500 miles from our nearest neighbors.

They say designer vodka; I say mai tai.

They say raw and real; I say gentle and hang loose.

I guess I’d just like a little more aloha and a little less cutting edge, but that’s just me.

Max has yet to express an opinion.

Faced with a value judgment, Max elects to nap under my desk.

Faced with a value judgment, Max elects to nap under my desk.


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10 Responses to Max Goes Urban-Edgy

  1. loisajay says:

    So how do they go about approving a 700′ building within a 400′ building code? Street art? We have beautification murals in the ‘other’ part of town. I’ve posted pictures of that but don’t know for the life of me how to connect the post. Google Seaside FL or 30A Florida to see the Kumbayah of ‘let’s all live together.’ Who in the heck can afford it? Anyhow, I will be curious as to how this pans out. In the meantime, the floor next to Max looks pretty darn good…..


    • I did the Googs and I read about the “New Urbanism” movement in Seaside FL. There are aspects that appeal – we all love Farmer’s Markets – but much seemed contrived as if the architects were sitting around drinking a beer or six and planning how to prank the rest of us.


      • loisajay says:

        Seaside is one beautiful, expensive tourist mecca. “The Truman Story” was filmed there and that is how I imagine life every day. You don’t drive inside Seaside so traffic is clogged for miles as you try to park said vehicle. And it trickles down to all the cute, expensive surrounding areas with names like Watercolor and Rosemary Beach and Alys Beach. Why go to a regular farmer’s market when you can pay $10 for a head of lettuce at Modica in Seaside….she says with sarcasm in her voice..


  2. Kyla says:

    Being a copy cat insures failure. Being true to yourself, however, doesn’t guarantee success. People don’t move to or visit Hawaii because it looks like Fresno.


    • I agree that derivative designs are risky when transported to a completely different environment and cultural milieu. I also think you hit the nail on the head about visitors’ expectations and that, like it or lump it, drives our island economy.


  3. Edgy? I don’t want to live in or visit somewhere edgy….and as for those murals…!


  4. MythRider says:

    I like the graffiti, but I agree with you. They have their place.
    If I ever make it to Hawaii, I’d rather see the uniqueness of Hawaii, now the ghettos of urban mainland cities.


  5. I love the murals and the street art-to me it is a real sign of urban vitality and energy-and what can make it a unique form is when it expresses local culture-thanks for sharing this!


  6. kerbey says:

    I don’t like self-indulgent graffiti nor Hillary’s cankles. It seems like defamation of property, no matter how you look at it. Or say it with lots of Ks and vowels.


  7. I am always surprised at the level of pushing for future development when all too often the current infrastructure is poorly maintained or updated. Perhaps people wouldn’t be so cynical or mistrusting if everything were all lollipops and sugar BEFORE they started new projects. Having visited Hawaii back in May, I vote that the status quo vibe remain.


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