Workshop Encourages Civic Engagement in Kaka’ako Development

 A view of Kaka‘ako NATHALIE WALKER PHOTO  A word cloud generated from the attendees of the first workshop based on their top concerns in Kaka‘ako's development PHOTO COURTESY KAREN UMEMOTO

A view of Kaka‘ako NATHALIE WALKER PHOTO A word cloud generated from the attendees of the first workshop based on their top concerns in Kaka‘ako’s development PHOTO COURTESY KAREN UMEMOTO

When a group of residents, business owners and other community members gathered earlier this month at a workshop hosted by University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning (DURP), they were asked what concerns them most regarding development in Kaka‘ako. Affordable housing topped the list. It was agreed that while there are real estate companies, such as the property block, who provide affordable housing, a larger community project is needed to make a real difference to the community. Other chief concerns included public green spaces, walkability and access to grocery stores.

“There has been increasing public concern over the character of development in Kaka‘ako,” explains UH DURP professor and chairwoman Karen Umemoto. “Kaka‘ako could be very exclusionary – it could feel like a place that doesn’t belong to any of us, or belongs to the privileged few. Or it could be a place where everybody feels at home.

“We thought that if these are the concerns that are being voiced,” she continues, “then we could contribute by at least offering some basic information about these issues.”

And that’s exactly the goal of DURP’s ongoing workshop series, Kaka‘ako: Our Kuleana, A Free Urban Planning Academy for Everyone, which launched Oct. 13 and runs through Nov. 17. Organized by DURP in association with the Hawaii chapter of the American Planning Association, the series aims to educate the public about issues related to the area’s development – as well as to serve as sort of a launch pad for further engagement. Each session is held from 6 to 8 p.m. for six consecutive Tuesdays in the Hawaii Community Development Authority Community Room (547 Queen St.).

Currently, the series is at its halfway point – so far, it’s tackled the history of planning in the neighborhood, infrastructure issues, and affordable housing. Topics to come are community inclusivity, rail, and civic engagement. (See sidebar for details.) Topics were selected by organizers based on conversations they’ve had with community members and other stakeholders.

Harrison Rue of Department of Planning and Permitting discussed affordable housing at a previous session CHRISTINA O'CONNOR PHOTO

Harrison Rue of Department of Planning and Permitting discussed affordable housing at a previous session CHRISTINA O’CONNOR PHOTO

“Because Kaka‘ako is undergoing such high-profile re-development, people feel like the only way that they are invited to thinking about urban planning for the neighborhood is either going to a public hearing, or seeing a news headline,” says Annie Koh, a Ph.D. candidate at DURP. “We wanted to open up a different kind of space that was maybe a little bit more creative, a little bit less adversarial.”

As a result of educating the public about planning issues, organizers hope that the workshop can yield greater interactivity in the process, and generate increased, more meaningful civic engagement.

“We are not going to solve everything in these six weeks. It is more sort of laying the groundwork for folks to be able to ask their own questions, or kind of think about what’s possible,” Koh says. “By opening up something that is more educational, it is kind of inviting folks who may not be familiar with urban planning processes … to feel that they can access this process.”

After all, as Umemoto asserts, the act of creating a place “shapes more than just the place itself.”

“There is a lot that goes into creating the built environment,” Umemoto says. “And the built environment affects what happens within the neighborhood. But equally important is the community that is built between people who inhabit or work in the place, or frequent the place, so that it’s a healthy community in terms of activities … and relationships between different stakeholders.”

Here are the remaining sessions for Kaka‘ako: Our Kuleana

Nov. 3: Envisioning A Place For Everyone: From the Shoreline to Small Business

This session will feature a panel discussion focused on ways to incorporate a diverse range of visions for Kaka‘ako into the planning process.

Panelists slated to participate include representatives from Kaka‘ako Makai Community Planning Advisory Council, Association of Apartment Owners at Imperial Plaza, Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, as well as a number of local business owners.

Nov. 10: Leveraging Rail: How Many Ways Can the Community Benefit?

This workshop will discuss how rail could open up possibilities – like parks or affordable housing – in Kaka‘ako.

Speakers will include Torsha Bhattacharya of UH Manoa’s School of Travel Industry Management, Harrison Rue of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting, and John Whalen of Hawaii Community Development Authority Board.

Nov. 17: Civic Engagement in Kakaako: Where Do We Go From Here?

This session will explore ways that community members can contribute and play a role in shaping the urban core for now and the future.

Speakers include representatives from Islander Institute, a social enterprise organization that works with social, economic and political issues within the state.

And on Nov. 21, there’s an opportunity to take a one-hour trolley tour of Kaka‘ako, with trolleys leaving at 9, 10 and 11 a.m. from Kaka‘ako Agora (441 Cooke St.).

For more information on the series, visit