Many Hawai‘i residents are well-travelled and can knowledgeably compare the world’s great cities. With Honolulu in the midst of a development boom, some wonder what is guiding this city’s transformation. A group of local designers, architects and landscape designers is working to make sure communities are involved in changes that are coming with the rail transit project. HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports.
Incorporating the public interest as part of the building process has support from a national program called SEED certification, Social Economic Environmental Design. Like LEED for sustainable building, this designation rewards work that builds social equity. Since 2015, Sakamoto’s non-profit, SHADE Institute, Sustainable Humanitarian Architecture & Design for the Earth, has been working to help Chinatown and Waipahu communities develop transit oriented design projects along SEED guidelines.
The Public Interest Design Workshop is set for the East West Center July 7th 2017.
More about SEED
More about SHADE
Architect Dean Sakamoto began projects back home in Hawai‘i while still on the faculty at Yale. He is the founder and Executive Director of SHADE Institute.
Sakamoto: I think the stereotype of what I do, what a lot of my colleagues do as designers, architects and landscape architects, we’re kind of seen as a luxury here. What we do as architects, urban designers, land scape architects, is we have to think about humanity. We have to think about how people use places, how they react to places, how they respond and do we enhance the human condition while solving these problems of flooding, historical buildings failing because they’re not maintained, and creating a safe, sound, and more joyous environment.
Sakamoto: China town and Waipahu also have another issue. In addition to being historical neighborhoods, the other thing even perhaps more critical, is both of these districts are in harm’s way in regard to coastal hazards, floods, from the shoreline and from inland flooding, and with the rising sea level, climate change, Waipahu in particular, most of the town center is in a floodway and being in a floodway makes it impossible to enhance the development of the area. The flood risk needs to be mitigated and that’s the first thing people in Waipahu have to be made aware of. They’re going to have to get together to lobby for government assistance to mitigate this flood risk.
Sakamoto: It’s on the books, the City’s aware of it, the State’s aware of it, it’s just a matter of time before this issue gets addressed. There are a couple of ways to deal with this flood risk in Waipahu and even Chinatown. For example, elevating storefronts, getting them off the grade level, it would mean getting your moving your utilities and electrical connections above the flood level and any new housing that’s designed has to factor in for this. And through building design, we have to change the way we do things like don’t put electrical panels even on the first floor.
Sakamoto: Through urban design, working with landscape architects, we can also create more permeable surfaces, less blacktop, which is not good for our increased heat island effect. It will cool us down if we have more permeable, softer landscapes integrated with necessary hard areas for vehicles and pedestrians. It also provides more absorption for any kind of inundation.
Sakamoto says good design can solve these problems, add value to investments, and build a stronger community in the process. Getting the community involved is key.
Zach Small is a Cornell architecture master’s candidate and SHADE intern. His project? Finding community stakeholders and ways they can engage.
Small: It’s a messy thing. Urban design and urban planning is really messy. So we’re trying to make it as clear as possible.
Who are the stakeholders?
Small: It could be individuals, non-profits, government, really anyone you could consider a visitor to Waipahu who’s going to the Plantation village will have a stake in the future of the community. it’s about understanding every one involved and trying to include as many people as possible.
Small: I think there’s a strong community in Waipahu and there’s going to be a lot of changes with the TOD. So I think and I’m people are really going to be involved and SHADE can set up something that’s really long term and with our community partners start something long and meaningful that allows people in the community to plan for their own future.
Sakamoto: Looking forward and backward, I think it’s just a matter of where we are as a civilization here. we’re less than a hundred years off the plantation. I’m here because of that. but I think we have to as a civilization, progress. We’re just a at a point in history and I think the rail system is an incredible opportunity because it’s a game changer to help us improve our built environment and bring it up to par with the incredible god given natural environment we have in the islands. What urban design seeks to do is to work between the vertical architecture, the design of buildings and places, bringing together the design and the planning.
Sakamoto: One way it could be addressed, and it’s not too late, is to develop an urban design plan along the 21 mile system. That would take some time and money. A lot of front work has been done through the neighborhood TOD plans, but urban design is really sitting there with property owners, stakeholders of all these communities the rail would pass through and helping them understand the impact.
In 2015, a decade after Boston’s traumatic Big Dig urban transportation project finished, the Boston Globe asked, Was it worth it? Called a boondoggle, a white elephant , this was a project haunted by faulty epoxy, seawater leaks, and a budget that swelled from $2.6 to $15 billion over thirty painful years. Ultimately, the highway project created a windfall for adjacent property owners, and the Globe cited failure to leverage public investment to tap private sector support as a missed opportunity. Will we be facing the same regret over our, very different, rail project? (Check the Boston Globe article by Anthony Flint December 2015)
Sakamoto: Change is traumatic. But also with change, comes the potential for economic and environmental improvement. In Hawai‘i, design is even more important because we have such limited space, limited resources, if SHADE can do anything, I think it’s going to help bring the people together to see the value of the built environment in harmony with our incredible natural environment.
The Public interest Design Workshop is for planning and design professionals and their community partners. Resource people will present award winning public interest design projects and case studies of how they did it. The objective? To advance the right of every person to live in a socially, economically, and environmentally healthy community.