Urban Planning in Hawaii (Fomerly: New Urbanism in Maui?)

According to the Honolulu Advertiser, Maui Land and Pineapple Co. is proposing to build new housing–some of it moderate and low-income units–as part of an expansion for Kapalua Resort. The development sounds like a new town designed in the traditional way. Here’s an excerpt:

McNatt said the elementary school will be in the center of the community. Residential units would be a mix of single-family and multifamily homes for sale and for rent, with some units placed above commercial shops. There would be no shopping or commercial center, with business uses limited to neighborhood services like cafes, bakeries, bike shops and mom-and-pop grocery stores.

Other possible elements include churches, a preschool and wellness center. Buildings and pedestrian-friendly streets would take up about half the 312 acres.

Pulelehua was designed with the help of Florida-based town-planning firm Dover Kohl & Partners and Maui community members who participated in public design sessions in March.

The vision is to create a modern community reminiscent of small towns 50 years ago where children walked to school and parents walked to church or the corner store.

“Up until the early ’50s, this is how towns evolved,” McNatt said. “This is not the walled community where everyone has to drive to go to the store. We’re trying to change that with this .”

I have my suspicions and reservations about the project, but if they truly want to build a town the way they describe above, I’ll be really happy. I really believe that if there can be at least one well-designed, mixed-use, pedestrian friendly community in Hawaii, other developers will began to build communities in that way.

You can read the whole article at Maui Developer Plans Affordable Housing

40 Responses to “Urban Planning in Hawaii (Fomerly: New Urbanism in Maui?)”

  1. Mitchell

    I’m with you. I am optimistic, but wary. It’s the kind of thing that gets one’s hopes up.

    The front-page news in both the Star-Bulletin and Advertiser is the new plan for the Ward Villages, which includes rental residences (over two hundred units). I must say, a plan like that excites me, too, but it seems that the Maui plan, to center everything around a school, sounds much better to me than the Ward plan, to center everything around retail. I really have no reason to feel this way. In fact, it’s my suspicion that the retail plan might work better in the long-term.

    Communities tend to age, and elementary schools become ghost-towns, unless they’re in areas that’re low-income enough to guarantee a steady influx of young families and immigrants. On the other hand, people always buy stuff.

    Star-Bulletin article: Ward aims for urban village.
    Advertiser article: Ward makeover: $100M

  2. Reid

    I was excited about the Ward plan, too, but I have some reservations. First of all, they really don’t seem to design a very pedestrian friendly place, and perhaps that is not their goal.

    Second, they want to build a ten story apartments above the shop with Starbucks and Kua Aina. I don’t think a building that high seems to above a human scale. I’m also picturing something that looks really ugly. I wish they would contract a really good architect to do a good job.

    Today’s editorial in the Advertiser also talked about the plan, specifically how the plan is 30 years old. 30 years old! It’s just another example of how change takes a really long time in Hawaii.

    Read the article here: Kaka’ako Gets Ready to Reach the Stars

    The need for better designed communities–not sprawl-seems to be a theme in the papers this week. On Monday, the Advertiser also ran an article about the growing concern and protests over sprawling development. I have beend dismayed that there doesn’t seem to be very many people concerned about sprawl, but, hopefully, that’s changing.

    Read it here: Crowded Communities Demand Change

  3. kevin

    I’m glad you posted the Maui article; I hadn’t heard of that development. Similar feelings as above; hopeful, but cynical. The latter, mainly for 3 reasons:
    1) I don’t believe that a private resort venture has, at its core, the values that are compatible and requisite to produce authentic civic community.
    2) I’m inclined to believe the motivation for providing an affordable housing community is primarily to serve the larger well-being of the resort, and not the other way around. Whistler, B.C., & Vail, CO are encountering similar served/service demographic problems. I also can almost guarantee that the type of retail that would be installed would not be where the housing residents would (or could) shop & get their services.
    3) Having peered into the inside machinations of these things, I don’t foresee a Floridian urban planning firm being able to invent a Hawaiian mini-urban identity that doesn’t feel contrived, pastiche, or imposed. The last time this happened, we got Ala Moana Center (redux.) Ouch.

    Not trying to be a downer, but just saying. Maybe the Ward development has more hope. Also, I heard that Mauna Lani on the Big Island has something similar going on; I don’t know how the results are turning out. I guess you have to start somewhere, and that somewhere has to have bling-bling. Sigh.

  4. Reid

    So what’s your basis for hope? (I asked you first. 😉

  5. kevin

    I’d have to say it’s in community development corporations (CDC’s) headed by visionary people partnering w/ the city/state, volunteer-initiative projects by non-profits, and some enlightened developer-type fella (like Hemmeter, but smarter, better, & faster) willing to put $ into small “demonstration projects” just to give the public a visible example. But if UH can’t even get behind Dobelle, I don’t have much hope for public/private partnerships.

  6. Reid

    Well, all of these things haven’t come together yet. But then again, I haven’t heard plans for a mixed-use type of community….well, actually I have. Some of newer developments in Ewa are supposedly “New Urbanist,” but, except for a few superficial aspects of the development, they’re basically like any other suburb.

    I have a feeling the powers-that-be do not want or do not understand the value of good urban design. One reason I think this is because I don’t hear from a push from the urban planners at UH. For example, there has been much written about the traffic problem (particularly in the last few weeks). Yet, you almost never hear of solving the problem within a larger context of a regional plan.

    On a side-note, the City has recently decide to build transitional housing–with social services. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re going to design it well. (Although, this Mayor seems to be really into design.)

  7. Reid

    Here are two articles about development in the Kakaako area. Talks about a possible aquarium have stopped, and it sounds like the state is opening up bids to develop the area where the aquarium was going to go.

    Kevin, this could fit in with your suggestion to connect Kakaako Park and Ala Moana.

    Read the article “State Terminates Kakaako Aquarium Deal and the “Kakaako ‘Crown’ Remains to be Complete”

    In the second article (editorial), the Advertiser says that we need some signature building or construct to make the place complete. What’s more important is to make a place that is alive and attractive. To me, that’s more important that a signature building.

  8. kevin

    Peee-yuuuu. I agree. A “signature” building is the last thing Kakaako needs, or Honolulu for that matter. It’s like the urban planning/architectural version of SUV lust: it fuels, rather than curbs, a kind of object-fixation that promotes more lame & incoherent development.

  9. Reid


    In the recent Honolulu Weekly, there’s an interview with the David Cole, the guy overseeing the Maui project for Maui Land and Pineapple. He sounds like who knowledge and commitment to not only a meaningful place, but a sustainable one, too. Plus, he’s a local boy. At the end of the article he recommends some books to read, including the Jane Jacob’s classic. I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm. I’ll try to post a link once the HW posts (hopefully) on line. The whole issue this week is on sustainability.

  10. Reid

    The following link is from the current Honolulu Weekly (but not the interview with Cole):“Grand Plan: Planners, Politicans, and Activists Are Hopeful About Hawaii’s Future” and “Tarnished Times: a Look at Spain’s Past Reveals the Failures of the Present”

    Kevin, are you familiar with the work of Jamie Lerner, the Brazilian urban planner?

    As for the first article, I think the title doesn’t accurately reflect the contents of the article. The people in the article seem more questioning than really hopeful.

  11. Chris

    Max —

    I don’t know if you read the new yorker regularly, but there is an article about New York (specifically Manhattan) as a green city. Other than the energy-consumption focus, it reads like something you would written.

    Not that you don’t care about enery waste, don’t get me wrong.

  12. Reid

    Which issue does the article appear? I’ll look for it.

  13. Reid

    I read the article last night, and I enjoyed it. I liked the comparisons with other cities like Phoenix and D.C.

    The article points out that the way we design our cities and communities have a significant impact on energy consumption and environmental stewardship.

    Add health and health–and even issues of crime, education, -use and economics–to the list, and you can see why regional planning is so important.

  14. Reid

    OK, here’s the interview–“Mr. Sustainability”, with David Cole, the man pushing to build sustainable communities on Maui.

    In the print edition, Cole suggests a reading list:

    Cradle to the Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

    Ciities in Evolution: An Introduction to the Town Planning Movement by Patrick Geddes

    The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World by Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson

    The Culture of Cities by Lewis Mumford

    The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

    Famers for Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea and Japan by F.H. King

    Home Grown: The Cas for Local Food in a Global Market by Brian Halweil

    Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update by Donella H. Meadow, Jorgen Randers and Dennis L. Meadows

    Much Depends on Dinner by Margaret Visser

    The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka

    Permaculture: A Practical Guide for a Sustainable Future by B.C. Mollison

    Smart Mobs: The Nex Social Revolution by Howard Rheingold

    Tending the Garden Island: Toward New Kauian Governance by Ken Stokes

    For those of you who have read any of these books, please share your comments about them.

  15. kevin

    Good reading list, Reid. Cradle to Cradle is a great book, a revolutionary way of rethinking design as a larger conceptual exercise than just the way communities, products, and buildings look and feel. McDonough relates an inspiring encounter w/ Lerner (as I recall) in redesigning a Brazilian favela (shantytown) that demonstrates the above. Mumford and Jacobs’s are more significant canons of 20th cent. urbanism reads than future-looking urban ideas. Skeptical about Feingold’s Smart Mobs theories. I can’t speak of the others, they sound pretty specific; tho I have heard of the Permaculture book.

    I’d also list Bruce Mau as a really interesting future design/social thinker. Who’s Ken Stokes?

  16. Reid

    I don’t know who Stokes is. Maybe he’s a local guy.

    I’ll put those books on my list (even though it’s already super long). What’s the basic concept of “smart mobs?”

    Do you have any recommendations of Bruce Mau. I’ve read articles and interviews by him, and I know he has a book with Koolhaas(sp?). They books seemed written for professionals as opposed to the layperson.

    Btw, there’s going to be a film on Koolhaas and the challenges of urban planning in Ethiopia at UH next month. Looks interesting.

    What’d you think of the Cole interview?

  17. Reid

    Here’s an article about affordable housing in the recent Hawaii Business Magazine: The Home Boys

  18. Reid

    There were a bunch of articles in the Honolulu Advertiser about urban/regional planning:

    Special Report: Managing Growth There are several articles in this report dealing with housing, tourism, traffice, waste management, as well some views from individuals.

    The same issue had an article on Chinatown Plan for Development and one on Rail

    I don’t really have any specific comments, except to say that urban/regional planning is a hot issue, and it is crucial that enlightened planners speak up and begin educating policy makers, business people and the general public.

  19. Reid

    Big New residential may be developed in Kakaako. This article goes over the latest plans in developing Kakaako. I don’t have much to say, except that the drawings don’t comfort me. I do wish that the building heights would be lower.

  20. Reid

    “Here Comes the Neighborhood” is an Atlantic article (June 2010) that doesn’t talk about Hawaii per se, but the value of developing rail transit–specifically, it can a huge economic engine and help build better communities. The most eye-opening comment the author makes is that private developers could fund rail–and other public transportation projects (e.g. streetcars)–because they would actually be able to turn a profit doing so (as has been the case in the past, as the author claims). This makes Honolulu policymakers in favor of rail look like geniuses–and the naysayers…well, you know. But I think this sounds too good to be true, although I expect the author does have some valid points.

  21. Reid

    In Night Life Clusters, Meghan McCardle explains the counter-intuitive reason the same businesses cluster together. More specifically, the article focuses on the the phenomenon regarding bars and the way residents protest the building of neighborhood bars. What’s interesting is the downside of preventing these bars from being built–namely, that certain spaces may be underutilized (not sure if I completely buy that and it may deprive people of jobs (not sure if I buy either argument). The other problem is that it may lead to noisier bars: less bars, mens more crowded and noisiser bars, while the opposite is ostensibly true.

  22. Reid

    The Real Estate Deal That Could Change Everything from Atlantic Cities describes two brothers who are trying to find ways local people can invest in real estate in their own communities. Currently, most massive real estate projects get funded from people and institutions outside of the community. What if you could get people in the community to invest in real estate development in their own community? This makes more sense in that the people in the community have a vested interest in the development since they live there, and they may have a better idea of what development would be appropriate and successful. Apparently, there are all kinds of big obstacles for doing this, and the article above features two brothers trying to change that.

  23. Reid

    Back to Hawai’i. Kamehameha Estates(?) owns a lot of property in Kakaako and they’re becoming very active in developing the area into a hip, live-play (not sure about work) area. I just saw an article about their most recent development, which they call Salt (for the salt ponds that used to be in that area). It’s located in area where Hank’s is, including the area behind it and the buildings perpendicular to Hank’s on the mauka side.Basically, it’s supposed to be a hip place for shopping and eating (basically an outdoor mall) Here’s a link with some drawings.

    I find it difficult to judge drawings like this, partly because I can’t tell if my pessimism is getting in the way. Somehow the place looks kind of lifeless and inert, too, but, again, I’m not sure if this is accurate. A couple of other thoughts come to mind:

    1. A part of me would like to see residential units above the storefronts. To me, this would make the place feel and be more alive (although there will be residential units really close by);

    2. A part of me is more concerned with what is across the street from Hank’s and R&D. I’d like to see storefronts in those locations to–primarily because this will make for a better street. “Salt” seems to be turning away from the street, and what I would like to see is the human activity moved to the streets (with wider sidewalks; maybe curbside dining). I’d like to see an emphasis on building healthier, livelier streets. (I believe Jacobs points out that when you think of great cities, you think of great streets, and I agree with that.)

    3. In addition to wider sidewalks, I think the buildings could use longer awnings covering the sidewalks.

  24. mitchell

    They’ve already put loft-type residences above the Starbucks. It was supposed to be some kind of affordable housing development, but I don’t know the details. As for the area across Hank’s, that’s going to be tough, because it’s been the location of a car dealership for a really long time. For now, I think the best bet is that street around the corner, parallel to Ala Moana Blvd. It seems to be the heart of the Kakaako Nights events. The trouble is that across the street is that huge parking lot for the building Jelly’s is in, rather than more storefronts, and that’s a pretty wide street for a place not much has been happening in.

    The Salt area gets a lot of buzzy traffic during those Kakaako Night events. But you’re right: without more residences, during non-event nights, that place is a ghost town.

    There’s something else you might not have noticed: there’s a ridiculous dearth of bicycle racks in the area. Bikes are chained to street signs all over the place. If we want to encourage people to get out of their cars, we need to make bikes much more convenient to park. It baffles me that nobody has thought of this yet.

  25. Reid

    They’ve already put loft-type residences above the Starbucks. It was supposed to be some kind of affordable housing development, but I don’t know the details.

    Yeah, that’s true, but something about the design just doesn’t work for me. For one thing, the design places the activity behind the buildings, away from the streets. And the shops/restaurants seem to be a little too far from those lofts. (Really, it’s not that far–but I’d prefer if you had residential units right above those restaurants–not to mention the public spaces. Actually, maybe I’m wrong about this.)

    As for the area across Hank’s, that’s going to be tough, because it’s been the location of a car dealership for a really long time. For now, I think the best bet is that street around the corner, parallel to Ala Moana Blvd. It seems to be the heart of the Kakaako Nights events. The trouble is that across the street is that huge parking lot for the building Jelly’s is in, rather than more storefronts, and that’s a pretty wide street for a place not much has been happening in.

    Right, but if Kamehameha Schools really wants to make this a great live-work-play area, then they should seriously making serious design/architectural changes to make the place work. To me, that’s one of the most important components for success. For example, could they build storefronts on Auahi Street, across from R&D? This would eat up parking spaces, but it might make for a more vibrant street, particularly if they widened the sidewalks on both sides and installed well-designed awnings. (On a side note, I think O’ahu lacks great streets because many potentially good streets only have interesting storefronts on one side.) Yes, this would be expensive (as would adjusting the side of the street on the Hank’s side). But these are the type of changes that are important in my view.

    But you’re right: without more residences, during non-event nights, that place is a ghost town.

    To be clear, I think that if you design really good streets, you can attract a lot of people. But placing residential units in the middle of the area will create a more consistent human presence, which will make the place more alive.

    There’s something else you might not have noticed: there’s a ridiculous dearth of bicycle racks in the area. Bikes are chained to street signs all over the place. If we want to encourage people to get out of their cars, we need to make bikes much more convenient to park. It baffles me that nobody has thought of this yet.

    I really want to see more accommodation and encouragement of bike riding. I think more bike racks will help–and for that area, maybe that’s one of the best things you could do. (Also, the idea of free bikes might be kinda cool.) However, I’m not sure if this will really lead to significant increase in bike riding. There are many factors that go into choosing modes of transportation, and I tend to think that bike racks are relatively low on the list–at least in relation to something like dedicated bike paths. That’s probably not realistic, but I’d love to more investment and commitment to that.

  26. Reid

    The Atlantic’s James Fallows and his wife Debbie have been traveling across country visiting various communities to get an idea of what the country might do to improve economically and other important ways.

    He’s had a series of blog posts about urban planning that have caught my eye. In this one Fallows lists key factors and problems to healthy and vibrant cities–factors he’s seen in many of the cities/towns he’s visited.

    Common Threads in Developing and/or Revitalizing Downtown America

    Here’s a list of them:

    1. A strong urban core. Fallows is thinking of a lively downtown area, with lots of retail and cultural type of activity, and considerable number of people living in this area. Fallows notices a link between a strong downtown and overall economic and cultural health of the city and state;

    2. Creating a vibrant urban core takes time and occurs in stages–it’s not all or nothing. Based on what I’ve read, I agree with this. People shouldn’t think the process is fast. I do think the process requires a lot of little acts that eventually lead to a vibrant place;

    3. Sprawl is a big problem. Fallows mentions a crucial effect of sprawl–namely, leaving a high concentration of lower-class individuals in the urban core.

    4. A public leader spearheading and shepherding the process toward a more vibrant downtown..

    5. Private-public partnerships–with the private side willing to invest in these type of places.

    Fallows also mentions a shared city narrative and the ability to leap ahead in time–but he didn’t really go into those two points.

  27. Reid

    This short explains elements that make a beautiful city–a city people that makes people feel fulfilled and alive. I’d probably want to say more, but I don’t know if I could do a better job in fifteen minutes. It’s easy to understand and the animation is engaging.

  28. Reid

    Article on superblock concept in Spain.

  29. Don

    Pretty cool.

  30. Reid

    I’m a supporter of more government investment in infrastructure. My logic is simple: we seem to need an upgrade in infrastructure, interest rates are low, and we could address unemployment. It’s a triple win! However, this vox.com article provides some interesting points that should be factored in.

  31. Reid

    Check out this Wal-Mart below office space and apartments (image on the right). I’d love if we could have more of this type of development; and I don’t understand the obstacles for it:

  32. Reid

    How Denver Pushed Rents Down Citywide

    In a nutshell: they built more a lot more apartments.

  33. Reid

    Difference Between Malls and Traditional Main Streets

  34. Reid
  35. Reid

    I wish Honolulu could move in this direction.

  36. don

    We are trying to move in that direction it seems: bike lanes, bike sharing, and rail. Not that it will be successful, but it at least seems like we are moving in that direction. Definitely much more than before. What would be the first easy thing you would do to change Honolulu?

    I love Vancouver by the way. It does a great job of being a clean and transportation-friendly “big city”. I think though, like New York and San Fran, there isn’t a great way or enough transportation to get into and out of the city. So unless you are one of the lucky ones that can afford to live within the city limits, what you see in the video may not be telling the complete picture.

  37. Reid

    You’re right–we are moving in that direction. I guess I’m not confident in the execution. I’m also being impatient.

    I’m not sure what would be easy or not. But one thing that stood out in the video is the way planters/barriers were used to separate bike lanes from the car traffic. I think this one move could make bike lanes safer and way more appealing.

    I think though, like New York and San Fran, there isn’t a great way or enough transportation to get into and out of the city. So unless you are one of the lucky ones that can afford to live within the city limits, what you see in the video may not be telling the complete picture.

    Sure, but I feel like this would be nitpicking just a bit. My sense is that American regional and urban planning has been built around accommodating cars for several decades. Elevating public transportation, bicyles, and walking to an equal or greater status, even in urban centers, is a huge accomplishment. I’d be ecstatic if Honolulu’s urban core (say, from downtown to Ala Moana) became like Vancouver, even if transportation from the suburbs didn’t change in the same way.

  38. don

    I think when getting to downtown is tough, it forces commuters to use cars to get into the city (a lot of times that gets hard as well as it is in Manhattan). The more cars there are going into the city, limits what they go do within the city. Meaning it’s hard to shut down roads or convert lanes into bike lanes if it’s going to create more traffic.

  39. Mitchell

    If there’s enough reasonably-priced parking on the fringes of the city it makes it easier for people to drive and park, then walk or whatever. Or even reasonably-priced parking in the core. Like in Kaimuki. Park, then do ten different things on foot.

  40. Reid


    I don’t think we have to shut down roads. In the video, they made roads narrower in Manhattan, to accommodate bicycles. I do think there are roads that can be narrowed. I think the problem is that we’ve been focused on accommodating cars–increasing lane capacity, parking–emphasizing ways to eliminate or reduce congestion. From what I understand, the cost of doing this hurts public transit, cycling and walking.

    To be fair, accommodating these other modes will make driving less appealing and more inconvenient. Hopefully, this can be offset by making these other modes of transportation more appealing.

    One last thing: Given the aging population, to me, making this shift is the better, wiser move. Older people (soon to be us) will have more independence, and this is not only better for them but for society overall in my view.

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