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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 11, 2003

Giving UH a new face

By Tom Dinell

After 4 p.m., UH-Manoa is a deserted commuter campus, while Mo'ili'ili, cut off by the Freeway, is aging and meandering. They can revive each other.

Advertiser library photo • May 5, 2000

The fortuitous convergence of multiple developments at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and at the Kamehameha Schools, which is the major landowner in Mo'ili'ili, is providing both the university and the community with the opportunity of a lifetime. It's one that UH, the Kamehameha Schools and the Mo'ili'ili community are poised to seize.

Recent changes at UH-Manoa suggest the university is on the move:

  • New leadership at both the system level and at Manoa.
  • Significant organizational and institutional reform at both the system level and at the Manoa campus, including the appointment of a chancellor for Manoa.
  • A new openness to change, including a commitment to becoming a self-learning organization.
  • A new strategic plan for UH-Manoa, titled "Defining Our Destiny," which emphasizes exemplary undergraduate education and sense of place among its core commitments.

Even with the recent resignation of CEO Hamilton McCubbin, changes at the Kamehameha Schools suggest that institution also is on the move:

  • New leadership at both the trustee and staff levels at Kamehameha.
  • A renewed interest on the part of Kamehameha in the development of its Hawai'i properties to serve simultaneously the purposes of the trust and the needs of the community.
  • The imminent expiration of major leases covering lands owned by the Kamehameha Schools in Mo'ili'ili.
  • The retention of Group 70 International, based in Hawai'i, and Coopers, Robertson and Partners, based in New York, both outstanding planning firms, to develop a plan that brings Mo'ili'ili and the UH-Manoa campus together in new ways.

Mo'ili'ili is a small retail and residential community which lacks cohesion, is marked by aging, suffers from being a traffic throughway AND provides a poor pedestrian environment.

H-1 Freeway at University Avenue, above, serves as a concrete barrier that separates UH-Manoa and Mo'ili'ili. Under a suggested transformation, top, this expanse would become a pedestrian walkway with lush landscaping, and the freeway underpass would be enhanced with a new facade and bright lights.
But it has a wonderful history, delightful shops and restaurants, a rich variety of retail establishments and magnificent potential.

UH-Manoa is a commuter campus that dies around 4 every weekday afternoon with its limited supply of poorly maintained dormitories in what amounts to a student residential ghetto. UH-Manoa lacks vibrant campus life to complement its excellence in instruction and research.

While students, especially those living in the dormitories, do go to Mo'ili'ili, there is not a single inviting path connecting the campus and Mo'ili'ili. To make matters worse, UH-Manoa and Mo'ili'ili are separated by the six-lane H-1 Freeway.

Last July, Kamehameha Schools held a one-day charrette, or collaborative planning session, led by its planning consultants, in which UH administrators, faculty, students, Mo'ili'ili merchants, residents, and community leaders, public officials and Kamehameha Schools executives joined together to begin planning for the future. This session led to a draft Mo'ili'ili regional planning study.

The three major themes coming out of the session, as presented in the planning study, are:

  • Place of the Heart — Mo'ili'ili has a rich history for many of Hawai'i's people. This richness, and the fond memories associated with the community, will be embraced in future plans.
  • Fun Gathering Place — Participants recognized the potential for Mo'ili'ili to bring together students, neighbors and local residents in a fun and active pedestrian environment.
  • Learning Village — With its rich cultural history and the academic resources of the university, Mo'ili'ili has the potential to be a creative and nurturing lifelong learning community.

The UH-Manoa-Mo'ili'ili connection is a symbiotic one. Each of the constituencies needs the other groups. Each can be a better place because of the other participants. The opportunity for joint planning and development is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all the players:

  • UH-Manoa has the customer base, which is essential to the economic vitality of an expanded Mo'ili'ili commercial development. But it is dependent on the transformation of Mo'ili'ili to make a vibrant campus a reality.
  • Kamehameha, as the lead landlord in the area, controls the land essential to facilitating UH-Manoa development in the area makai of the athletic facilities and the revitalization of Mo'ili'ili. Assuming the redevelopment is well done, Kamehameha will earn increased revenue for its beneficiaries.
  • Mo'ili'ili merchants have the opportunity to grow and expand.
  • Mo'ili'ili residents can shape the nature of a much more vibrant and interesting community in which to live.
  • The Honolulu and state governments can facilitate the improvement of the Mo'ili'ili area, especially in terms of traffic patterns, and thus enrich all of Honolulu, while enjoying the new revenues, which will flow from the enhanced tax base.

What a wonderful win-win situation for everyone!

What are some of the specific potential changes that will make UH-Manoa a more vibrant campus and link it to a revived Mo'ili'ili in a new and dynamic relationship?

  • A beautiful new University Avenue front door to UH-Manoa (and Manoa Valley) with a delightful pedestrian walkway, lush landscaping, a transformed H-1 underpass (now one of the world's ugliest) with a new facade and bathed in bright lighting.
  • An enticing new pedestrian path extending the soon-to-be-dedicated Heritage Trail on the upper campus through the lower campus to the center of Mo'ili'ili.
  • A new, landscaped pedestrian/bicycle trail connecting the UH dormitories with Mo'ili'ili.
  • The creation of a bicycle and pedestrian campus where automobiles are banished to the periphery.
  • Revitalization of the existing UH-Manoa residential complex, including wiring of dormitories with Internet connections and the introduction of new facilities to make the area both more livable and more alive.
  • One or more new, wired high-rise buildings in the center of the upper campus with ground-level restaurants and shops, offices and meeting rooms on lower floors and student quarters above.
  • A University Club (a first for UH-Manoa) for faculty, administrative staff and alumni, above the existing campus parking garages, with the restaurant operated by the community colleges' culinary programs.
  • Housing for graduate-student families on lands owned by the Kamehameha Schools makai of the UH-Manoa athletic facilities, built and operated by private developers with UH-Manoa guaranteeing occupancy.
  • An enhanced UH-Manoa transportation system linking Mo'ili'ili, including community parking facilities, and the campus, including the existing dormitory complex, perhaps using open-air trams accessible to the disabled (similar to those in major amusement centers), which are fun to ride and easy to board and alight from.
  • Moving an expanded university bookstore to Mo'ili'ili with opportunities for partnerships with existing and new Mo'ili'ili retail establishments.
  • Development of research facilities on Kamehahmeha Schools or municipal lands makai of the athletic facilities by private developers with UH-Manoa guaranteeing the lease rent for a period of years.
  • Location of new community-oriented UH-Manoa learning facilities in Mo'ili'ili.

Dreams, ideas and sketch plans are the necessary first steps, but a great deal more is required:

  • The formalization of the UH-Manoa-Kamehameha Schools Partnership, including formation of a cooperative structure to assure progressive implementation of the proposed improvements.
  • The designation of Mo'ili'ili as a special design district.
  • The involvement of UH-Manoa faculty and students and Mo'ili'ili residents, community leaders and business people in the planning process.
  • The development and implementation of a physical plan for the Manoa campus, which spells out in detail the UH portion of the joint UH-Manoa-Mo'ili'ili planning and development endeavor.
  • The creation of a coordinating body that will provide a forum for all the stakeholders (including government agencies) to discuss and debate potential changes.
  • Developing cost estimates for desired improvements and the development of means for financing and building them.
  • The development of relocation programs for those who will be displaced.

So, where do we stand today?

  • Kamehameha has prepared the Mo'ili'ili Regional Planning Study, which provides a wonderful starting point.
  • Kamehameha has initiated meetings with community groups.
  • The university president has appointed a former chief of staff to the governor as director of capital improvements for the UH system, with special responsibility of spearheading the UH-Manoa-Mo'ili'ili partnership and development.

All this becomes the starting point for what promises to be the transformation of UH-Manoa into a vibrant, exciting place to live, to learn and just to be.

Making Mo'ili'ili a place of the heart, a fun gathering place and a learning village is integral to the metamorphosis of the UH-Manoa campus. Together, UH-Manoa and Mo'ili'ili, aided in marvelous ways by the Kamehameha Schools, are on the verge of helping each other accomplish what neither alone can achieve.

Tom Dinell is an emeritus professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and a planning consultant. He continues to teach a planning course at UH-Manoa.