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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 9, 2005

Urban challenges confront Makiki

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Makiki residents say their neighborhood is the best place to live in Honolulu, but admit the area has many of the social problems that come with being such a densely populated urban community: a lack of parking, too much noise and accumulated rubbish. A new group called Hui 'O Makiki is being formed by residents as a way to take on some of those issues and make Makiki an even better place to call home.

Donald Elliot, a volunteer at the Makiki Community Library, peers through one of the windows smashed by vandals last month.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

"Makiki is an extremely dense community that is really a quite fascinating place," said Elisa Johnston, interim president of Hui 'O Makiki. "The people who are coming together for Hui 'O Makiki are generally longtime Makiki residents who treasure the diversity of the community, but are pained and frustrated by the deterioration that we see. Our little group is just starting out, and our focus is on general quality of life. We are inviting everyone to take part."

Makiki is in the area bounded by Punahou Street and Ward Avenue, and from South King Street to Tantalus and named for a type of stone Hawaiians used as weights for octopus lures. Makiki is comprised of four neighborhoods — Lower Makiki, Makiki, Lower Punchbowl and Tantalus/Makiki Heights. The area is within walking distance of major shopping centers, government services and hospitals.

Johnston said Makiki's mix includes towering condominium buildings and beautiful historic homes; old appliances littering the sidewalks and miles of serene public hiking trails; drug use and crime but many active and well attended churches.

"It's a good place to live," said John Steelquist, chairman of the Makiki/Lower Punchbowl/Tantalus Neighborhood Board. "There is a sense of community or at least a sense of place. It is kind of like a low-cost Manoa. Many young professionals make this where they buy their first apartment and when they have children move to Mililani. Years later they move back because they want to be in town. They get a promotion and are tired of commuting and remember that Makiki was so nice."

Little problems pile up

High-rises packed with condominiums jut up against Tantalus in Makiki, one of Honolulu's most densely populated communities. While many residents love their neighborhood, many feel the community lacks a cohesiveness. A new group hopes to change that.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Makiki has a population of 29,700 according to the 2000 Census. The section between Punahou and Ke'eaumoku streets with many condominiums has a density average of about 61,000 per square mile, the third most congested place in the state behind Waikiki and sections of Salt Lake.

Culturally, both the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Contemporary Museum are in Makiki, but recreational facilities are lacking. The city standards for community-based parks is two acres per 1,000 residents, so Makiki falls 45 acres short of public parks.

The idea for forming Hui 'O Makiki came following a community meeting held by Rep. Brian Schatz, D-25th (Makiki, Tantalus), last summer. Although the group is interested in many social, economic and quality of life issues, their first objective is to do something about the bulky trash items — including refrigerators, sofas and garbage — constantly being left on the sidewalks.

"If you drive through Makiki there is just a tremendous problem with accumulated refuse," said Johnston. "There are mattresses and cupboards and old carpets and fans. Some people don't know when the monthly bulky-item pickup is, or they don't care because they want to get rid of this refrigerator today. Everybody just joins the cause and heaps things on."

The Makiki District Park draws residents as well as people like Leia Aguilar of Nu'uanu, who spent Friday afternoon reading in the park.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Johnston said the group's first order of business will be to lobby the city to increase the number of bulky item pickups in the area. They are also planning a public information campaign to let residents know when, and when not, to put their bulky items on the street.

Schatz said the group is similar to Malama O Manoa, an effective community group that took on and helped stop Hawaiian Electric Co. when it planned to place power lines on Wa'ahila Ridge.

"There are certainly as many people in Makiki who care about the long-term health of their neighborhood as there are in Manoa," Schatz said. "We all need to take pride in our community. It becomes especially important in areas with high density. Little problems tend to snowball. Whether it is bulky item pickup or graffiti or property crime, those are the kinds of things that can negatively affect quality of life and a community organization can help to solve."

Norma Koenig, a founding member of Hui 'O Makiki, said the group will help "ignite a spirit of pride and neighborhood coalition."

"We do not have one voice," Koenig said. "We do not have a coalesced energy in Makiki. We are overpopulated, over burdened, over garbaged, over ratted and over trafficked. We want to be part of the solution and stop the griping. If we can try to be supportive of government, where you have the public and policy-makers working hand in hand, it is an ideal cooperation."

The Makiki District Park is considered the gathering place of the area. It has a swimming pool, a skateboard park, basketball and volleyball courts, classrooms, public gardens and a community library. It has also recently become the focus of crime in the area.

Crime, vandalism rising

Samantha Langcaon, 8, of 'Aiea practices piano with Ernest Chang, who has taught at the Makiki Village Shopping Center since 1963.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Masa Maeda, 60, works in his 10-foot by 10-foot garden plot daily. He said that every night people drink in the park and drug dealers set up shop.

"Every single day they leave beer bottle and cans, broken pipes and plastic packages in the park," Maeda said. "Police asked me to cut back the bushes so the parking lot would be more visible."

The park is closed after 10 p.m., which allows police to question anyone there after hours, but they cannot be there all the time. Last month vandals smashed 31 windows in the Makiki Community Library.

"It's like everywhere else, there are always some bad elements," librarian Nancy Nott said. "They have also broken in, come in through the windows several times. So far they have only stolen the speakers from our computer."

Daniel Green paid a visit recently to the Makiki library, which includes a collection of about 13,000 books — most of them donated.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

The community library was started by Makiki residents in 1978 in what was the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association experiment station. It is not part of the state library system, and its collection of about 13,000 books is mostly donated.

Makiki Shopping Village on Wilder Avenue is the business center of the community with a coffee shop, take-out restaurants and a wine shop. The tiny Pizza Hut is the smallest restaurant in the chain but one of the busiest, delivering about 1,200 pizzas a week to hungry condo dwellers.

Ernest Chang, 65, has been teaching classical piano from his second floor studio in the shopping village since 1963.

"It's a wonderful neighborhood and community," Chang said. "We have the mildest climate on the whole island. There are a lot more condominium buildings and therefore a lot less single family homes from when I first started."

Chang's students are mostly school age, but he had one student who started at 94 and played until he died seven years later.

Vintage Wine Cellar president Jay Kam, 36, grew up in Makiki and remembers when there was a Christmas parade down Wilder Avenue with a Fire Department truck and Santa tossing candy to children.

"Things have changed," Kam said. "Now they don't do a parade. It's a different neighborhood now because of all the condos."

One of the things that sets Makiki apart from other urban communities is the Makiki Forest Reserve with its miles of hiking trails just minutes away from busy streets.

Patrick Costales, O'ahu branch manager for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, said the area was set aside by King David Kalakaua to protect the watershed.

To learn more

For more information on the new community group Hui 'O Makiki, call Norma Koenig at 946-3291.

"Had it not been for the establishment of the forest reserve system in 1903 all these areas would have been developed and we would have homes here," Costales said. "King Kalakaua understood about the devastation of the watershed and its value. Protecting that is a priority for us."

Steelquist said Makiki continues to evolve and even lead the way toward a more modern Honolulu.

"It is slowly changing," he said. "The apartments are getting a little taller, a little nicer. We are not like San Francisco or New York where a lot of people don't have cars, but I see that beginning to happen in Makiki. Makiki is an area that caters to that (lifestyle) because you can easily get from Makiki down to Ward Center, downtown, Waikiki. If (the bus system) were a little better organized then more people would live in Makiki and sell their cars."

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.

• • •

Counting up Makiki

Population: 29,700

Over 65 years old: 5,500

Median household income (1999) $39,800

First condominium: The Oahuan Tower in 1958

Percentage of residents who walk to work: 6.6

Schools: 10

Churches and temples: 14

City parks: 7

Source, 2000 U.S. Census