Coalition spiffing up Chinatown
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer
Cleaned sidewalks, fresh paint on walls and a more orderly sidewalk vendor area are just a few of the changes being made at Kekaulike Mall by The Friends of Chinatown.
The Friends, a coalition of merchants, police and residents, began sprucing up the area in January, motivated by mountains of rubbish left behind by vendors and by media coverage of a blogger's video showing rats leaping from baskets of produce inside the market. They decided to focus on a one-block area of Kekaulike Mall, which is under the jurisdiction of the city Parks Department.
Conditions were so bad late last year that residents were afraid to leave their homes after 5 p.m., said Barbara Hao, a resident of Kekaulike Courtyard, a public housing building fronting Kekaulike Market.
"We're adopting this area," Hao said. "We're surveying the mall every day and (removing) the illegal vendors. So far it's been nice and clean."
It started with a handful of volunteers and has grown to 50 members. Recently they painted the front of one of the stores, removing graffiti, and brought in city workers to steam-clean the stone walkways and to trim the trees.
"This is how we want to look," said Johnny Ng, president of the Friends of Chinatown. "We continue to clean up the area. We want to put in benches, information booths and maps."
They want to extend their reach to other parts of Chinatown. They want to work on River Street and make the Honolulu Chinatown a must-visit kind of place, Ng said. "We want Chinatown to be a destination, not just a place for local people who live here," he said. "Chinatown is part of Hawai'i's history. We're very proud of our accomplishment."
The change has been noticeable, Hao said. "Residents have been happy by the cleaner environment. They're not as afraid to walk outside at night. Because we've been out, there are no more homeless at night."
The group at first wanted to clean up all of Chinatown, but realized it needed to narrow its focus. Once an area is cleaned, the focus shifts to maintenance. Signs have been posted banning bikes, littering and drinking, Ng said. Other signs will be posted reminding all that the block-long mall is a park and needs to be treated as such.
"I know we're doing good," Hao said. "In the past, when we tried to do things like this, we never had the merchants involved. Now they want to help."
Sue Law, a mall merchant, enlisted the group's help to clean up her store. She painted, put in more refrigerated bins, widened aisles and made her vegetable, meat and seafood market more appealing to shoppers.
"We've rearranged our store and now we clean up and put new tables out and more refrigeration and keep it nice and clean," Law said. "The customers like it a lot."