Let Ala Moana park symbolize our best
WHILE at my mom's condominium lanai on the corner of Ala Moana Boulevard and Piikoi Street, I looked makai to Magic Island to visualize this weekend's Honolulu centennial fair.
Though most of us know Ala Moana Beach Park, translated as "Ocean Avenue" beach park, as an unassuming area, we must remember that this reef-excavated, hydraulic-engineered, landscaped creation is a living symbol of our nation's strength and Hawaii's commitment to cultural diversity.
Conceived in 1920s territorial Hawaii, born in 1930s Depression-era America with the needed help of President Roosevelt's "New Deal" federal work funds, Ala Moana Beach Park is an example of how limited resources, applied creatively, can build lasting cultural and environmental landmarks.
In contrast to the Victorian landscape of Kapiolani Park with its polo and horse-racing elements, Ala Moana park lives up to its original concept of being the "People's Park," with the "lei of green" concept, sports pavilion, banyan gardens, lagoons and open fields made up of mostly modest rock walls composed of indigenous raw material, symbolic of unskilled Depression-era laborers.
To me, it demonstrates how proper urban planning can mean that less is more and that our parks and open spaces have an important social mission to assimilate a culturally diverse city by giving residents a place to unite with friends and visitors, as well as a retreat from urban media.
Though the intention of the 76-acre park was to have a well-balanced mix of uses, the original 1932 proposal was different from what exists today. It incorporated an oceanfront pier, 4,000-seat outdoor auditorium, baseball fields, volleyball courts and cultural zones that included Chinese pagodas and Hawaiian and Japanese villages to revive lost island traditions. Relatively new additions include Leeward Coast sand to create a beach in 1955 and Magic Island (peninsula), in part to prevent Ala Wai Canal run-off from entering the bay, in 1962.
During the past 50 years, city master plan considerations have included hotels, parking structures, pedestrian boulevard overpasses, a manmade (reef) island with linking bridge and greater commercial activity. Since history often repeats itself, it is likely that these and new suggestions will be proposed in the future. While we can agree that certain improvements to the park must be made to restore what age, use and neglect have produced, we must act to prevent further abuse and honor those who worked for the vision and park benefit. It is important that residents and members of the Ala Moana Neighborhood Board continue to monitor community activity and current issues to determine the best solutions.
Join me in proposing that this weekends park celebration act as a catalyst to reinvigorate our relationship to the area's importance and reaffirm our commitment to better maintain and foster its best future growth. We must preserve its natural beauty and keep its view planes to the Koolau mountains. Let us honor Ala Moana Beach Park's cultural and aesthetic significance and rally around its renaissance and dignified future -- because this is our Central Park of the Pacific.
Tom Brower, a longtime Ala Moana-area resident, is a former senior adviser to City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi and former legislative aide to Rep. K. Mark Takai.