City is building on bright ideas that emerged from Chinatown Summit
The "Mayor's Chinatown Summit" last month triggered a flood of energy and ideas for public-private partnerships to revitalize that important, unique community.
Rather than dwell on the talk, we are forging ahead to act on the ideas that came out that union of public and private interests.
City's top 10 initiatives for Chinatown
The city administration's 10 key city initiatives to improve Chinatown are:
» Bright Idea Mini-Awards for the 10 best ideas for revitalizing Chinatown. Each winner received a $4,000 award.
» Partner with Internet service provider Earthlink to provide free wireless broadband Internet access for a year.
» Develop housing on a City-owned parcel on River Street makai of Vineyard Boulevard to ease Chinatown's housing and homeless problem.
» Create a new "arts incubator" in Chinatown to nurture up-and-coming organizations and artists similar to The ARTS at Mark's Garage. As a Councilman I introduced a resolution that provided seed money from the city to partner with the Hawaii Arts Alliance that brought forth the Arts Center.
» Promote more nighttime activities in the vein of the highly successful First Fridays.
» Seek opportunities for transit-oriented development in Chinatown as part of the development of the planned Honolulu mass transit project
» Make recommendations for improvements to the Nimitz Highway corridor that serves as a gateway to Chinatown.
» Take advantage of the designation of Chinatown by the White House Advisory Council on Historical Preservation as a Preserve America Community Neighborhood, to ensure that we get our fair of federal funds.
» Cultivate Honolulu's sister-city relationship with Zhongshan, birthplace of Chinese political pioneer Sun Yat-sen. The cities will mark the 10th anniversary of their ties next year, hopefully with a Chinatown memorial to Dr. Sun with the assistance of the Sun Yat-sen Foundation.
» Sponsor an expanded, major international dragon boat festival in late October.
Chinatown is a special place for me and many others. In my youth, it was the place to go to see a movie, grab a manapua, buy my first set of clothes on my own. As a young manager for C. Brewer, it was where I lived. One of the first things I did as mayor was to accept an invitation to the 35th National Session of the Mayor's Institute on City Design in South Carolina. My project was on revitalizing Chinatown.
We envisioned the Chinatown Summit as a way to bring residents, community leaders, business owners and other stakeholders together to assess the economic potential of Chinatown. It was a smashing success.
One participant, Connie Geisler, wrote to thank me "for an excellent Mayor's Chinatown Summit. It was informative and I even got to ask questions and give my input."
Geisler grew up in Honolulu and is interested in homeless issues, having been homeless once herself. "Now, thank God, I've turned my life around and can give back like you do," she wrote.
More than 300 people attended the summit at the Hawaii Theatre on June 22. They heard presentations that ranged from Chinatown's entrepreneurial spirit and the economic impact of the emerging arts and culture community there, to opportunities for new immigrants and a visionary discussion of communities in transition.
After the morning session, I proposed 10 key city initiatives in addition to the infrastructure improvements and enhanced support -- parking and lighting improvements, for example -- that I had announced earlier (See box below).
The summit's afternoon sessions were opportunities to discuss in more detail the many issues facing Chinatown and ideas for solutions.
Ideas that came out of the workshops included:
» Public safety: Establish a business and neighborhood community watch program in partnership with the Honolulu Police Department that includes a sticker to send a message of community ownership and pride. Use wireless technology to improve security.
» Homelessness: Create public-private partnerships to keep some existing restrooms open around the clock.
» Land use: Review city regulations to facilitate property improvements that support Chinatown design and adaptive reuse objectives.
» Consumer perspectives: Community cooperative beautification programs.
It often takes months, if not years, for action to result from gatherings like our summit. But much has already happened on the Chinatown front. The Honolulu Culture and Arts District Association held a forum with experts from Denver's Downtown Partnership to share ideas with Chinatown landowners, businesses and residents. This further inspired the community to work together.
On July 14, we announced the winners of the Bright Ideas mini-awards, a program that came out of a meeting I had with Miguel Garcia of the Ford Foundation. He offered to put up some money for the awards, and I agreed to find matching funds. I approached the five major local banks and they answered the call. The community-based selection committee chose 10 top proposals from among the 130 that were submitted. Each of the winners received $4,000 to develop their ideas further.
To keep the summit's momentum going and the stakeholders informed, we are establishing a Mayor's Summit Web site that will be available on-line at the end of this month. The Web site will offer a summary of summit presentations, videos, links to articles and other information. Look for it beginning July 31 at www.honolulu.gov/mayor/index.htm
Our efforts in Chinatown, from the summit itself to the scores of good ideas that came out of it, represent the kind of public-private partnership that my administration is continually seeking. The city can only accomplish so much on its own. Greater promise lies in cooperative efforts, with the city acting as the catalyst to bring people and ideas together to make our home, our Honolulu, the best place in the world to live, work and raise our families.
Mufi Hannemann is mayor of Honolulu.