Under the Sun
Ideal new neighborhoods are clean, safe -- and fake
TECHNICALLY speaking, all of the island of Oahu is Honolulu, or more precisely, the City and County of Honolulu.
The designation that identifies the whole island for governmental purposes doesn't define its varied components. But maybe that soon won't matter.
Oahu's distinct neighborhoods are changing, one slouching into the next as buildings age and are replaced, every square inch of valuable space filled in as tightly as zoning rules allow.
New ones appear like magic on soil that not in the too distant past sprouted sugar or scrub while others creep down hillsides and up ridgelines.
The spread of human occupation continues to erase landmarks and geographic features that had been recognizable by generations, installing fresh brands to get used to.
Along Kapiolani, glass has fast become the trait of choice in architecture. Towering cylinders and stacked cubes indicate nothing but sheen and cement, pallid except for the colors they steal from pieces of reflected sky and the remaining old trees that previously gave the street its claim to the term "boulevard."
Waikiki is getting a makeover, shedding tropical, grass-skirt motifs now seen as kitschy and slipping into more tailored get-ups in hopes of appealing to classier clientele who savor spending new-gained wealth on pricey suites built by a king of nouveau riche America.
A string of retail stores on Kalakaua with goods most of us can afford only to gawk at -- an $1,800 metal-lanced calfskin purse called a "hobo" bag, yellow-diamond bracelets, mink false eyelashes -- exude cheeky exclusivity.
Farther west, the roaring wave of suburbs continues to engulf the flats of Kapolei and Ewa, and no doubt will lap up the Leeward Coast and deeper into Central Oahu. In time, these newer communities might become distinctive, but right now, save for the odd naupaka patch these locales could be Anywhere, USA.
The bland palettes are supposedly what people want, mainly because cookie-cutter 'burbs cost far less than homes built with individual style. Even houses in many older parts of the city were stamped from the same blueprint, evolving simply through remodels and termite repairs.
Still, districts like Kaimuki, Kailua and Kapahulu retain a sense of neighborhood. So do rural areas like Nanakuli and the North Shore. How long they can hold off population and economic pressures and whether there is value in that effort is arguable.
I think there is. And, as evidence that people like places that have character, consider the latest trend in shopping centers. Developers are turning away from malls and strips to "lifestyle centers."
The aim is to replicate urban quarters and commercial districts in small towns, conjuring up parks and squares, fountains and wide sidewalks where people actually get around on foot. Mega-marts are veneered with awning and facades that look old-fashioned. Cars are hidden away. Housing is located above stores, much as in real cities like New York and San Francisco, but because all of the "towns" are on private property, governed by a corporate entity, criminals, the homeless and other undesirables can be given the boot forthwith.
For a lot of people, the formula sounds perfect. They can pretend they live in a lively community with all the stores and services they want and without the risks an actual urban area might have. Of course, lifestyle centers regulate lifestyle, too. Many prohibit cursing and hanging out on the fake street corners, but they are safe and clean and all too predictable.
A few years back, one of these lifestyle places was proposed for the North Shore, but did not take root. Maybe investors decided the rural area was a bad fit for such a center; more likely they found it wouldn't bring in the bucks.
There's no reason to believe that the proposal won't be revived when economic conditions shift. As much as I hate to think that all of Oahu, the entire county of Honolulu, will soon resemble Kapiolani and Kapolei, I have little hope that it won't.
Gov. Linda Lingle, in her inauguration speech Monday, suggested that land development and the strife it has caused should be checked. Though she framed her idea as part of a shift in an economy partly based on land trades, she talked about preserving a lifestyle, one that's not contrived, not exclusive, but genuine.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org