Even for the slow-moving wheels of government, seven years is long enough for "temporary" storage use of prime Waikiki land earmarked for a public park.
Waikiki community activist William Lee Sweatt, 85, worked tirelessly for more than a decade to convert the vacant 33,000-square-foot lot behind his condominium into a park where his grandchildren could play. But he died on June 30 without seeing his dream realized.
What he did see, initially, was encouraging: Thanks largely to Sweatt and his wife, Helen, a 700-signature petition convinced the city in 2003 to nix a high-rise senior living facility and condemn the land for "an open-space park." The city paid $2.57 million for the square at Seaside Avenue and Aloha Drive, a block mauka of Kuhio Avenue.
That, unfortunately, is as far as it’s gotten. The city has since been using the property as a storage and staging yard for Waikiki construction projects, saying it has saved $620,000 annually by not having to lease storage elsewhere. It says the park dream will have to wait until 2015 before it can be revived.
But current photos show only a small fraction of the lot being used for the construction materials — and Waikiki leaders rightly call the current use "an eyesore" and say the city should more diligently look for other storage options. It is indeed a lamentable waste of prime space in view of the benefits it would bring into the community.
In its series of "City Parks Forum" briefing papers, the American Planning Association extols the virtues of public parks and how cities can use such green spaces to address urban challenges. And Waikiki, one of Hawaii’s most densely populated areas, would surely reap benefits.
Small-scale, readily accessible parks add much to an urban community, it says, and the public health aspects are especially compelling: Parks provide essential contact with nature, which enhances well-being; physical activity opportunities help boost fitness and reduce obesity; parks help mitigate climate, air and water pollution impacts on public health.
But it’s not just about health and aesthetics. The APA finds that parks and recreation contribute to the bottom line by, among other factors, increasing real estate property values, enhancing city revenues and serving as a magnet for well-off retirees.
The Sweatts envisioned a community park for their grandchildren and other families; we also see possibilities for a neighborly farmers market, leisurely "art in the park" activities or cultural "jazz on the green" events.
What cannot be part of the vision, though, is another public park where homeless people are allowed to take over. Neighborhood vigilance must play a part in preserving the hard-won site.
Clearly, the city was sold on the virtues and value of creating this green space amid Waikiki’s concrete jungle. William Sweatt’s death has renewed momentum for this idea — a community momentum that should prod the city to get it done sooner rather than later.