An inclusive playground would need to have a wide variety of park users active from morning to evening, be visible to others, and be secure during both days and nights.
Safety is the top issue, according to Tiffany Vara, director of the nonprofit Pa‘ani Kakou, which has agreed to partner with the city to build Oahu’s first inclusive children’s playground. Kakaako is relatively isolated, and the topography is also challenging.
For these reasons, Ala Moana Regional Park — and not Kakaako Waterfront Park — would be the ideal venue for the project, she said.
The playground, proposed for a 1-acre site between the Diamond Head concession building and the Hawaiian Pond at Ala Moana, would be built at an estimated cost of
$1.5 million to $2 million. As currently proposed, it would feature six zip lines, a splash pad with a star compass design, and new adaptive restrooms that offer an adult-sized changing table.
The Honolulu City Council next week is considering a resolution, introduced by councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, requesting the city administration provide alternative sites for the playground.
In addition, Vara said the location would need to be attractive enough for a vendor. This vendor is a key part of the plan because as part of its contract, it would be responsible for maintaining and cleaning the restroom.
If the playground were to be moved to Kakaako, however, it also means starting at square one again, resulting in delays that would mean some of these children will never get to play at an inclusive playground on Oahu.
On Tuesday, Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the Hawaii Community Development Authority signed an agreement for the transfer of Kakaako Waterfront Park, along with its sister parks and other lands to the city.
Georgette Deemer, the city’s deputy managing director, said Kakaako is currently in need of many repairs and needs to be brought back up to maintenance standards, which will take a fair amount of time.
“I don’t think it’s an appropriate place to put a children’s playground, especially an inclusive playground at this time,” said Deemer. “If we were to start with Ala Moana and
see the success of the inclusive playground there, that would certainly be a good start. It’s the kind of playground we wish we could
put in a lot of locations all around Oahu, but they are expensive, and we are grateful we have a private partner stepping up to do the first one.”
Many who testified at
an initial hearing for the resolution said they supported the idea of an inclusive playground — just not at Ala Moana.
Community groups such as Malama Moana and Save Ala Moana Beach Park Hui, continue to oppose the playground because they say it is important to maintain open, green space and to preserve the original character of the place.
“A playground is a permanent structure, and permanently takes away that space from people that want to use it,” said Shar Chun-Lum of Save Ala Moana Beach Park Hui. “It’s a ‘gift’ that keeps on taking because it takes the green space, but takes the taxpayers’ dollars because they’ll have to maintain it forever.”
Chun-Lum said she was not opposed to an inclusive playground, but that if it is to be built on public land, then the public should have a say in it.
“It’s the people’s park,” she said. “That’s the thing. It’s for people from all walks of life. You don’t have to be rich, and you can use the park. … The beach is the playground, and the grassy area is the playground.”
Audrey Lee of Malama Moana, which has organized several rallies against the proposed playground, said the group has concerns about how the taxpayers’ resources are being used. Instead of building something new, why not do a better job of maintaining what is already at the beach park, she queried.
“They are creating quite an expensive playground not typical of what the city can maintain,” she said. “So that’s a big question. The city doesn’t have a terrific track record of keeping places maintained.”
She said there may be more rallies to come. Next month, in a show of solidarity, Malama Moana will be participating in a convoy from Kapolei to Kualoa, at the invitation of supporters protecting Mauna Kea from the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
“It’s to protect the land for the people,” she said. “It’s not just Ala Moana, it’s Sherwoods, Kahuku, the Ala Wai. It’s all of us.”
Vara, the mother of a disabled daughter who died in 2015, said the playground would be open to the public, and be available for all children in the community as well as families across the island.
As a partner, the design and construction of the playground would be funded by donations from the community, and not by taxpayer money. Upon completion, the playground would be gifted to the City and County of Honolulu, which would be responsible for managing and maintaining it.
As a partner, however, the group would ideally be able to step in to do repairs, if necessary, she said.
An inclusive playground, according to Vara, is not just one with the ramps and equipment that make it accessible to children with disabilities. It is also one that is thoughtfully designed to be inclusive and to be a place where children of all abilities can play together.
There might be a quiet place, for instance, where children with autism can
The six zip lines, an idea which came from consultation with local students, would offer children with disabilities the opportunity to be lifted off the ground, and to feel the freedom that comes with that. The splash pad would be accessible for a child in a wheelchair, who could play with the water, just like any other child.
“It means they can be part of the action,” she said.