Rethinking a Parking Space: Kakaako Community Embraces Parklets

Sep 21, 2015

Credit Molly Solomon

Metered parking spaces in Kaka‘ako and downtown Honolulu were temporarily transformed on Friday into public spaces. It’s part of a national initiative called Park(ing) Day, meant to promote awareness of the importance of parks and green space in urban areas. HPR’s Molly Solomon was there and has this report.

Justine Espiritu is at the intersection of Cooke and Auahi Street. She’s fashioning together a set of pallets to create a platform for what’s called a parklet. It’s a public space that can be used as a park, a place to display art…and pretty much anything else.

“I’ve got some couch chairs, a coffee table, a rug, book shelves,” said Espiritu. “Things you would find typically in a living room. I call it a pop up library.”

A mini bookshelf is set up at the end, inviting those passing by to grab a book and pull up a seat for an afternoon read. “It’s just an opportunity to talk to people that you might not talk to otherwise,” said Espiritu. “You can just enjoy a space and see it in a new way.”

The idea behind Park(ing) Day began a decade ago in San Francisco and has now spread to cities around the world. By temporarily using the urban space for pedestrians, Espiritu believes it can encourage new ways of thinking about cities. “We’re trying to think creatively of what we can do with public space,” said Espiritu. “Even in a really small area.”

Daniel Anthony pounds fresh paiai at a temporary parklet in front of the stores BoxJelly and fishcake.
Credit Molly Solomon

Down the block, people are gathered around another parklet, this one marked by live Hawaiian music and freshly pounded paiai. Lea Hong, the state director for The Trust For Public Land, gives me a quick tour. “We’re in front of BoxJelly and fishcake on Kamani St., right in the heart of Kaka‘ako,” said Hong as she hands me a slice of Hanalei grown paiai. “I think it makes people realize how a tiny space, like a parking space, can contribute to your wellbeing, enliven an area with programming, and even create a place for rest and meditation. It really enhances a community and can contribute so much.”

More permanent parklets are also starting to catch on. That’s according to Renee Espiau with the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting. She says Hawai‘i already has one, outside Hank’s Haute Dogs around the corner on Coral Street.

“We’ve seen some data coming out of the mainland where parklets actually help improve sales at local businesses. We think it also improves safety, because then you have more people out on the street,” said Espiau. “It just creates a general sense of liveliness in a city. Instead of a large piece of metal baking in the sun, you actually have people interacting.”

That may be truer for pedestrians than drivers. Where parking in urban neighborhoods can be tough as it is. “We’re certainly not proposing parklets everywhere. We don’t want to get rid of all the parking that do support our businesses,” said Espiau. “But in strategic locations we think they actually may help support business activity and support community a little better than just one car.”

And while this parklet may only be up for one day, the city council is considering a bill that could put one in a neighborhood near you.