Drop by the Manoa Marketplace for breakfast or lunch and you’ll find long-time residents talking story around tables or waiting in line for a pastry.
Some can still recall a time when cows roamed the very same lot.
Tucked behind the University of Hawaii’s flagship campus, the shopping center is the Manoa Valley’s only large commercial development. That’s just how locals like it.
Some things never change in the valley, they say. It’s friendly, quiet and rainy.
Lawns and hillsides teem with vivid green bushes, shrubs and trees. Trek deeper into the valley and you’ll find multi-level residences at the end of steep, winding driveways.
Many residents’ roots here date to the 1960s, and their homes are imprinted with the architectural flair of decades past.
But the swelling cost of housing has morphed this one-time family suburb bustling with kids into an older, more well-to-do neighborhood where multigenerational homes are common.
Still, breezy Manoa, its skies often streaked with rainbows, is a stark contrast from the hectic King Street and University Avenue intersection just a few minutes away.
The Manoa Marketplace has a laid-back vibe, and business owners gush about their patrons. They’re cordial, easygoing and often stop by just to chat.
Just ask Ester Sisson, who owns Edible Arrangements with her husband.
“The people here are great,” Sisson said. “I mean it’s Manoa, c’mon.”
The University As A Neighbor
Manoa is just northeast of urban Honolulu, and UH-related traffic can make it challenging for locals to get around. With roughly 20,500 residents, according to 2014 census data, morning and afternoon commutes can be rough.
Beyond the street congestion, the university generally meshes well with the rest of the community.
College students have a reputation for getting rowdy, but they butt heads with residents less than you might expect. Despite being Hawaii’s largest campus, UH Manoa isn’t that much of a party place.
On-campus housing is situated far from most Manoa residents.
As many as half of the residents on the outskirts of UH are in their 20s, but Manoa’s overall median age, 41.2, is a few years higher than Oahu as a whole.
Census findings show the per capita income of Manoa residents ($36,146) is $5,000 higher than the rest of urban Honolulu and nearly $5,500 above the Oahu average. Median income in Manoa ($88,792) is nearly $30,000 higher than in urban Honolulu, and $15,000 more than all of Oahu.
But what really sets Manoa apart is the number of college graduates who live there, likely because of the proximity to the campus.
Fifty-six percent of valley residents have earned a bachelor’s degree, about 24 percentage points higher than the Oahu average, according to census data.
‘Small Town,’ Big Changes
Honolulu City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, a longtime Hawaii politician and Manoa resident, has deep roots in the valley. She said she chose to raise her children in Manoa because it reminded her of her own childhood home in the Nuuanu Valley.
It’s a rainy, beautiful place with a small-town feel, she said. With a Safeway, banks and restaurants, the Manoa Marketplace allows residents to stay in the valley for their everyday needs.
Much has changed over the years, Kobayashi said, but Manoa remains a tight-knit community.
“We hope that Manoa can stay the nice, sleepy neighborhood like Palolo Valley,” Kobayashi said, pointing to Manoa’s neighbor that is also within her City Council district.
She once harbored hope that the UH-related traffic congestion could be solved by eventually extending the Honolulu rail system. But with the project’s current financial difficulties, Kobayashi is skeptical that the campus will ever see rail.
Manoa residents, on average, are older than the rest of Honolulu and Oahu — especially those in the back of the valley, where the median age is more than 10 years higher than the rest of Oahu, according to census data.
Kobayashi said elderly people who have lived in their homes for decades are often trusting and leave doors, windows and cars unlocked. Thieves, usually from outside the valley, target the area, she said.
But she said recent neighborhood watch efforts have increased awareness in the valley and locals are on the lookout for people casing cars or neighborhoods.
“People are becoming more aware of what’s happening, and so (they) watch out for each other,” Kobayashi said. “I hope that’ll help, it’s just unfortunate that the neighborhood is getting that way and that’s why a lot of people are afraid of more visitors coming in, like to Paradise Park.”
Kobayashi’s son, Manoa Neighborhood Board Chair Dale Kobayashi, moved to Manoa when he was 5. After living on the mainland for 25 years for work and school, Kobayashi knew where he wanted to return.
“It’s kind of like a small town atmosphere in the valley,” he said. “And it’s obviously changed since I grew up in the ’60s, but it’s still very much like that.”
Because of rising costs, multi-generational housing is becoming increasingly common, he said.
“A lot of guys I grew up with here, they’re living above their parents’ garage,” Dale Kobayashi said.
Some residents haves created rental units on their properties to make living in Manoa affordable. He expects the number of rentals to climb.
He said his is one of the only nuclear family households left on his block.
The neighborhood tends to be more conservative, Dale Kobayashi said, likely because it’s becoming older and wealthier as moneyed residents move in.
There are plenty of facilities for Manoa’s young people like baseball fields and gyms, he said, but perhaps the community needs to turn its attention to providing more services for seniors.
“The infrastructure of the valley is based on the way things were,” he said. “The way things are and the way things promise to be going forward are a little bit different reality.”
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