Nostalgia, Development And A Changing Honolulu - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Victoria Fan

Victoria Fan is the interim director and associate professor at the Center on Aging at the University of Hawaii. She is chair of the Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Workgroup.


After moving back home, I did not expect old memories to float up uncontrollably, spurred by sights and smells. They ferment like natto, sticky and shocking at first.

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One of these floated to mind as I drove from the east side into town, barreling down H-1 under the Koko Head Avenue overpass.

As I stared at the horizon of high-rises blocking my mountain view, words from the mid-1990s suddenly haunted me — words from my high school president Dr. Jim Scott.

His words spoke to how growing up, he never would have imagined the row of high-rises now densely packed across Honolulu — and that we should be prepared for more to be built.

After I moved back home, I have been jolted by the physical changes of this land. Some parts of town are far more rundown than I remembered.

Growing up, I never noticed the thrift shops, or the potholes, or the rusting and dilapidated buildings, or the scores of homeless encampments. Did it become like this, or had I never noticed?

Ala Moana center Nordstrom
It’s not the Ala Moana Center of 20 years ago, is it? Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

Some jolts come from the unimaginable, like seeing Kakaako filled with hipsters. Some arise upon seeing the unrecognizable, like Ala Moana Center’s metastatic maze. I can hardly remember what it was like before.

Still other jolts come from that which had long disappeared, like the Fun Factory in Market City where my basketball coach would take us after a game, or the Jolly Rancher, now the Kahala Zippy’s parking lot, where I played my first Street Fighter arcade.

A Feeling Of Loss

As the new Keeaumoku Street condo project goes up, and beloved restaurants are relocated or closed, many may experience a natural feeling of loss. Memories stick around well after the building has been destroyed or changed.

At times, modernization does seem heartless, as if to discard your nostalgic memory as just that — a memory. Was your memory real or imagined? Does the memory of a place even matter?

To clear the emotional stickiness of nostalgia, the rule of modernization — also known as impermanence — gives me clarity and comfort. Only when something old goes can something new be placed. Creation requires at least a little destruction.

At times, modernization does seem heartless.

Through this wheel of time, destruction follows creation which follows destruction, and in cycles we go. From time immemorial, generations of birth and death before us have passed — with more generations yet to come. We are but a momentary passing.

Today we say farewell. Tomorrow we may say hello. This is how aloha is both goodbye and hello. This is the magic of how they are exactly the same.

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About the Author

Victoria Fan

Victoria Fan is the interim director and associate professor at the Center on Aging at the University of Hawaii. She is chair of the Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Workgroup.


Latest Comments (0)

In China they do little or no maintenance on buildings, rather choosing to let them deteriorate until a completely new more modern structure is erected in its place. What allows this disposable container mentality to happen is the relatively inexpensive cost of construction and the ignorance of anything historic. Change and building here is glacial in comparison, although I would argue that the incoming migration of homeless from the mainland is quite overwhelming. And yes, it does seem that Honolulu has fallen into disrepair much faster than they can build anew, which is puzzling since the city collects 1000's of times more in property taxes from just Kaka'ako alone. BTW it was Jolly Roger's that was on the corner of Hunakai and Waialae Ave., under the freeway. Classic.

wailani1961 · 9 months ago

To me, the major noticeable change from the ‘70s and ‘80s is not the increases in high rises, or even the massively larger amount of tourists, it’s the plight of so many homeless people in parks, under overpasses, and by the side of the roads all around town.I realize these people, many of whom suffer from mental illness or drug addiction, were probably always a part of our community, but somehow they were less visible, perhaps because they were provided for in treatment facilities, or perhaps because life on the streets was not tolerated by law enforcement in those days, but either way, Honolulu is a sadder, scarier place to walk the streets or enjoy the parks than it was when I was growing up. I can understand why parents today shuttle their kids everywhere, even though I went around the island on foot, bike, or The Bus. I miss those days, but I’m sad for kids today who will never have that intimacy with this still wonderful and vibrant city.

Wylie · 9 months ago

"Progress" is generally not pretty, unfortunately... whether it be in Honolulu or on the Mainland. Soulless steel and glass replace bricks and mortar. Expensive chains that turn out people who look and sound the same replace mom-and-pop character and community. Things always change, but much of it not for the better.As the great poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen said:I've seen the future, brotherIt is murderThings are going to slide, slide in all directionsWon't be nothing, won't be nothing you can measure anymoreThe blizzard, the blizzard of the world has crossed the thresholdAnd it's overturned the order of the soul

SleepyandDopey · 9 months ago

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