Eric Stinton: How Parades Can Help Us Reclaim Public Spaces - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

Opinion article badgeA part of me has always hated parades. I can understand why parents take their kids to them – it’s something free and different to do, a way to spend time together outside without having to plan or do much. But I don’t have kids, and my memories of going to parades when I was a kid are generally defined by being bored and uncomfortable.

I remember sitting in the sun as forgettable floats slowly inched by, the smells of sunscreen and sweat wafting in the air, surrounded by fidgety crowds, which inevitably led to at least some unwanted social interactions. All the while I could have been watching TV or reading a book or going to the beach — or potentially all three of those in the same time it takes for a parade to finish. And that’s to say nothing of traffic disruptions and litter left behind.

But lately I’ve been seeing videos and pictures on social media of the parades happening around the island, and it’s made me soften my position. I’ve seen friends and their young kids smiling and throwing shakas, jamming to music. I’ve seen former students performing music and dance for their communities, and getting celebrated for it. I’m starting to see the value of these parades in spite of the mild nuisances they pose.

True, I’m perhaps more sympathetic because I enjoyed the parades at a digital distance, which eliminated much of the stuff I hate about being at one. But I can also track a change in myself, an appreciation for something I had never noticed before: how people use public space.

During parades, people unfold lawn chairs and park coolers along the sidewalks in places where normally it would be seen as weird, if not inconsiderate. That’s a function of how so many of the roads here are designed: with ultimate deference to motor vehicles.

Anyone who regularly walks – whether for recreation, leisure or transportation – can attest to the narrowness of Hawaii’s sidewalks, the awkwardness of passing others or trying to walk side-by-side with someone, the perpetual closeness of the street. With some exceptions that are mostly in urban Honolulu, sidewalks here are essentially above-ground mole tunnels, the only use of which is to scurry from one place to the next. And that’s when there’s actually something there to walk on.

But public space is supposed to be for general use, to maximize our ability to live in this place and enjoy it. Instead, it’s often left untamed and unwelcoming, stapled onto the side of Where Cars Go, with all the flexibility and aesthetic forethought of a court order.

Members from the Yosakoi Mai Friends hoist a large red 'Koi' or carp during the 2015 Pan-Pacific Festival Parade along Kalakaua Avenue. Waikiki, Hawaii. 14 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Parades can be a way to reclaim car-centric public places. Cory Lum/Civil Beat


Growing up, I had never considered the idea that there could be a function for public space, because I had never experienced it. If I walked to 7-Eleven or skated to my friend’s house, I understood that part of the journey would take place on a sidewalk or grass, and part of it would take place on the street, because that’s how everything just is.

But when I lived in Seoul, I experienced for the first time what it was like to live somewhere that was designed for people first instead of motor vehicles. It was radicalizing.

Not only were there multiple paths for biking and walking to get to almost anywhere – often nowhere near automotive traffic – they were regularly dotted with benches, rest areas and exercise stations. On my walk to work, I’d see groups of elderly friends talking and eating together, grandparents getting some movement in while their grandkids learn to walk next to them, coworkers stretching their legs while on break. You know, people living their lives.

You don’t need to congregate in a park, because ordinary walkways are places you can be. It’s less restrictive, making communities more lively, and more human. And since cars aren’t given as much space to metastasize into, it’s rare to see someone driving a Hummer or Ford F-450, because they feel like the outrageous vehicles they actually are.

When we talk about communities coming together, we often think in terms of financial support, emotional harmony or social generosity: chipping in to the GoFundMe for the neighborhood aunty who fell on hard times, re-posting photos of the surfboard that got stolen or simply chatting it up with your neighbors.

Those are all important, but there’s a concrete dimension to communities coming together, without which the idea becomes a shapeless platitude. How can we come together in a cosmic, metaphorical sense when the physical realities of our public spaces are designed to make it difficult to actually be together?

Parades demonstrate how the physical and psychic intersect. They offer a vision, however imperfect, of how we can be, and be better.

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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

Latest Comments (0)

The "popular" type of comment would be to say that parades are great, fun, festive. And after 2-3 years of these events being cancelled due to COVID, the sentiment clamoring for holding parades & block parties are probably at an all-time high.But keep in mind that the viewpoints people have of these events are heavily shaped by where one lives & works. Someone who lives in an area where there are no parades, or maybe just the one that community merchants organize for Christmas or July one usually minds those. Just once a year, right? To these people, parades are super! In fact, why don't we have more of them?But for the folks who live or work in Waikiki? If any of them roll their eyes when the topic comes up, don't think of them as being salty. Kalakaua Ave. has street closing events galore. Aloha Festival, Kamehameha Day, Honolulu Festival, Pan-Pacific Festival, Ho'olaule'a, Spam Jam, Halloween night, Honolulu Marathon, Hapalua Half-Marathon,...& I've probably forgotten a couple along the way.If the way to your home or job is blocked 10 times or so annually, believe me, you'll get tired of it after while.

KalihiValleyHermit · 11 months ago

Still, plenty of people complain about anything that affects their commute or convenience… parades, runs, pedestrian crossings, bike lanes, or road construction. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…

manoafolk · 11 months ago

We definitely need to invest in designing and retrofitting our communities to be more walkable. Iʻm lucky enough to be able to walk my child to school; there is no sidewalk for most of our walk but fortunately itʻs a short walk along a back road in a very small town. But the prevalence of no sidewalks or very narrow, obviously after-the-thought walkways is a disappointing yet fixable aspect of our communities and should be a priority. Itʻs truly shameful that we point to keiki (and others!) spending so much time inside on the couch, on devices, not getting any exercise, yet our county and state leaders take no action to improve our neighborhoods to make walking in them safer, more enjoyable, and much easier. If we could simply walk around our neighborhoods from house to house, house to school, house to park, and house to market, think how much healthier and happier we all could be..

lisa · 11 months ago

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