Community input is helping resuscitate this neglected facility along the future rail corridor.

Makalapa Neighborhood Park had seen better days. 

Its baseball field was overgrown. An entrance chain meant to block off vehicles lay clipped.

After its bathroom and playground had apparently been commandeered and vandalized, the City and County of Honolulu responded by removing both.

At Aiea’s April neighborhood board meeting, Meredith Speicher of the National Park Service described it candidly.

“There’s no playground anymore, there’s no benches, there’s no water, there’s no tables, there’s nothing. There’s broken glass,” she said.

Makalapa Neighborhood Park used to have a bathroom facility, but persistent complaints about vandalism and other illegal activities caused the city to remove it. (Ben Angarone/Civil Beat/2023)

But the park’s days in the doldrums may be over. 

It’s in walking distance from the Halawa station, where officials recently announced the opening date of the city’s rail project.

The city’s plans to encourage lively walkable communities around rail stations mean Makalapa Neighborhood Park, with its view of nearby Aloha Stadium, is primed to become a thriving outdoor asset.

Prodded in part by council member Radiant Cordero, outside groups are now stepping up to engage the community in revitalizing the park.

Soliciting Community Input

According to neighborhood resident Kuumeaaloha Gomes, the park’s decline really started in tandem with the pandemic. 

Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation spokesperson Nate Serota pegged a similar date in an emailed statement, saying that park officials had been attempting to revitalize the 55-year-old park through sports programs and cleanups but that many of the city’s programs were put on hold at that time. 

According to Serota, the bathroom and playground facilities were removed in August 2022 in coordination with Cordero’s office.

“This was due to extensive graffiti, vandalism, and other criminal elements impacting these public facilities,” he said.

Serota added that the number of complaints decreased after the facilities’ removal. 

Speicher and the NPS became involved about a year ago.

She and Cordero had worked together on a previous project to emphasize pedestrian safety near Farrington High School, she said. As that was finishing Cordero mentioned Makalapa park as another place in need of some attention. After the park cleared an application process for NPS assistance, Speicher began her work.

Speicher, who lives on Oahu, is a planner who works with communities on local projects throughout the Pacific region.

“Whether it be figuring out how to get the right planning and permitting done, or if it’s doing community outreach, or if it’s just developing concept designs and plans so they can raise money,” Speicher said in a phone interview. 

Early Days Yet

Makalapa park’s rejuvenation is still in early stages. The first step is to solicit community input about what things they’d like to see in the park, Speicher said.

She has already hosted workshops with local keiki enrolled in an after school STEM program through Parents and Children Together. 

With a view of nearby Aloha Stadium, Makalapa neighborhood park could gain more use in coming years as the Halawa area develops around its rail station. (Ben Angarone/Civil Beat/2023)

Trees for Honolulu’s Future, an organization that promotes the planting of urban tree canopy, is also working on the park. That group looked at a heat map of Oahu and concluded that Makalapa park would be a good place to focus some of their effort, especially given Aloha Stadium’s massive black asphalt parking lot.

According to the group’s president Daniel Dinell, parks like Makalapa don’t receive the same level of attention those closer to Ala Moana and Waikiki do. 

The group is also tapping into the after school STEM program, assisting student citizen scientists as they conduct their own research on how trees affect temperature.

The program also exposes students to career paths in conservation and science.

Considering the high number of city parks and recreation vacancies, this could prove one of the most important dimensions to the entire effort.

This isn’t the first attempt to revamp the park, Aiea Community Association president Claire Tamamoto said at the April meeting. 

Previous efforts had eventually waned, she said.

“You really need maintenance. And that’s where I think Hawaii in general kind of fails,” said Andrew Kaufman, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Hawaii who’s partnering with Speicher on potential park designs.

Some of the ideas being solicited can be implemented through quick builds like painting art on the pavement but a community garden or even a halfpipe for skateboarders, might require more development than Kaufman and his students can offer during upcoming academic semesters. 

Kaufman stressed the variety of benefits parks bring to communities which were all highlighted during the social isolation of the pandemic. 

“Parks,” he said, “are just really super important.”

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