Whither Kakaʻako?: Progressive Urbanism vs. Place-Based Incursions of Global Capital In Honolulu’s Most Developable Neighborhood

Authors: Serge A. Marek*, Hawaiʻi Pacific University, Department of History & International Studies, Annette Koh, Cal Poly Pomona, Department of Urban & Regional Planning
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Pacific Islands
Keywords: Gentrification, Progressive Urbanism, Kakaʻako, Honolulu, Place-Identity
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Roosevelt 4.5, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


All forms of gentrification involve a transformation of place, but how this transformation unfolds differentiates the possibility of progressive forms of gentrification from the more typical neoliberal-based processes of urban redevelopment (displacement, power inequality, place-based incursions of global capital, etc.) This research focuses on yet another version of gentrification occurring in Kakaʻako, an inner-city neighborhood in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. Changes rapidly occurring in this place both encapsulate and challenge notions of gentrification. While this neighborhood has gone through many phases, over the past two decades the dominant force is the development of luxury condominiums and associated commercial services. With each new development, Kaka’ako’s sense of place is radically transformed resulting in an increasingly dominant elite class structure and place identity. This research focuses on the interplay between place-based identity, a diverse group of land owners and stakeholders, and forces of global capitalism. We argue that, while it is possible to transform urban environments based on progressive and inclusive principles, the potential for this type of urban transformation is quickly eroding as the next luxury condominium inexorably rises to dominate another of Kakaʻako’s blocks. Our goal in this research is to expose any claims to unproblematic “enlightened” urbanism based on what is currently occurring in Kakaʻako. We assert, instead, that an intervention by a coalition of concerned groups must continue in order to influence the remaining development of Kakaʻako to insure inclusivity, a progressive mixed-use environment, and the formation of a place open to a range of urban ontologies and socio-economic groups.

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