No surprise: Scrimp on parks upkeep and security, and you may end up with parks that hardly anyone wants to use. And once the public begins to “activate” their safer, cleaner parks, there’s a better chance that they’ll remain inviting for a lot longer.
That’s the model the city has adopted now, and it’s a promising one, as long as authorities manage things well and keep the activity plans coming.
The City and County of Honolulu can boast that it has a decent supply of parks for its residents, at least in terms of area allotted for them. The nonprofit Trust for Public Lands has studied such things and has given this city a score of 75 on a 100-point scale for parks acreage. There are 299 city parks; the study counted other government and private parks in its 444 total.
Access is good, too, according to the 2019 data for Honolulu (www.tpl.org/city/honolulu-hawaii): For 69% of the island’s residents, a park is no more than a 10-minute walk away. That beats the national average of 54%.
Much less impressive were the scores on two other measures. Honolulu tallied 42.5 points for its amenities and a paltry 27.5 for investment. That’s why the city sank to a 47 ranking out of 97 in the study.
That’s why the city’s latest efforts to boost the security and quality of its parks system make perfect sense. Some necessary spending to improve parks supervision when they’re open — and locking them down when they’re not — is yielding encouraging results: a decline in the vandalism that has plagued the parks that are most in use.
Paired with a push for more activities at parks to make them more family-friendly, the end result should be a network of recreation spaces that are inviting and worthy of the taxpayers’ stake in what surely is the city’s primary asset.
Last week, Honolulu Star-Advertiser writer Dan Nakaso chronicled the progress in an overview of vandalism costs, which have ticked downward for the first time in five years.
At the Star-Advertiser’s request, city officials toted up the bills for repairs following vandalism damage at the parks. Between July 2018 and June 30 this year, the fixes cost the city $223,000. That’s down almost 5% from the previous fiscal year, which rang up $234,000 in expenses.
In many cases, the damage is pegged to the overnight encampment in parks and their restroom facilities by the homeless. There’s no doubt that government could do more to provide better shelter, health-care housing options for the homeless, and city and state agencies are pursuing some solutions, still in early-development stages.
But giving over the parks as campsites cannot be among them. It does not move any of the homeless toward greater self-sufficiency and, more to the point, it deprives the public of the enjoyment of parks they pay to use.
The city has correctly responded to the challenge with a multipronged approach:
>> A total of 62 parks now have bathroom gates that are locked at night at the official closing time. They were selected on the basis of park usage and past history of vandalism, said city spokesman Andrew Pereira.
>> Hawaii Protective Association, a private security agency, was put under contract at an annual cost of $44,000. Pairs of unarmed guards are sent on roving patrols of nine city parks where vandalism has been the worst.
>> A total of 40 surveillance cameras in Waikiki should improve oversight of the adjacent parks facilities.
>> Park rangers are assigned to Ala Moana Regional Park, Kapiolani Park and Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, so that there will be city supervision from opening until closing time. City officials have said Kakaako parks, newly acquired by the city from the state, also will have rangers.
Kakaako also is a prime candidate for parks activation, the crucial final prong in this plan. Kakaako Waterfront Park once hosted events but when those tailed off, the facilities became overtaken by squatters. Now that the population of the Kakaako residential community has grown substantially, it’s time for more regular usage to be planned.
Private partners have been a help. The community-driven Kakou for Parks program has led to improvements in facilities at 160 parks. American Savings Bank, upon opening its new headquarters next to Aala Park, can help with events there, a park that has become less approachable due to its entrenched campsites. The Nuuanu YMCA has planned $1.5 million in renovations to the adjacent Kamamalu Park.
Similarly, Thomas Square could benefit from an expansion of activities there. It would be shameful to allow that newly restored recreational space lapse again into disrepair.
Has this cost money? Yes. Pereira put the parks security improvement cost at $338,000 for the year; $1.2 million to fund the roving patrols, going forward, is in the budget.
Assuming this program is monitored carefully, the result should be worthwhile, though: parks where Honolulu residents can enjoy their surroundings, sustained as kamaaina treasures.