An Anti-Essay by Sean Connelly

Citation: Sean Connelly, “Waterway,” www.alawaicentennial.org, 2017.

Contents (8,000 words):

A) Brief History of Non-linear Waikīkī

B) Form Analysis of the Ala Wai Canal

C) Ecology for the Ahupua‘a Recovery of Waikīkī


By the 8th grade, everyone knows the Ala Wai Canal.

“It is polluted.
Unsafe for swimming.
Cannot eat fish from the canal.
A person who fell into the canal died from flesh-eating bacteria.
Waikīkī is fake.
The canal was built wrong.
It will flood during rain storms, tidal surges, tsunamis, sea level rise.
It’s not so much about the flood but the problem of the canal itself.
Contamination in the canal will spill out across adjacent neighborhoods.
Waikīkī leaves us behind.”

Every student by the age of six knows that before the Ala Wai Canal was built—before tourism—Hawai‘i once flowed clean. Wealth streamed through abundant forests, taro patches, and fishponds. Local people didn’t have to import food to survive. 

Because young people today are aware of the history that is resurgent around Hawai‘i today, most students within their lifetimes believe the Ala Wai Canal can be fixed even though it's complicated. While many adults often tend to read this youthful sense of future as impractical, expensive, or naive, it is important to remember the spatial thinking these students demonstrate in perceiving complex issues like the Ala Wai Canal. Any true need and concern to physically and emotionally influence the way our shared futures flow must embrace a spatial spirit.

On the other hand, the widespread inability for decision-makers from the government to civilian administrators to feel the human impacts of issues like the Ala Wai Canal reinforces global military economies in places like Hawai‘i. By reinforcing these economies, to the detriment of most local people, status quo systems of planning, design, and development underpinning the construction and continued degradation of Waikīkī drains the life out of Hawai‘i people.

The Ala Wai Canal embodies this struggle in many ways. The pollution, poverty, and climate risks present in neighborhoods surrounding Waikīkī—the original tourist capital of the world—is the most obvious metaphor of how imperialist urbanism works. As a real place through which the image and economy of Hawai‘i flows, reclaiming a local future for Waikīkī presents an important opportunity to craft island-based sustenance.

One particular future begins with completing the Ala Wai Canal.


IN EXISTENCE FOR MILLENNIA PRIOR, Hawai‘i has a popular history that moves up and through Waikīkī. Waikīkī—named for the springs and streams that extended from the shore far inland—was noted historically for its luxuriant production of delicious food, reef breaks for surfing and canoeing, and special sites of various dedications.

TURN OF THE CENTURY WAIKĪKĪ: A few of the storied places encompassing the reefs once prominently wild and abound with marine life. These include Kapua, Kāneloa, Hamohamo, and Kālia.

From food to surfing, reefs are founding systems. Yet, while reefs are foundational and robust, they command complex dynamics that are vulnerable to changes in environment. Abnormalities in temperature, salinity, acidity, transparency, and sunlight can cause disease and decline in coral systems. This leads to a range of related outcomes, from fishery destabilization all the way to deforestation. As reefs are founding sources of both food and fertilizer emulsion, avoiding the risk of their loss has been a tremendous responsibility of oceanic peoples for generations.

REEF SYSTEM AT PLAY: rain > wind > clouds > sunlight > moon phase > soil > percolation > are a few of the resource pathways delivering nutrients to humans, which reefs facilitate. A reef does not end where it’s bones break along the shore, but continues onward and upward to the mountains and immense sky and back down again to our very origins. Born from the darkness turning the heat of Earth, corals are among the most ancient life forms on the planet, only after which the rest of life tumbles forward according to the Kumulipo (Hawaiian Creation Chant). Often overlooked, the Kumulipo presents the oldest recorded account of evolution. It predates Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species (1859). The study of reefs played an important role in the development of Darwin’s theories of evolution, building from insights Darwin observed during his survey across Pacific Islands that culminated into his first work, The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs (1842). Today, reefs are among the fastest dying ecosystems on the planet.

Since olden times, Hawaiians honored, understood, and assisted the important dynamics of reefs as Earth’s most original ancestral cultivation systems. Early modern ancestral cultivation systems like those presented through ahupua‘a were thus originally designed with a climatic cycle from sky to mountain to ocean. Operating as cities of cultivation, the ahupua‘a—conceived in an original conception of Earth’s fluid and reciprocal science—exemplifies the Earth-scale at which the architecture of volcanic island cities must operate.

The endurance of ahupua‘a till this day presents the world with among the most original examples of urbanism that humans have in evidence of indigenous times. The depth at which an ahupua‘a operates, from nutrition to honor, evokes its physical outcome as something that is rigorously crafted, cared for, observed, and evolved, thus extending island life cycles.

AHUPUA‘A OF KONA: Ahupua‘a, noted in red, evolves from a responsive science of the environment. This is a science through which daily life emerges, spiritually and ecologically, across territories of sustenance, genealogy, and spirit.


IN THE 1920s, over the course of seven years, a million years of history was dredged up and pumped into the wetlands of Waikīkī in an attempt to drain them forever. More contentious today than it was one-hundred years ago, at the onset of what would become an ecological catastrophe, the Waikiki Reclamation Project sought to create new real estate from the construction of a canal. The success of land reclamations proliferating around the United States provided high confidence the filling of Waikīkī would produce astronomical financial returns. After reclamation, the value of an acre of land exceeded 1400% its initial value.

Already renowned locally as an important place, Waikīkī in the century leading up to the dredging of the Ala Wai Canal had also become an international icon. Following the American Civil War and the beginning of the Hawaiian sugar industry, Waikīkī in association with surfing was most notably gazed upon by Mark Twain (1866) with others more to follow.

The beach emerged as a machine of media that defied the industrializing imperialist world. From music, writing, and images Waikīkī was set into imagination worldwide. By 1880, a trip to Honolulu (then still a part of the sovereign Kingdom of Hawai‘i) by steamship from San Francisco cost the extreme elite around $270.00, or 77% of the average annual salary of an American worker earning $347.00 at the time (census). A fantasy, an exclusive escape from the metropolis engulfing cities everywhere; around the world Waikīkī became instrumental around the world in turning the beachfront into a source and symbol of modernism and status.

Increasingly onward and within a larger morphology of urbanism, the trillion-dollar cache of Waikīkī presented a phenomenon that both predated, yet emerged alongside, the rise of cities as leisure destinations across 19th century North America. One could consider the development of places like Coney Island in New York as one of the examples flowing from and parallel to Waikīkī. Demonstrating the first beach nourishment in the United States in 1921, the beaching of Coney Island followed its transformation from a 19th-century fringe settlement into a beachside amusement park of themed rides.

CONEY ISLAND: Rem Koolhaas portrays the co-evolution of paradise and urbanization citing the history of Coney Island as an event notable for the rise of a Technology of the Fantastic, a permanent conspiracy against the realities of the external world. What Koolhaas essentially describes as a massive drain from the country to town, the strip of sand at Coney Island advertised the metropolitan condition itself. The beach, claimed within reach of any city by road, train, or boat, was an essential element of 20th century urbanism in a time where industry and paradise began to collide.

With the collisions of major events involving cities worldwide —to name a few: the privatization of land in Hawai‘i (1848-1850), the American Civil War (1861-1865), commercial revolutions in long-distance maritime transportation (1875-onward), the United States occupation of the Hawaiian Kingdom (1893/98-present), the installation of wireless radio wave communication (1899-WWI)—Waikīkī, at the turn of the 20th century, had entered a state of environmental decline. In 1906, the Territorial Board of Health declared the conditions of Waikīkī unsanitary. The construction of poorly engineered roads and the proliferation of mansions and hotels fronting the shoreline had caused major disruptions in the dynamics of water flowing naturally to the sea. Added to this were increased flooding, coastal erosion, and mosquito infestation.

The Waikiki Reclamation Project proposed the elimination of wetlands, culminating in the construction of the Ala Wai Canal. The first round of dredge-and-fill commenced in the Kālia area from 1909-1911, and was undertaken by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the making of Fort DerRussy—the only military resort reservation in the country. To install massive cannons on site, offshore reefs were dredged and used to fill the large fishponds of Kahikapu and Paweo, including portions of Pi‘inaio stream. Sands were then taken from the beach fronting the estate of Queen Lili‘uokalani for additional constructions. These permanent and abrupt changes to the native structures and currents of Waikīkī were destructive.

A FAKE BEACH (interior flashing image shows eroded beach before beach nourishment): Rapid and unprecedented erosion of the beach was immediately recognized in the area, and within 5 years a series of seawalls was constructed to prevent further loss of the shoreline. These seawalls were eventually replaced entirely with import sand, rumored to have come from Australia and Manhattan Beach California. Emerging from colonial processes of human settlement that had intensified globally in the 1800s, dredge-and-fill methods like the Waikiki Reclamation Project were seen as feasible and advanced ways to construct cities and wealth. However, such dredging were often executed without the innovations of landscape ecology that had already emerged by that same time.

Aligned with the cunningness of political strategy, the land reclamations of Waikiki were promoted as a public health initiative intended for flood and mosquito control. However, as the once wetlands had been abundantly cultivated and occupied by Hawaiians and other residents of color, those lands were also described by the most influential American businessmen and politicians at that time as “worthless,” and “swamp.”

The construction of the Ala Wai Canal that began in 1921 was an outcome of the racist ideology of that time, which still prevails all too strongly today.

The Ala Wai Canal was constructed by the Territorial Government of Hawai'i led by a governor appointed by the President of the United States and is an outcome of military rule, not democracy.

Just a few decades following the overthrow and annexation of the Hawaiian Kingdom (an action investigated, contested, and approved under the political jurisdiction of former generals and soldiers of the Confederacy, the result of which was the suppression of the Hawaiian language), did the Ala Wai Canal drain the celebrated and pristine grounds of Hawaiian leaders and their peoples. Proposed, yet only partially implemented, by Lucius E. Pinkham—a racist appointed as governor by President Woodrow Wilson, who is also a noted racist and Confederate sympathizer—the canal has white supremacy institutionally embedded in its very origins. The Ala Wai Canal, old enough to be declared a monument, is a murky artifact of injustice that must be remade, rededicated, and redeployed respectfully.

Although surrounded by the world’s largest ocean, 63% of seafood consumed in Hawai‘i and nearly 90% of additional food resources are shipped in. Hawai‘i’s dependence on imported resources runs so deep that, after the dredging of the Ala Wai Canal in the 1920s, even sand had to be imported to build Waikīkī a fake beach. Nearly 100% of O‘ahu’s resident population today is urbanized, with 6 million more people visiting the island annually.

Yet, in indigenous times not so long ago, Hawai‘i—the most isolated landmass on the planet—was 100% self reliant. Doubling as both an epicenter and outpost of urbanism, Waikīkī, with its many proliferations and declines, garners substantial consideration in the study of cities, their making, and remaking. The market failures of urbanization characterizing Hawai‘i today are linked to the processes of city-building sans ahupua‘a.

Without ahupua‘a, islands even risk complete obliteration.

The capacity to address contemporary needs and complexities across a broad scale of interlocking challenges requires spatial literacy and dimensional approaches toward human-built systems (like cities) as they move indigenously and ecologically through space and time. With ahupua‘a as a source of comparison, data, indigenous knowledge, and technology—Waikīkī holds insights that can address the most pressing cultural and infrastructural challenges facing communities worldwide today and into the future. For Waikīkī, completing the Ala Wai Canal is a catalyst for this future, for which the recovery of ahupua‘a is the crucible.

Underground Makiki Stream.
Field research with Andi Charuk, Ihilani Phillips, Meghan Suzuki, and Vincent Rickafort.


The Ala Wai Canal is among Hawai‘i’s most pressing infrastructural concerns. The following sequence of diagrams address the Ala Wai Canal and its many issues, which include at the very minimum the following five concerns:

    1. Incomplete and Obsolete Infrastructure at Capacity
    2. Pollution and Environmental Degradation
    3. Catastrophic Risks and Climate Change
    4. Economic Inequality and Income Disparity
    5. Single-Use Land Use and Resource Insecurity

Artificial Waterway

Occupying a portion of the greater ahupua‘a of Waikīkī, the Ala Wai Canal is an artificial waterway connecting three major streams—Makiki Stream, Mānoa Stream, Pālolo Stream—and a remnant irrigation ditch noted on older maps as ‘Auwai ‘Alanaio. These streams and their corresponding channels, ditches, and conduits service an entire network of both natural and artificial drainage systems encompassing the neighborhoods of Makiki, Mānoa, Pālolo, Kaimukī, Kapahulu, McCully-Mō‘ili’ili, and Waikīkī. The area is home to around 300,000 residents, and hosts some 5.6 million tourists annually.

Dredging and Channelization

The Ala Wai Canal is an example of an artificial hydrology formed through the process of dredging and channelization. The pollution and erosion associated with dredging combined with the paving of freshwater streams through the process of channelization are among the most detrimental examples of human interaction with native ecosystems. Beyond wildlife habitat, stream environments originally provide crucial human services such as filtering, retaining, and the accumulation of water for drinking and food production.

In geological time, streams are the physical arteries of regional nutrients cycles that render soils fertile for cultivation. Where channelization occurs, the dredging and cementing of streams destroys the ability to retain such support cycles. The loss of streams through channelization presents a loss of the main physical connection between mountain to the ocean. The devolution of streams into drainage canals is an example of urban development that contributes to the chain of events leading to climate change worldwide, linked to pollution and the unsustainable dependence on imported resources.

Underground Stormwater Drains

Much in the way freshwater is used in toilets, channelized streams flush urban and agricultural effluents from land out to sea. To assist in this regional drainage process, a hidden network of underground stormwater culverts and conduits links every roof, road, and paved area to the ocean via channelized stream. The wholesale channelization of the hydrological system both above and underground eliminates the time and surface area required for water to process and infiltrate soil, which is a critical nutrient banks for the survival of all life. The diminished ability for water to percolate and recharge soil and aquifer amplifies the decline of O‘ahu’s primary mechanics of freshwater production. Cracks and leaks throughout this network polluted by leaking cesspools and seasonal breaches from adjacent wastewater systems during heavy rains are continual sources of marine pollution and contribute to the destruction of reefs. These conduits empty pollution directly into the Ala Wai Canal and the sea.

Impervious Surface Overload

From rooftop to street to pavement, the total area of impervious surfaces generate an immense volume of surface runoff (effluents) and pollution. 87% of the area zoned for urban development connected through the Ala Wai Canal forms a single contiguous impervious surface. Of these surfaces, 22% of the area comprises roads; 34% rooftops, and 45% sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, and other hardscape surfaces. The combined result of these surfaces further eliminates stormwater filtration and groundwater recharge, while continuing to increase the risks of chronic contamination, microclimate change, lost farmland, and catastrophic flooding.

Chronic Pollution

Like many places around O‘ahu, streams are chronically polluted in several ways. Leptospira, a bacterium derived from feces, causes infectious disease (leptospirosis) in animals and humans who come in contact with both contaminated freshwater and soil in which the bacterium persists. Pollution captured in runoff degrades aquatic and marine life while triggering increased algae blooms associated with ciguatera fish poisoning. Decommissioned cesspools located around the area pose additional risks where raw sewage leaks into groundwater and the aquifer. Gas stations, especially those located within an immediate adjacency to a stream channel or storm drain are additional point sources for chemical and automotive pollution. The combined contamination runs a list that includes, but is not limited to urban runoff (effluents), sewage (feces and urine), silt (discharged sedimentation), filth (blood and fluids), poisons (chemicals), and other junk (debris).

Environmental Degradation

The impenetrable and artificial nature of impervious surfaces affects the microclimate in serious ways. Critical systems in the production of clouds that deliver rain do rely on the combined dynamic processes of evaporation from soil and transpiration from plants, or evapotranspiration. In the process of evapotranspiration, solar energy is spent in the generation of water vapor, clouds, and rain from both soil and plants while the shade of trees and vegetation further mitigates excess heat to create a combined cooling effect. Impervious surfaces significantly reduce evapotranspiration processes, resulting in an artificial accumulation of solar energy where solid pavement and solid, dark surfaces absorb more heat.

The effect as it corresponds to the generation of an artificial heat gain, or urban heat island effect, often increases daytime and nighttime temperatures in ways that are detrimental to native habitats, intensify energy consumption, and increasing the risk of heat stroke in humans and animals alike. While the loss of evapotranspiration may reduce precipitation where it might otherwise occur naturally, urban heat island effects can cause abnormal concentrations of rainfall leading to flood events.

Lost Soils and Food Insecurity

Whereas Waikīkī used to be among the most food productive ahupua‘a in all Hawai‘i, 63% of the fertile soils available in the Ala Wai watershed are now developed with impervious surfaces. Only 20% of the soil on O‘ahu is classified as “fertile,” of which 50% has been developed.

The loss of fertile soil combined with the centralization and commercialization of local food production and distribution increases food insecurity, leaving Hawai‘i dependent on imported resources. Nearly half of residents living within the Ala Wai Watershed fall beyond one mile walkable access to a grocery store or supermarket.

Catastrophic Flood Events

The heightened probability of natural disasters and climate change pose immense risks, liabilities, and losses, with an increasing percent chance for a catastrophe to strike. Catastrophic flood events include flooding from streams, storm surges, sea level rise, and tsunami. Land and building assets within this risk zone encompasses the area of the Ala Wai Canal, which totals some 20 billion dollars in value, among the highest in the state. Operating with some connection to 10% of all jobs in Hawai‘i and 8% of Hawai’i GDP, a catastrophic event in Waikīkī could produce upwards of 30 billion dollars in damages, about one-third the cost of hurricane Katrina.

While the risk of recurring catastrophic flood events pose immense financial losses that range from hundreds of millions of dollars into the billions, efforts to control flooding should not stop at the door of hotels, which are often the focus of politically led initiatives to fund climate action and adaptation. Among the most overlooked and marginalized factors in this discussion is the impact of climate change for people living in poverty.

Inequality and Disparity

While annual visitor spending in Hawai‘i at 16.8 billion dollars (2017) represents 22% of the State’s gross domestic product, Hawai‘i residents get very little back. A microcosm of the way the corporate tourism industry treats Hawai‘i reveals itself in the city surrounding the canal itself. Residents living closest to Waikīkī have a higher chance of claiming poverty than anywhere else in the Ala Wai Watershed. Former wetlands zoned for urban development often feature the poorest neighborhoods at the greatest risk of catastrophe.

Single-Use (Euclidian) Land Use

The Ala Wai Canal reflects a detrimental results of American city making. 55% of the Ala Wai Watershed is zoned for single-use urban development without setbacks from streams and without consideration for fertile soil. 44% of the land area is zoned for conservation with the remaining 1% zoned for agriculture.

The single-use American zoning systems that define the categories of all land in Hawai‘i as either urban, agriculture, or conservation reinforce the prevalence of channelized hydrologies and the proliferation of impervious surfaces and their corresponding adverse effects. In 1971, Hawai‘i became the first State in the United States to implement a Statewide policy of Euclidean (single-use) Zoning equipped with categorical divisions. While the ordinance was intended for the betterment of public health and safety, single-use zoning conflicts with Hawaiian systems of land use and cultivation that favor an integrated mixed-use approach. Cultural disparities that result from the euclidean approach includes the physical separation of where people live and grow food, and the break in the nutrient cycles of water from mountain to sea.

Large Land Ownership

Within the Ala Wai Watershed, 59% of the parcels are larger than ten acres, with the remainder 12% between one and ten acres in size, and 29% less than one acre. The average parcel size in the Ala Wai Canal is 0.5 acres. Large landowners with holdings in the Ala Wai Watershed include, in order of size the State of Hawai‘i (~4,130 Acres), City and County of Honolulu (~1,030 Acres), Kamehameha Schools (~221 Acres), Roman Catholic Church (~165 Acres), US Federal Government (~143 Acres), Hawaii State Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (106 Acres), and the Queen Emma Foundation (~18 Acres).

The fragmentation of land through euclidian land-use is exacerbated by the lack of continuous public lands from mountain to ocean where it is needed most: the stream. The failure to preserve the health of streams especially occurs where there exists an inability for landowners to cohesively manage and protect waterways as the backbone of a mountain-to-ocean ecosystem. The scattered wasted wealth of natural resources that exist as Waikīkī summarizes the deep market failure of American urbanism.

A flythrough animation of a digital model interpreting various data sets relating to the ecological systems that cycle through Waikīkī from Mountain to Ocean, including soil type, acidity, permeability; rainfall; wind; and elevation.


Ahupua‘a recoverythe ecology of regaining possession of land, water, and other resources that have been lost, stolen, erased, corrupted, and or even destroyed—provides a framework for an ecological approach toward achieving a culture of climate resilience. It is not a nostalgic pursuit or utopian effort. It is not about ecosystem restoration, but rather an ecological revolution. Ahupua‘a recovery names a spatial, intellectual, and responsive approach to community organizing, design, and engineering that encompasses a native resurgence to secure egalitarian, justice-advancing economies for the people of Hawai‘i and beyond. It emerges from a consideration that every investment and expenditure—whether monetary or spiritual—is a precious resource. Such an approach is necessary to overcome the limitations of constrained yet available resources that exist across disparate entities coordinating various levels of public expenditure, private investment, education, and community action and activism. Every investment and expenditure—whether monetary or spiritual—is a precious resource.

Ahupua‘a recovery is an investment that serves overlapping needs ecologically. Ecology encompasses systems of spatially connected resources. Natural resources include partnerships that encompass everyone from local residents, students, educators, professionals, artists, and cultural practitioners; to public agencies, organizations, businesses, community groups, institutions, and the few common-sensed visitors. Because these exists together as systems in space and time, all reactions, responses, and even improvements will produce both benefits and unintended consequences, a framework for recovery is necessary to anticipate the risks of climate actions that may actually intensify existing problems or inadvertently creating new ones rather in a quest toward an uncertain climatic stability.

The notion of ahupua‘a recovery is meant to help consolidate purposeful actions to produce an enormous cumulative economic and cultural effect in ways that are robust enough to mitigate new circumstances that result. With this ecological mindset, the following sequence of diagrams are provided to assist in crafting the spatial intellect required to complete the Ala Wai Canal toward the ahupua‘a recovery of Waikīkī. Such an endeavor presents at the very minimum the following five opportunities:

    1. The Ahupua‘a as Living Academy
    2. Restored Public Health and Safety
    3. Climate Adaptation and Cultural Resilience
    4. Advancing Island Urbanism with Reciprocity
    5. An Ecological Revolution for Honolulu, and Beyond

From these opportunities flow an ecology for the ahupua‘a recovery of Waikīkī, presented below. The framework exists as a sequence of actions concerning the completion of the Ala Wai Canal at the regional climatic scale of an ahupua‘a. These are open for interpretation and are publicly available for continued collaboration, as summarized in 2019 as the following:

Value and Inspire

Install Bioswales and Pervious Surfaces
Retrofit Stream Channels
Implement Stream Flood Parks
Control and Cultivate the Canal (Kālia Dam)

Retrofit Coastal Stormwater Conduits
Restore and Retain beachfront
Regenerate Neighborhoods with Reciprocity
Catalyze ‘Āina Economy
Reform Land Use Toward The Cultivate of Forests, Fields, and Reefs

Encompassing all subjects and aspects of education, each ahupua‘a provides a living academy within which every school in Hawai‘i is networked and joined. Ahupua‘a systems of education are beyond innovative—they are revolutionary. Ahupua‘a curricula emerge within the resurgence to establish the coming future age of indigeneity. In this age that is also of spatializing technologies, the ahupua‘a is among the most thrilling examples to tap into remerging cultural and economic relevance of Earth systems ushering humans into this next era in which we are forced to revive our pre- and early modern systems of intellect and inspiration.

Value and Inspire

Educational institutions own or operate 8% of the watershed, with the largest including the University of Hawai‘i (~260 acres); Punahou Schools (~70 acres); Chaminade/St. Louis (~52 Acres); Mid-Pacific Institute (~38 Acres), and ‘Iolani Schools (~22 Acres). In Waikīkī, excellent examples of schools working to change the future, include annual community-wide stream clean-ups, experimental place-based curriculum implemented at SEEQS, and programs such as ‘Iolani School’s Na Wai Ekolu.

Like every school in Hawai‘i, every school within the Ala Wai Watershed is within a 10-minute walk (0.25 mile) from a stream, and certainly within sight of mountain, sky, or sea. The walkable, visual, and direct proximity between student and ahupua‘a presents the most valuable resources of intellect and inspiration. Embedded within even the most basic daily observations, in which everything moves constantly and in real time, direct connections between student, ‘āina, and community provide the foundational experiences necessary to build critical (and thus spatial) thinking, self-worth, commitment, and responsibility. Places of learning and gathering like schools (but also churches, fields, and beaches) are therefore ground zero for the recovery of ahupua‘a. Ahupua‘a-based learning emerges in anticipation of our need to adapt the economy toward an island urbanism resilient to the speed of political instability worldwide.

In the case of recovery, ahupua‘a represent data resources like land, water, and clouds. Traditional resource management guided the inputs and outputs of data flows from winds to nutrients through systems of observation and cultivation. Data flows of nutrients are accessed in perceiving a multitude of cycles moving around, under, and through us natively. These include clouds, soil, forest, rain, wind, lunar phase, and behavior. Direct engagement with this data through both observation and action is necessary to stimulate the creativity, ideas, and entrepreneurship required to navigate systems toward meaningful, culturally rooted, and interconnected outcomes.

ANIMATED 3D MODELS: Soil drainage, rainfall, and cloud cover simulate the aquifer system(top left); soil properties (top right); rainfall, wind, and ecological resource zones simulate the forest (bottom left); lunar hill-shade over a 12 hour period (bottom left)

In architecture, tactics to reduce stormwater include a range of possibilities developed since the 1970s outlining sustainable concepts for building and landscape design, construction, and maintenance. A bulk of these concepts encompass attempts to mimic the natural processes that occur when resources like land, water, and sky interact. For cities, one example of such processes includes the filtration, retention, and absorption of both nutrients and water. These are important stabilizers for environments that require clean and enriched water flowing from forest to stream to reef, and are necessary to achieve and maintain public health and safety. In bureaucratic terms public health and safety means at the minimum: 1) clean waters and 2) flood control and climate stabilization. Even climate actions as specific as increasing the presences of forest mosses on trees shall be considered as an appropriate and necessary example toward engineered flood control systems derived from Ahupua‘a.

Increase Perviousness With Native Ecology

Increasing perviousness with the removal of impervious surfaces is among the most basic concepts in stabilizing the filtration, retention, and absorption capacities of an industrialized island. These actions, which require the presence of more soil and native vegetation, generally concerns how streets, buildings, and different forms of pavement present within a watershed respond to rainfall and surge. Tactics include green roofs, rainwater catchment, open pavers in driveways, and landscaped bioswales.

However, in reality, implementing the required scale of perviousness necessary to effectively secure public health and safety is among the most challenging and incremental of actions possible. The demand required for reducing impervious surfaces cannot be met due to the long time it will take to fully retrofit neighborhoods. Many neighborhoods are already jeopardized and burdened financially; While implementation can happen incrementally, the action required of tens of thousands of property owners to commit to multiple and expensive retrofits will not happen quick enough to sincerely meet Earth’s demands for more pervious cities.

While in the long run the presence of pervious surfaces should eventually be expressed to a maximum, reducing impervious surfaces requires an almost surgical strategy approached at the scale of the entire ahupua‘a. One example of such strategy includes a targeted approach that focuses initially on priority areas where increased perviousness may render benefits more immediately. Priorities can be sifted through a process of cross-mapping GIS information of parcels and landcover with storm drain inlets.

A targeted approach presents a more focused and fiscally responsible option to reduce the imperviousness of a large enough area to actually measure and continue potential successes and improvements. The quantitative and qualitative attributes often associated with primary GIS data sets, for example, provide powerful levels of information that can facilitate community outreach and collaboration toward more meaningful, implementation, and maintenance. A targeted approach therefore represents a methodology for neighborhoods to build ownership over infrastructure projects in ways that also embed the process with a performance network of continued measurement, follow-up, response, and accountability.

Retrofit Stream Channels

Stream retrofits can include the installation of low flow channels and artificial pond terraces for water retention coupled with the utilization of rocks and native vegetation for sediment capture and filtration. Tactics to retrofit stream channels are generally more complex than compared to other concepts like a stormwater bioswale. However, streams—as the primary artery from mountain to ocean—present the most direct and measurable priority for the control and mitigation of flooding and runoff pollution. Stream retrofits are more practical than the total reduction of impervious surfaces because it can be achieved within the timeframe necessary to meet climatic demands. At the very minimum, stream retrofits occur directly within the stream channel, and are more flexible than multiple and scattered interventions at the green-building scale.


Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Singapore.
An example of a successful stream retrofit accompanying a civic flood park.
Source: American Society of Landscape Architects

Implement Civic Flood Parks

Catastrophic storm events present the risk of increased volumes of rainwater that potentially threaten the life and safety of those living and working downstream. In the event that peak loads of rainwater surpasses stream capacity, civic flood parks provide a tertiary level of flood control and defense to accompany the initial retrofit of stream channels followed by the incremental removal of impervious surfaces throughout the watershed.

The concept of a flood park is different from that of a military “detention basin” in that a flood park also retains flexible community and cultural programming. Flood parks are best located in or at the start of flood plains and historic wetlands and can occur naturally in both the upland and lowland of a watershed. In the design development of flood parks, the system's goal in the implementation of flood control (public safety) is for no water from land to enter the ocean polluted (public health).

Upland flood parks retain civic use as the site of playgrounds and fields during dry season with the capacity to retain flash floods during a freak rainy season. While upland flood parks are designed to drain effectively following a flood in service of resumed civic programming, lowland flood parks are more susceptible to long term retention following flood events that may also correspond with storm surges by sea. As such, lowland flood parks are designed to retain water for a longer duration than their upland counterparts. The programing of lowland flood parks with this regard includes engineered wetlands for native habitats and food cultivation.

*Note: In the context of the tropics, streams are contaminated with leptospirosis which can persist in damp soil. Flood Parks need to be engineered such that the topsoil either drain nearly immediately once water has evacuated the basin, or circulates continuously during longer-term retention. Proposals for flood parks must include clear and effective practices for clean-up and maintenance following a flood event to eliminate risk for soils to become contaminated with leptospirosis.

Control and Cultivate the Canal (Kālia Dam)

For cities around the world, canals are typically equipped with tidal controls that maintain water levels where flooding or storm surge may threaten life and commerce. The initial designs for the Ala Wai Canal originally called for such amenities. However, these were never completed. The first tactical step toward completing the Ala Wai Canal involves the installation of tidal controls where the canal meets the sea (“Kālia Dam”). These include the construction of a dam equipped with active and passive pump systems coupled with upland stream sensors, emergency overflow release mechanisms, canoe locks, fish passes, and pre-canal sediment/debris catchments. The implementation of “Kālia Dam” affords the ability to lower and maintain the water level of the canal to accommodate increase water volumes during both storm events, and future inundation from sea level rise.

A dam and pump mechanically lowers and controls the water level of the canal in response to rising sea levels. Lowering the water level maintains the ability for the canal to accept water from stream flooding and saltwater inundation.

Upland stream sensors transform the dam into a responsive system, linking digitally the coastline with the mountain in real-time. This smart systems approach informs the pump station to adjust pump rates above or below its seasonally determined baselines, thus also increasing its energy resiliency.

Canoe locks maintain the recreational function of the canal for paddling, while a fish pass allows for aquatic life to flourish, transforming the Ala Wai Canal into a linear fishpond that can people can fish. Sediment catchment located where streams enter the canal minimize the build up of silt within the canal, thus also minimizing the costly expense of maintenance dredging. Debris capture eliminates rubbish entering the ocean from the canal to produce a cleaner result.

The outcomes of infrastructural projects should not only focus on engineered outcomes, but should serve and create civic programming as well. Schools with an immediate adjacency to the canal are in many ways the guardians of the Ala Wai. To ensure the safety of these schools, the ‘I-K-E Wetland Complex (‘Iolani Schools, Kaimuki High School, Ala Wai Elementary) represents a collaborative climate action toward revitalizing school campus to accommodate flood control, stormwater filtration, and food cultivation. (The student body of Jefferson Elementary school is safely relocated to adjacent elementary schools to ensure students remain mauka of the Ala Wai Canal flood line. The now available land at the former Jefferson Elementary is redeveloped for eco-tourism and negotiated to partially finance the necessary upgrades to the Ala Wai Canal.) The Kamehameha Canoe Club is another example of civic function within the canal. While completing the Ala Wai Canal services public safety through flood control, ensuring clean water is critical to public health. With clean waters, the idea of an Ala Wai Fishermen’s Association could become real. Civic programming is a necessary component of infrastructure, providing a foundation of people to advocate for the health and endurance of its construction of the environment.

The completion of the Ala Wai Canal coupled with civic programming in the ahupua‘a recovery of Waikīkī requires a discourse to conceptualize the large-scale cultural systems of infrastructure necessary to confront climate change and justice. This presents an opportunity to create evolved legal and design precedents for future generations to expand upon and refine.

Catalyze ‘Āina Economy

With schools as ground zero for ahupua‘a recovery, the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies is the global epicenter. Welding Earth’s largest archive of indigenous knowledge accumulating thousands of years of native experience at its helm, the Hawaiian school of knowledge presents a major intellectual resource and place of refuge for perpetuating the ahupua‘a recovery of Waikīkī, and beyond. Fortifying Kamakakūokalani within the ahupua‘a context of Waikīkī is an invaluable opportunity to remake a sustainable economy for Hawai‘i.

Adopting the open sliver of mountain rising, the Kamakakūokalani Ahupua‘a Simulation At Wa‘ahila presents an opportunity to craft the campus into a microcosm of an ahupua‘a. Already in it’s existing configuration, the campus is organized into at least two major zones of kula land that encompasses both wao and kauhale uses. The kauhale portion of the simulation encompasses the school, faculty housing, student dormitories, resource center, and lo‘i kalo. The wao portion is ideal for the cultivation of an agroforest with silvicrops. Upon development of the simulation, the wao portions of the campus will provide both material resources and food sustenance, which may be processed and served as part of the student cafeteria. Students who engage in the simulation for fun, credits, or work study will leave university with a more stunning sense of connection to place. (This concept should be pursued by the University over current thoughts to install solar panels at the ridge, which is not a best or highest use for undeveloped land especially endowed with fertile soil.)

Configure a Lowland Drainage Strategy

Current proposals for a flood wall coupled with upland dams are based on an ideology of keeping water out. However, the goal of flood control should rather be about how to evacuate water during a flood as quickly as possible. The need for a coastal drainage network presents an opportunity in landscape infrastructure to actively discharge or absorb water during a flood event. As the sea level rises, such a network will be crucial in administering flood control in ways that also minimize levels of saltwater intrusion and inundation that accompany rising sea levels.

The completion of the Ala Wai Canal through the intervention of Kālia Dam will lower the water level of the canal to absorb a higher volume of water during flood events. This function of the canal can be optimized when combined with a strategy of of lowland flood parks programmed with a variety of functions.

The Manoa-Palolo Marsh, Ala Wai Wetland, Makiki Stream Park, and Kapahulu Linear Wetland provide terminal retention and filtration services of water approaching the ocean. These flood parks are necessary to reduce the risk of pollution and sedimentation entering the canal, while improving the quality of civic life.

Kālia Fens provides the primary ecological filter for Waikīkī, which will need physical space in conjunction with the Ala Wai Canal to continually manage saltwater inundation. While the site is currently occupied by the United States, it’s adaptation for flood control represents a better and higher use of the parcel which contains a parking structure and a parking lot alongside just a few programmed spaces like a post office that can be easily relocated. As a site that historically contained productive fishponds that eventually became the first site filled with dredged reef during the Waikiki Reclamation Project, Kālia Fens is the jewel of Ala Wai Canal and its transformation into a memorial.

The Waikīkī Kalo Field is an economic cornerstone in the ahupua‘a recovery of Waikīkī. It symbolizes to Hawai‘i and the world a resurgence of indigeneity reclaiming islands from colonial economies through the cultivation of native and local food resources. While the site currently hosts the Ala Wai Golf Course, upon the end of its lease, it’s relocation and rebranding to a new site should be made resolute.


Restore and Retain Coastline Ecology

Access to beaches is an essential part in the celebrated qualities of life, memory, and culture of Hawai‘i. The loss of beaches to coastal erosion is a deeply tragic threat of climate change. Restoring and retaining the coastal ecology of Waikīkī can thus be considered a desired outcome of climate action, adaptation, and resilience. With the immense fluctuations that occur within the littoral zone of a beach, an ecological approach to beach nourishment and retention is an underdeveloped urban technology, of which Waikīkī should be at the forefront. One approach in developing such technology requires the installation of shoreline sand banks through a process of inland beach nourishment. Four major areas of inland beach nourishment for Waikīkī include: Fort DeRussy, Kūhiō Beach, Queen’s Beach, and Kaimana’s.

The Kūhiō Beach and Queen’s Beach inland nourishment projects will require the rerouting of traffic patterns throughout all of Waikīkī. The goal of rerouting the traffic is to eliminate vehicular access along the Diamondhead portion of Kalākaua Avenue. This affords the ability to expand the beach inland, with the historic avenue terminating into the Kalākaua Boardwalk.

Inland beach nourishment as an urban technology presents a strategy to improve the circulation of people, commerce, and delight across Waikīkī. Establishing Kūhiō Avenue as the primary traffic route through Waikīkī running oneway in the Diamondhead direction formalizes a civic backbone and sense of symmetry for the district. The reduced movement and noise through the implementation of Kalākaua Boardwalk will increase the efficacy of healing, which shorelines provide. Where Kalākaua Boardwalk concludes, the expansion of Kapi‘olani Park crowns the ahupua’a recovery of Waikīkī. It features among many things: an expanded zoo, brackish wetlands, lowland reforestation, a revitalized aquarium, and a rededicated heiau construction.

Regenerate Neighborhoods with Reciprocity

For Waikīkī, the immense cost of ahupua‘a recovery requires a strategic approach to financing. This is typically achieved with urban redevelopment through public-private partnerships. HOWEVER, in alignment with the ‘āina economy, the concept of urban redevelopment and revitalization is remade into neighborhood regeneration an reciprocity. The ahupua‘a approach is designed to generate affordable and scaled investment opportunities for local people in Hawai‘i.

In generating opportunities, a careful consideration of how zoning impacts the flow of circulation and property tax can provide new insights for reorganizing the urban fabric of Waikīkī in ways that direct the economic output of tourism flow back toward local people. For instance, expanding the pedestrian connectivity between Waikīkī and its surrounding neighborhoods improves the locale in which Hawai‘i businesses can thrive. However, in order to achieve walkability, a truly “complete” street must include destinations, achieved with programming through mixed use zoning. Such venues for economic development include revising the zoning and tax class fronting McCully Street, University Avenue, and Date Street forming a ring of walkability with clear nodes. Further expanding walkability up through the University will strengthen the economies of scale present throughout the lowlands of the city ahupua‘a.

Yet, any change to a neighborhood even if for a good long-term cause can be detrimental to the people who live there. To minimize the risk and impact of gentrification, the process of regeneration is intentional, community-based, and phased over the several generations. Regeneration should orient the first phase of priority away from historic neighborhoods built before 1960, and toward areas developed or redeveloped after 1970 with a surgical focus. Data on the age of building structure combined with a study of building occupancy can help to achieve an acupuncture approach to neighborhood regeneration.

Over the next 100 years, the strategic and mindful regeneration of neighborhoods will become increasingly necessary to provide quality affordable housing. A diversity of building typologies, intermediate scales, and mixed, flexible uses from retail to art are necessary to accommodate more rapidly changes in market and demand in response to climate change and social justice.

Reform Land Use

The varied concepts of kīpuka and kauhale provide tremendous insights for the future of land use and citymaking. Kīpuka names the area of a forest spared by lava flow that eventually becomes the new forest. Kauhale names a place where people live both as a family and many families that interact with sustenance. The notion of kīpuka and kauhale as the basis for land use classification replaces “conversation, urban, and agriculture” with a more nuanced conception of how people obtain resources and sustenances from their surroundings. The next generation flows from what is left behind.


Expanding upon the proximity that exists between schools and streams, the notion of kīpuka for an urbanized setting involves the intergenerational reclamation of critical ahupua‘a features like streams, coastlines, and forests. More advanced than the notion of a conservation district, the features of kīpuka are necessary to re-establish a long-term, physical, and functional ecology between mountain and ocean. Kīpuka include properties, parks, and schools immediately within 30m to 100m adjacency of streams. In the course of 100, urban development located within a reclamation zone are either retrofitted to service kīpuka or removed at a rate determined by vote, acquisition (sales over time) or catastrophic event (buyout).

Establishing kīpuka directly within city areas provides a long-term physical backbone for climate action, adaptation, and resilience. Flood control, pollution mitigation, revived nutrient flows, and regained food security are continuous services that kīpuka provide. A kīpuka zone enhances the tremendous value added to the local quality of life in celebration of Hawai‘i’s progressive legacy to secure shoreline setbacks and public access to beaches. Securing the ecological fitness of riparian areas to ensure that public access to beaches in the future never becomes a health concern because of flooding or pollution.


Areas that fall outside kīpuka zones are recategorized as kauhale, and is the primary area encompassing neighborhood regeneration with reciprocity. Over 100 years as kīpuka zones are reclaimed and the city adapts to new constraints in response to climate change, kauhale zones are optimized to support the innovation of tropical, cultural, and affordable building typologies intermixed with the cultivation of food and material resources. Advancing notions of urban districts transformed into kauhale represents a future of the city block as it integrates with cultivation systems.

The form and function of buildings and cultivation systems as part of kauhale are designed to integrate environmental data into its formation. An example of a crucial data set that drives the formation of kauhale include soil types. Various soil types correspond to different ecological capacities that can be summarized generally as supporting some density of cultivation, forests, or fields. Development located within areas of fertile soil suitable for cultivation are optimized to support integrated urban agriculture, while areas of other soils may be more suited to serve as the platform of reinstated mesic or wet city agroforestry. Urban areas located on fill land are suitable for higher density urbanization. As soils evolve over time, proper coordination between soils and human development help to maintain the nutritional and organic efficacy of one of humanity’s most important resources.

Advancing Island Urbanism Toward an Ecological Revolution for Honolulu, and Beyond

KONA, MODEL: In present times reflecting the present-day developments of stormwater conduit and drainage systems. The Stormwater-shed of each area may correspond with several ahupua‘a. (1) Ke‘ehi: Moanalua, Kahauiki, Kalihi; (2) Honolulu Harbor: Kapalama, Honolulu; (3) Kewalo: Honolulu, Makiki/Waikiki; (4) Ala Wai: Waikiki (Makiki, Manoa, Palolo); (5) Le‘ahi: Waikiki; (6) Maunalua: Waikiki (Waialae iki, Waialae Nui, Wailupe, Niu, Kuliouou).

Advancing island urbanism is a responsibility facing Hawai‘i immediately over the next 100 years. On the one hand, a strategy for Waikīkī could be to simply retreat. However, the idea of leaving a place to ruin does not solve the problem of climate change, it only deepens the impacts of poverty and degradation that facilitate climate change.

Waikīkī is not the only place in Hawai‘i faced with climate change. With a limited landmass, it is impractical to relocate the half-a-million people across O‘ahu that will be directly impacted by climate change. Therefore, the primary mode of climate action for Waikīkī should be to adapt and strengthen the infrastructure Honolulu needs to survive.

The Ala Wai Canal must embody a revolution of what it means to live in a city. It must emerge as a symbol of indigenous knowledge, values, and needs in ways that reconfigure city infrastructures in physical and spiritual ways. Because infrastructural projects like the Ala Wai Canal operate at such a massive and expensive scale, its future must be addressed with a rigor to confront the burdens, inefficiencies, and injustices that imperial urbanisms manifest through Waikīkī held in the shadow of global militarism and late colonialism.

Whether the term used is ecological or cultural (they are essentially synonymous), an ahupua‘a future for the Ala Wai Canal is the opportunity for this generation to physically reclaim Hawai‘i for its people and future.Initiatives relating to the specific completion of the Ala Wai Canal are therefore not end goals, but belong to a larger effort concerning the viability of Honolulu, Hawai‘i, and beyond. If done properly, the completion of the Ala Wai Canal can help to create new legal precedent with a backbone to increasing food security and achieve social justice for the People of Hawai‘i.


In the next 100 years,
the completion of the Ala Wai Canal presents a profound economic opportunity to recover the ahupua‘a of Waikīkī
for the people of Hawai‘i and beyond.