What will Chinatown look like in the next few years? That was the question posed at Saturday’s Chinatown Action Summit.
Hundreds of community members, along with city officials, gathered in the morning to brainstorm ways on improving the iconic downtown neighborhood.
“People have been asking for a long time to have Chinatown be a beautiful, vibrant place, to be more of how it used to be. You know, people coming down with grandparents. Every Saturday, they’d say it’s a happy part of town,” explained Harrison Rue with Transit Oriented Development.
Anyone strolling through Chinatown could get a quick haircut, purchase fresh fruits, or satisfy their hunger with freshly made look funn noodles. But locals are quick to point out the problems in their neighborhood.
“We still have the image of being a big drunk area,” said Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock with the Chinatown Business and Community Association. “We also have a lot of thefts and burglary. People don’t feel that safe.”
It’s a problem city officials plan on fixing within the next two years.
“Chinatown was the heart of this city,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “Ever since then, it’s been the American dream repeated many times over. Today, we’re talking about how can we see it thrive in the future, quickly.”
Community members told city officials what they wanted for Chinatown: Clean the streets, keep the people safe, and bring back the family-oriented feel.
“It should be more family. People come out on weekends, come out on the weekends to eat,” said Shubert-Kwock.
She also wants more people flocking to Chinatown for fresh produce. “We lost a lot of business when Walmart opened and farmers’ markets opening every which way.”
Officials listened, then shared their ideas.
“What can we do in the next year or two to make a difference?” mused Caldwell, “you know, quick kind of things. Like, drop in a Portland loo, a type of toilet. Could we make a street more bike-friendly? Could we maybe make a small side street and turn it into a mall with cars and people?”
“Can we better organize the parking so you always know if a spot is open by looking at a phone app? Would that be nice?” said Rue.
“It’s also about building more affordable housing here in Chinatown,” added the mayor. “Rental housing at a rental level that us local folks can afford.”
While city officials say they plan on cleaning up Chinatown’s image, Rue added that “it’s more about making it a great place for people to come from all over the island … anytime of the day or night.”
Officials also said that the neighborhood is a great place for young entrepreneurs to start a business and would help “breathe new life” into Chinatown.