ala wai harbor

Students in two University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa graduate classes recently explored the potential for short- and long-term improvements to the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor, an important coastal public space that also serves as a link between Ala Moana and Waikīkī.

The students, in a planning practicum and a landscape architecture studio, also examined how projected sea-level rise will impact the harbor. They conducted research, sought input from stakeholders, studied precedents and explored design strategies to tackle the issue. The findings informed their conceptual plan and recommendations for climate risk adaptation, and for site improvements to enhance this public amenity.

Offered to the students as a service-learning opportunity, the project was led by Phoebe White, an assistant professor in UH Mānoa’s School of Architecture; Priyam Das, an associate professor and chair of UH Mānoa’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning (DURP) in the College of Social Sciences; and Lee Sichter, a lecturer in DURP. Students worked on a real-world assignment to assist a public agency, the state’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (DOBOR), and learned to engage stakeholders and prepare deliverables for a client. Such projects are instrumental in transitioning from a student to a professional.

In spring 2021, with funding from DOBOR, White and Das, along with a team at the UH Community Design Center, will conduct proof of concept studies building on the findings from the coursework.

“These types of projects are significant for landscape architecture students because it provides exposure on how to address equity among stakeholders, sea-level change, environmental concerns and continued access for users of the site,” said Camilla Bassola, a landscape architecture student. “It was great to team up with the DURP students and have an actual client (DOBOR) to gain experience collaborating with others on actual projects.”

A look at the larger picture

Public interest projects allow students to work directly with a client (typically a public agency or community organization). The client, in turn, can receive assistance with gathering and synthesizing relevant information, and conceptual planning/design investigation that informs project definition, annual budget requests and procurement of professional services. For the students, such projects sharpen the application of knowledge and skills by being able to link concepts learned in the classroom to the practical intricacies of project implementation.

“I think it’s easy to get stuck in your own ego, opinion and beliefs when designing,” said Hana Fulghum, an architecture student. “But projects like this really pull you out of your own head and challenge you to look at the larger picture. As designers we get this amazing opportunity to create spaces that will benefit people and communities, and it’s necessary to take the time to know those individuals and groups in order to properly support them through our design choices.”

DURP student, Kimi Makaiau, said, “The planning practicum was a unique opportunity for us (students) to apply the theoretical knowledge and planning tools that we’ve learned in the classroom. Being able to hear the many perspectives of stakeholders provided us invaluable insight into the needs of and challenges to any potential future development. Stakeholders recognize that the effects of climate change are imminent, and it will take collaboration across agencies and sectors to develop strategies for preserving this vital public resource for residents and visitors alike.”

The Ala Wai Harbor has a rich cultural history and land uses that support recreational activities. Research indicates that the harbor will be impacted by sea-level rise in the coming years. Therefore, it is critical for any future plans to address this issue while taking into consideration the public’s vision for the harbor.