To understand where Honolulu is going, it’s helpful to understand where it’s been — and what its chronic problems look like.
In the early part of the 20th century the seaport of Honolulu, capital of the American Territory of Hawaii, Queen of the Pacific, was more substantial than a town — but less so than a city.
Lewis Mumford, the architecture critic for New Yorker magazine, was unimpressed. After a visit in 1938, the 41-year-old, who went on to become an internationally known cultural critic, ascribed no rhyme or reason to Honolulu. Its arrangement of streets and houses was “higgledy-piggledy” while its growth pattern was “spotty and erratic,” he wrote.
Picture it: Just after World War I, downtown Honolulu and Chinatown bustled next to the steamship-clogged harbor where sugar and pineapple were shipped off to the mainland, swapped for lumber, machinery and everything else the Territory needed. Nuuanu stream was an open sewer, and outward urbanization was an unsupervised and unplanned free-for-all; Honolulu home rule, in the form of a city/county government and a mayor, was just a decade old.