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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

American Planning Association Designates Honolulu’s Kalakaua Avenue a Top 10 Great Street for 2013

Natural Beauty, Redevelopment, Economic Contributions Singled Out

Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki from above.

The American Planning Association (APA) today announced the designation of Kalakaua Avenue as one of 10 Great Streets for 2013. Each year during National Community Planning Month, APA’s Great Places in America program names 30 exemplary streets, neighborhoods and public spaces to highlight the role planning and planners play in adding value to communities, including fostering economic growth and jobs.

APA singled out Kalakaua Avenue for its significant contributions to both local and state economies, the use of plans and planning to guide a years-long redevelopment of the street making it more pedestrian-friendly, the connections to Hawaii’s rich cultural heritage, and preliminary steps by the state enabling localities to begin adapting to inevitable sea-level changes that will take place during the next 40 to 90 years. 

“What other street takes you from a Tiffany store to a world-class beach along wide sidewalks with an ocean breeze,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “Kalakaua Avenue is the face of Hawaii for millions of tourists from around the world.  Former Mayor Jeremy Harris’s vision turned this urban thoroughfare into the lovely tropical island stroll lined with coconut and shower trees that our visitors and residents deserve.  Our city crews work hard every day to keep it looking great.  I thank APA for recognizing Kalakaua Avenue as one of the classic public streets in the United States,” Mayor Caldwell added.    

“Three things define Waikiki -- its white-sand beaches, the Diamond Head volcanic tuff cone, and Kalakaua Avenue,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP.  “Based on tourism-only revenue generated along the avenue, few if any other streets in the country can compare. As an economic dynamo, Kalakaua Avenue and Waikiki present planners and others in Hawaii a major challenge in terms of adapting to sea level rise without sacrificing the area’s beauty or appeal to visitors,” he added.

Setting the stage for Kalakaua Avenue’s tremendous and long-term success was construction of the Ala Wai Canal.  Completed in 1928, it allowed the area’s rice paddies and wetlands to be drained, which made Waikiki’s developable. 

The high-rise hotel building boom along Kalakaua Avenue and Waikiki reached its peak during the late 1960s and early 1970s, leading the city and county of Honolulu to adopt the Waikiki Special Design District Ordinance in 1974 to control building heights, prevent overbuilding and manage development.

Subsequently the city developed a plan in the early 1990s aimed to make the experience of walking along Kalakaua Avenue “feel more like being in a park” rather than on a densely urbanized street, according to former Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris. Between 1994 and 2004, the city and county spent more than $100 million on Kalakaua Avenue including new sidewalks, landscaping, walkways, historic-style street lighting, street furnishings and plazas.  Also added was the Waikiki Historic Trail with 23 sites, many of which are located on or within steps of Kalakaua Avenue.

Shaping Kalakaua’s future will be how the city, county and state address flooding in the Ala Wai watershed and sea level rise as a result of climate change. A plan under development by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is evaluating various options to protect Waikiki and Kalakaua Avenue from a 100-year flood.

Meanwhile, the city and state are in the early stages of planning for adaptation to sea level rise in the Waikiki area including Kalakaua Avenue. Last year Governor Neil Abercrombie signed into law Senate Bill 2745 that amends the Hawaii State Planning Act to include priority guidelines addressing adaptation to climate change. The amendment recognizes that sea level rise in Hawaii will occur and that adaptation strategies must be adopted. 

APA’s Great Streets, Great Neighborhoods and Great Public Spaces feature unique and authentic characteristics that have evolved from years of thoughtful and deliberate planning by residents, community leaders and planners. The 2013 Great Places have many things Americans say are important to their “ideal community” including locally owned businesses, transit, neighborhood parks, and sidewalks. They illustrate how the foresight of planning fosters communities of lasting value.

The nine other APA 2013 Great Streets are North and South Walnut Street, Milford, DE; Palafox Street, Pensacola, FL; Bridge Street, Las Vegas, NM; C Street, Virginia City, NV; Market Street, Corning, NY; Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA; Broadway, Jim Thorpe, PA; The Strand, Galveston, TX; and West Beverley Street, Staunton, VA.

For more information about these streets, as well as APA’s top 10 Great Neighborhoods and top 10 Great Public Spaces for 2013 and previous years, visit For more about National Community Planning Month taking place throughout October visit

The American Planning Association is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities. APA and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the art, science and profession of good planning -- physical, economic and social -- so as to create communities that offer better choices for where and how people work and live. Members of APA help create communities of lasting value and encourage civic leaders, business interests and citizens to play a meaningful role in creating communities that enrich people's lives. APA has offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Ill. For more information, visit


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