Neighborhood Spotlight: Kakaako - aerial view

Photo courtesy of Kaka‛ako Improvement Association

Kaka‛ako is one of O‛ahu’s most vibrant urban neighborhoods. Nestled on the south shore of O‛ahu between the financial hub of downtown Honolulu and the tourist hub of Waikiki, Kaka‛ako is an ideal location for the mix of high-rise condos and businesses developing to meet the needs of young professionals and local entrepreneurs. The main roads through Kaka‛ako are Ala Moana Boulevard and Kapi‛olani Boulevard and the area has been transforming from a commercial center that was filled with warehouses to a trendy residential community with social activism at its heart.

The vision for Kaka‛ako is to be a community with an epicenter of commercial businesses that will make cars optional for residents. With walkability as an amenity of Kaka‛ako living, it can become a model for urban island life. The Honolulu Rail Transit will have two stops in Kaka‛ako. There will also be a stop in Downtown Honolulu just 4 minutes away, and a stop at the Honolulu International Airport a mere 13 minute ride from Kaka‛ako.

History of Kaka‛ako

Returning Kaka‛ako to residential living is returning it to its historical roots. It was once a thriving Native Hawaiian community with fishing villages, wetland agricultural terraces, fishpond farming, and salt making. King Kamehameha had a residence in Kaka‛ako where he would live from time to time.

In the 1800’s, the immigrant population grew and Kaka‛ako became a mix of residences housing blue-collar workers alongside commercial and industrial businesses. By the mid-1900’s, zoning for Kaka‛ako changed from residential to commercial and those living in Kaka‛ako were displaced.

By the 1970’s, Kaka‛ako had become an industrial area that was often at the center of political feuds. As a result, in April 1976, Hawai‛i lawmakers founded the Hawai‛i Community Development Authority (HCDA) to establish community development plans in community development districts (like Kaka‛ako). It has not been without controversy over the years.

Land ownership in Kaka‛ako is a mixed bag. Nine city blocks in the heart of Kaka‛ako are owned by Kamehameha Schools, a private land trust founded by a Hawaiian princess. Its sole purpose is to benefit the private school set up in her will to educate Native Hawaiian children. In addition, thirty acres of waterfront property, known as Kaka‛ako Makai, were conveyed to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs by the State of Hawai‛i as part of a settlement over longstanding claims for past-due revenue owed to the Native Hawaiian people from the Public Land Trust.

If it sounds complicated, it is. But there is still a lot of land being developed by private developers and good things are happening in Kaka’ako!

Kaka‛ako Has A Lot to Crow About

Kaka‛ako is brimming with activity. It is on the threshold of transformative growth and change. Here are some of the best things happening today:

Our Kaka‛ako: A project of Kamehameha Schools and Castle & Cooke Homes Hawai‛i Inc. encompassing nine city blocks in the heart of Kaka‛ako centered on the arts, culture and a creative hub on Auahi, Coral and Keawe Streets. It is an emerging epicenter for an urban-island culture that will incubate innovation for a variety of artists, chefs, entrepreneurs and influencers. It is rooted in Hawaiian cultural values. Its vision is walkable, sustainable, people-friendly neighborhoods. Open-air gathering places, and homes for diverse income levels. Kamehameha Schools will develop 88 rental units, and Castle & Cooke will develop 95 units for buyers.

Kaka‛ako Makai: The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is developing a Conceptual Master Plan for 30 acres of largely waterfront property. The Plan’s purpose will be to develop a place where Hawaiian national identity can flourish, invest in native intellectual capital and innovation, and integrate a planned community that embraces live, work, and play ideals.

The HCDA is planning for up to 30 new buildings to be constructed in Kaka‛ako. Community residents have protested permitting which would allow some towers to reach 700 feet, twice as high as the city’s building height limit. The issue remains unsettled at this time.

Salt: A marketplace that houses a variety of local retailers and restaurants. Part of Kamehameha School’s master plan, they will reuse existing warehouses to preserve the feel of Kaka‛ako.

Six Eighty: An apartment structure named after its address at 680 Ala Moana Boulevard. The first installment of Kamehameha School’s nine-block master plan. It is an affordable housing complex offering studio and one-bedroom loft-style apartments. 54 units are reserved for median-income renters. Small retail shops and eateries like Highway Inn and Starbucks are on the ground floor and there is an open-air venue on the roof.

Pow! Wow! Street Art Festival: Every year in February, street artists from all over the world descend on Kaka‛ako to paint new murals on its old commercial buildings.

Mural on Pohukaina and Cooke Street

Mural at corner of Pohukaina and Cooke Streets. Photo: Tracy Chan

Whole Foods Market opened its largest store in Hawai‛i in the Ward Village complex in May 2018 with 72,000 square feet under roof. It boasts the largest hot bar in the western region with 43 choices; a sugarcane juice press, Two Tides Bar that has 24 beers on tap, and self-serve stations for mochi ice cream and poke.

Ward Village: Developed by the Howard Hughes Corporation, Ward Village is a community of exceptional residences. It is a mix of urban and island living with retail stores and entertainment venues near residences, pedestrian walkways, and outdoor gathering (green) spaces.

Ward Village rendering

Please let me know if you would like to be a part of this vibrant community and I would be happy to show you available real estate for sale or rent, and be sure to read NY Mag's 2018 article about Kaka'ako being the hippest neighborhood in Honolulu.