Bridging the Past and the Future – A Master Planning Story

JAN. 08, 2021

In 2019, the UH Manoa Framework for the Future developed seven planning objectives, which were directly informed by the core values of the indigenous people. Since then, planners started to answer questions of ‘how to’, in addition to ‘what’.

History can inform decisions for the future. Today’s UH Manoa campus is built upon a land that was once made up of taro farmlands, gardens, thatch houses, and ahus (temples). Cultural practices and traditions of the ancient villagers left traces (which we call ‘heritage’ today) on the ground. Since the University has made commitments to promote indigenous intellectual and cultural property rights, studying historic land use patterns could play an important role in the future development of the campus.

The Manoa Valley was flooded with lava two times in history, resulting in various geological features and soil types within the campus. Ancient villagers appear to have made use of these land features perfectly well. At the locations where soils were loamy and could be fed by the Manoa stream, the villagers created farmlands and gardens; At the locations where soils were poor, the villagers built houses using stones queried from nearby basalt deposit sites. Footpaths made from repeated uses became roads; open spaces where villagers socialized became courtyards. The values of the indigenous people embodied into their practices. As time passed by, land use patterns were created, and landscape were shaped.

Since the campus emerged in the valley in 1900s, the landscape has changed dramatically as it evolved from farmlands into a university campus, being largely driven by infrastructure development of the campus. Although new landscape is usually done with good attentions, it does not always result in good outcomes: common trade-offs of rapid encroachment into undeveloped areas include fragmented wildlife habitats, increased surface runoffs, and worsening heat island effects. These factors continue to affect the quality of the physical campus environment today. Also, as many of the historic patterns vanished, the cultural environment was damaged, losing its original aesthetics, language, material culture, and values.

In 2019, the UH Manoa Framework for the Future developed seven planning objectives, which were directly informed by the core values of the indigenous people. Since then, planners started to answer questions of ‘how to’, in addition to ‘what’. Planning efforts shifted to land use and design guideline recommendations, and to provide feasible and realistic ways to inspire the university through heritage preservation and protection.

History of the valley has helped shape the identity of the campus. The identity and the expression of this identity will continue to influence and inspire people into champions for Hawaiian cultural preservation. Story is to be continued.