Geog366 - Neighborhoods of Honolulu


Neighborhoods are experientially real, even if they they are hard to define. When we use their names, they conjure-up meanings, feelings, memories and associations. "Kaimuki", "Chinatown", "Kalihi", "Waikiki", "McCully" --- they are different places. What makes them different from each other?

The notion of "region"

The notion "neighborhood" relates to the geographic notion of "region". Regions are areas that are differentiated from one another. At the scale of a city, like Honolulu, neighborhoods maybe considered as differentiable regions, and the notions that geographers have used to differentiate regions in the abstract can be instantiated concretely.

Abstractly, there is a considerable literature on defining "regions", and from it, several ways to define regions emerge. Perhaps the most frequently cited approaches distinguish between formal regions and functional regions.

Formal regions are regions that are defined based on some (perhaps purely arbitrary) set of distinguishing criteria. If each of the criteria are met at a place it is considered part of the region defined by those criteria. We might use average household income, elevation, terrain configuration, distance from the ocean, the type or mix of economic activity, architectural style, the ethnic mix, and any of a slew of other criteria (separately or in combinations) to define regions. Measurement on these criteria would determine membership in a region.

Functional regions are another type of region. With them, the complex of interactions in a place is what counts. We might consider the hinterland dominated by a commercial center as an example of this case, and build neighborhoods around market and commercial centers. Similarly, we might look at other functional relations, like the schools used, or even the degree of internal vs external interaction.

In practice, these two types of definition start to slide together. Interaction looks like a set criteria, and often set criteria get a little fuzzy when we actually try to use them. For the present, lets accept that Honolulu can be considered as a collection of pieces i.e., neighborhoods, each distinguished from other neighborhoods by geographic location, and by some (mix of) distinguishing characterists. In this definition, proximity counts. Two areas my be very similar, but be being separated in space they do not seem to count as a neighborhood. Conversely contiguous areas may be lumped together into a single neighborhood even if they have distinguishable characters. We might for instance find two ethnically distinct pieces making up a single residential neighborhood.

Considering Honolulu's neighborhoods

What are the pieces of Honolulu? Considering the task of breaking Honolulu up into a set of neighborhoods more concretely we might note that there are several arbitrarily defined formal neighborhood regionalizations that we might simply adopt and use.

Postal Honolulu Post Office recognizes Honolulu as separate from the rest of Oahu and subdivides both of those parts further. The 968xx zipcode area is from Halawa Stream to Hawaii Kai; 967xx covers the rest of the Oahu. Within each of these parts, the "xx" define sub-regions i.e. postal neighborhoods. The following list of 968xx zipcodes comes from p 41 of the 1998-1999 Oahu telephone book. (You could use telephone exchanges similarly.)

Political / Statistical Units In 1971, then Mayor Frank Fasi eliminated "statistical" Honolulu to make "The City and County of Honolulu" to be be (at least on paper) coterminous with the island of Oahu. This made it compare more favorably (if larger population is your main measure) with mainland "metropolitan areas" which sometimes include some hinterland. Taking Honolulu as Moanalua to Mauanalua, it is about 50th in population among US cities. Taking it to include all of Oahu, it leaps to about number 11.

At the same time, Mayor Fasi set up Neighborhood Boards that serve as local representative boards advisory to the C&C government. The areas associated with these neighborhood boards are also used as Statistical Neighborhoods for data as in the State Data Book . Data and maps of these areas and Census Tracts are available there. The direct link to the Oahu 2000 Neighborhood Areas map is here. The direct link to the Oahu 2000 Neighborhood Areas data is here (in pdf).

Do these Neighborhood Board areas make sense as real neighborhoods?

Less Formal Approaches Less formal approaches are represented in several attempts to describe the experienced neighborhoods of the city. One of these is the set of neighborhoods from Honolulu Magazine's 1991 City Guide. That list trys to take a hierarchical approach and ends up with the following.

 East Honolulu
  Wai'alae Kahala
  Kahala (and Diamond Head)
  Wai'alae Iki
  Wai'alae Nui
  'Aina Haina
  Niu Valley
  Hawai'i Kai

 Ridges and Valleys I
  Maunalani Heights
  St. Louis Heights
  Makiki Heights / Roundtop

 Urban Sprawl
  Kapiolani Corridor
  Ala Moana

 The Nitty Gritty

 Ridges and Valleys II
  Dowsett Highlands
  Pacific Heights
  'Alewa Heights
  Kalihi Valley
  Kamehameha Heights

 Red Dirt Suburbs
  Moanalua Valley
  Moanalua Gardens
  Salt Lake

 The Money Machine

Another approach is the one I took in the chapter on Honolulu's Neighborhoods prepared for the 1999 AAG meeting. For that one I looked at the USGS Honolulu Quadrangle for named places that might serve as "neighborhoods". Then the editor made me lump things together until there were "fewer sections" in the chapter. The pre-lumping list is below.

And of course, what about Pearl Harbor and Waipahu quadrangles? They have neighborhoods that should have been included. Some are added below. The method assumes that neighborhood names are on the USGS Topographic Quadrangles. That is not a good assumption to make. It assumes that I would recognize placenames as neighborhood names, and neighborhood names among other kinds of placenames. At any rate, the pre-lumped list is below and the similarly extracted placenames from the adjacent quads are listed also.

Honolulu Quad

Alewa Heights
Diamond Head
Kamehameha Heights
Pacific Heights
Sand Island

Pearl Harbor Quad

Ewa Beach
Ford Island
Foster Village
Hickam Village
Salt Lake

Waipahu Quad

Halawa Heights
Aiea Homesteads
Pearl City
Pacific Palisades

Stop and Think

What seems right and or wrong with these sets?

Are they all the same "level" of place or do some of these places include others?

What should the criteria for the neighborhoods be?

Do you think that any of these approaches does a good job of breaking out sensible neighborhoods of the city?

What approaches might be better?

What differentiates neighborhoods in Honolulu?

In the end, there seem to be a number of considerations in trying to identify neighborhoods in Honolulu. At least some of them are:

Putting these are other factors together is the challenge for anyone wishing to delineate neighborhoods.