We can create beautiful communities

In San Luis Obispo, California in 1949, junior college art teacher Margaret Maxwell asked her students to look at the downtown and propose ideas where art could be used to beautify the city. Thinking beyond landscaping and art, two students came up with the radical idea to close Monterey Street in front of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and turn it into a public park. They faced opposition from influential officials and businesspeople, but the community supported the idea and eventually created Mission Plaza. Now the project is hailed as “an outstanding example of how communities can achieve multiple planning objectives through environmental design.”

I read about this bit of history in “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way” (2010) by author and National Geographic Society researcher Dan Buettner, who uses this story as an example of how we can create happy communities.

I’d like to extend this challenge to everyone. How can we beautify Hawaii? Look around your neighborhood and your downtown.

Here are a few ideas to make Hawaii more beautiful:

* Beautify our highways. Instead of bare concrete walls, we could paint murals that reflect the community and history of the neighborhoods through which the highway runs. In areas safely away from the road, we could ask local children to paint pictures and designs. We could add unique signs at each off-ramp that proudly proclaim the neighborhood.

* Beautify our playgrounds and parks. We need playgrounds that reflect the community and Hawaii’s culture, such as native plants and animals, outrigger canoes, and even opportunities to play native games like ‘ulumaika (rolling stones) or kokane (similar to checkers). We need parks that celebrate local artists, such as a wall designated for kids artwork (bring your own crayons and markers), a graffiti wall (keep it rated G), or park buildings tiled with artwork done by kids in the community. Whenever a sidewalk in the park needs to be repaved, we could invite residents to come and write their names or press their handprints along the edges of the sidewalk.

* Beautify our schools. In most schools, the buildings square and functional, painted a solid color, and only the doors give the buildings some character. But like our parks, I our schools should reflect the community. We could have art walls to show off student work and school gardens. We could build schools with unique architecture and Hawaiian motifs. We could create courtyards for student gatherings.

* Beautify our bus stops. Most of our bus stops are functional, rather than comfortable. We could plant shady trees near bus stops that lack roofs or benches. We could create larger, more artistic bus stop signs with artwork or neighborhood maps.

* Beautify Chinatown in Honolulu. We’ve already closed Hotel Street to cars, and maybe we need to close it to public buses too. We could widen the sidewalks and add shaded outdoor seating, restroom facilities, and landscaping to the former street. We could install trash and recycling containers on side-streets to keep the sidewalks clean.

How can we make our communities more pleasant and welcoming? What changes would inspire you to linger in your neighborhood?

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