Could an unattractive and often polluted waterway running through a Kalihi industrial area be transformed into a community gathering place?
That's what the city has envisioned for the canal, and area residents and businesses got to weigh in on those plans Thursday night.
Dozens showed up for a meeting where they took a look at some of the ideas for the canal, including changing the surrounding area from its current industrial makeup.
"The vision really is to introduce more residences into the neighborhood, and really create a more urban neighborhood, so we hope that the canal project will sort of help support that," said Renee Espiau of the city Department of Permitting and Planning.
The improvements are tied to a future rail transit station on Dillingham Boulevard, right next to the canal. To help in the community brainstorming session, antees were showed projects on the mainland that transformed similar areas.
"I would like to see more of a historical perspective to it. What does the water, what does the way mean to the local people?" asked local researcher Anil Mehta. "We're talking about a lot of development here, but a lot of it is cookie cutter."
City officials noted that ideas to improve the canal have been floated for a long time. "This has been discussed for decades, but with rail coming through, it's going to move this vision forward a lot more quickly," said Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
Money already has been budgeted for the design and construction phases. "I believe we have about $20 million programmed in the years 2017 and 2018 to begin the plans and designs and consrtruction," said city councilman Joey Manahan.
Until recently, the only people gathering along the canal were the homeless. And now nobody can gather there, thanks to fences along both sides of the canal to keep the homeless campers out.
Many at the workshop agreed something needs to be done about the appearance of the area, but also about the canal's water quality.
"The water is so polluted, so before we do anything, we're looking at an environmental impact on whatever development comes here, so I think that's the priority," said Vicky Holt Takamine of the Pa'i Foundation, which has its facilities in a building on Kohou Street alongside the canal.
She said she was glad something was being done. ""I think it's a little bit late. We should have been doing this a long time ago and not wait for transit to come through."
The city will be gathering and analyzing the community input over the next six months. Officials hope to have the area transformed as soon as five to ten years from now.