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Could New York’s Bryant Park be an inspiration for Thomas Square?

Thomas Square has the potential to be a vibrant center for civic life. Here's one possible model.

Ikaika M Hussey

Thomas Square is an incredible asset to Honolulu, in terms of its historical importance and its geographical location. It’s the site where Kauikeaouli said (perhaps apocryphally), “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono,” after British Admiral Richard Thomas stepped in to restore his power from Lord George Paulet. The park was named in the Admiral’s honor, and from the sky, the park resembles the Union Jack.

And its location is important as well; it roughly marks the end of the Capitol district, which is graced with its own kind of public park – ‘Iolani Palace. From Thomas Square, the old King’s path – now S. King St.  – and Beretania (named also for Britain), stretch out towards Leahi, constituting the broad plains of Kulaokahu‘a, the major expanse of Honolulu.

But while Thomas Square looms large in our memory and our geography, it is largely underused. It’s a public space that it’s in need of programming.

Bryant Park, in midtown Manhattan, is just one example of what we could do with Thomas Square.

The 9-acre park adjacent to the New York Public Library was neglected for years, at one time earning the nickname “Needle Park” for the abundance of drug use. But in the 1980s, a consortium of prominent New Yorkers created a corporation to manage the public park.

They key to their success has been programming events for the park. Here’s a list of goings-on at Bryant:

  • An open air library
  • Food kiosks
  • A painter in residence
  • A carousel

It wouldn’t work to wholesale import Bryant Park to Thomas Square. Midtown Honolulu and midtown Manhattan are very different places, though we could learn from the density of the latter. Bryant Park and Thomas Square are also very different, architecturally: Bryant Park is organized around a central park, and Thomas Square is organized around a central fountain.

It also wouldn’t be appropriate for Thomas Square to be privatized – that would be too reminiscent of the PLDC, which Mayor Caldwell came out against in the election. Rather, we should build a community-based organization, with broad public and private support, to guide the development of events and activities for Thomas Square.

What’s your vision for Thomas Square? Let us know in the comments below.