Afterthoughts: Google Maps Can’t Keep Up with the Rapidly Changing Face of Honolulu
Takin’ it to the streets.
Nobody should trust Google Street View in Hawai‘i. It’s been eight years since the company sent a street-mapping car to the Islands, and many businesses, parking lots, even parks are totally different now. If you’re not familiar with an area, these outdated landmarks on Street View make it almost impossible to find what you’re looking for. Not sure where to turn onto Halekauwila Street from Ward Avenue? When I checked Street View, it showed California Beach Rock N’ Sushi and Kanpai Bar and Grill on the corner. You can’t miss that red building, right? Except that it’s a bright and shiny new condo now, Ke Kilohana.
A few months ago our contributing editor, James Charisma, did a roundup of O‘ahu streets that look totally different today from how they did in 2011. Looks like the Google techies were listening (as we know they always are)—they sent a car last year to update images of O‘ahu, the Big Island, Maui and Kaua‘i. I stumbled upon this while dragging Pegman, the name of the little yellow Street View dude, onto Pauahi Street, when I noticed uncharacteristically blue skies compared to the usual overcast 2011 view. I was looking at Downtown as seen in 2019, complete with hip shops and restaurants that didn’t exist a few years ago. You can now see parts of Waikīkī that were updated in April, Kaka‘ako in June and more to come, since the mapping was scheduled to take place through December.
The same angle of the ‘Ewa side of Ward Avenue, as seen on Google Maps in 2009 (top) and 2019.
photos: ©2019 google
One of my favorite things about the updated images is the way you can compare them to the past just by clicking the little clock symbol beneath the address in the upper left corner. Yet in Hawai‘i, I can’t find more than three views of any places. Some areas still have just one. There’s an eight-year gap when Google missed out on dozens of new high-rises coming up, the changing Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i murals and the erosion of certain beaches.
So they can be easily forgotten by the world. Remember Interisland Terminal’s R/D and ii Gallery? The venue hosted film screenings, indigenous art exhibitions and mixers while providing coworking spaces and Morning Glass coffee on Auahi Street in the early 2010s. It was one of the first places to usher in Kaka‘ako’s new era of hipsterdom. The temporary space shut down to make way for the construction of Salt at Our Kaka‘ako. There’s no evidence of its existence, or that stretch’s grittier past, on Google Maps.
I’d love for Google to come back every year, both to document the changes that happen so rapidly in our city and for accuracy’s sake. Because as much as I love being reminded of some of these long-gone places, I still need to figure out how to get where I’m going.