Mori Minoru’s Mori Building is Tokyo’s largest urban real estate developer. His Vertical Garden City idea and Urban New Deal Policy are private enterprise visions for a re-made city that is at once more densely populated, more environmental and green, and more profitable for the largest developers.
I had the intriguing experience of being invited to witness a presentation by Mori Building company for a US journalist. Asked to remain silent so as not to detract from the journalist’s work, I witness one foreign journalist, a simultaneous translator, a guide from the Tokyo Foreign Correspondent’s Club, two Mori Building Public Relations officer and one urban planner. This is clearly a business where image is created through tremendous resources.
On the one hand, there is much to be admired about Mori’s vision. He has a clear vision for improving urban life, by providing more outdoor space and greenery, lowering the heat island effect, and promoting cultural on a global scale. Notable achievements are his Roppongi Hills’ top floor Mori Art Museum, and the many roof gardens, vertical and balcony greening, bird eco-systems, wastewater recycling, rooftop rainfall capture, efficient heating and cooling systems, rice and vegetable gardens.
On the other hand, under the guise of increasing greenery and reducing earthquake and fire hazards, Mori is one of the loudest voices for destroying low level or horizontal housing in order to create residential skyscrapers. The Vertical Garden City has a rational side since high-rise living could free more ground space for parks, yet it also overlooks the lives and culture of those who must be removed for this vision to become reality.
Much of Tokyo’s charm is the organic nature of neighborhood formation, and the activities of small landowners and residents who create lively streets. It is great that Mori Building is analyzing how green space lowers the heat island effect, but are there not other ways to improve safety and the environment than concentrating land in one person’s control, destroying and rebuilding?
For all of the grand visions, on the day of my tour, I was most impressed by a small feature not discussed by the Mori staff. Inside Roppongi Hill’s Mohri Garden, a restored traditional Japanese garden dating back to the Edo period, are “approximately” 10,000 “Space Medaka,” descendants of fish born in space on a 1994 on the Space Shuttle Columbia. Dr Kennichi Ijiri of Tokyo University continues to study these fish, and the public is charmingly invited to care for these extraterrestrial creatures as well: “Please watch over these new Roppongi Hills residents.”