automobile

Miniature four season garden extends into the street

駅に行く途中で、石井さんの庭をいつも見ます。小さな場所なのに、伝統的な四季の植物がたくさんあります。路地に植木鉢をおいて、車がゆっくりすぎるようにしているそうです。
This miniature four seasons garden I also included in the Plant Journal article. I pass it almost every day on my walk to the station, and I am enchanted that such a small space can accomodate almost all of the classic Japanese garden plants, including bushes and trees. Ishii-san also explained that he places the flower pots in the street to slow automobile traffic. A few weeks ago, I posted a photo of Daisuke Hamada taking a photo of Ishii-san.

Expressways divide neighborhoods and repel people

Tokyo Green Space focuses largely on how green space and plants make the city livable. Recent walks through Shibuya, Meguro, and Sasazuka made me realize anew the tremendous obstacles created by elevated freeways that cut through Tokyo.

Above is the Shuto 4 expressway in Sasazuka, known as Koshu Kaido (甲州街道). There is a high speed expressway on top of an eight lane surface road. Crossing this mass of asphalt, traffic and emissions requires climbing a pedestrian overpass that goes between the levels.

Below is the 246 expressway going west from Shibuya into Meguro. If I am not mistaken, there is an elevated freeway, a surface road, and a below grade highway as well.

These massive structures are the opposite of the small lanes that make Tokyo feel so village-like and livable. There is some potential to “add” greenery to these structures. But I wonder why there isn’t more discussion in Tokyo, as there is in other world cities, about the potential for reclaiming these structures for non-automobile uses, through demolition or reuse as sky parks.

Damage to small public garden in San Francisco

Although I am now living in Tokyo, across the Pacific in San Francisco I have a public garden that extends onto the sidewalk. Last week I heard by email from a neighbor that he called the police non-emergency number at 7 in the evening because someone was sleeping in front of my building. A few days later a friend asked if I knew that my plants got “smushed” and then Twittered the photo above.

The photo above shows the damage and garbage left behind. Although I have marveled at the safety of Tokyo streets that permits salary men (and ladies) to be passed out in public, Tokyo people are shocked when I tell them how filthy the streets of San Francisco are. Garbage, vandalism, and thousands of people living in the streets with obvious mental health and heavy drug addictions.

I have no easy answer for the break-down in social bonds that allows so much human misery to exist in public in the world’s richest country. In my observations, the wealthy of San Francisco live on hills that are either inaccessible to the homeless or policed more severely; the wealthy use private automobiles and ignore the streets. Those in mixed income neighborhoods become accustomed to dirty and unsafe public streets, and make themselves comfortable inside their homes.

Streets are the largest public spaces in any city. It is sad when they are feared more than enjoyed.

Skyburb: High-rise suburban living in the city

Skyburb: High-rise suburban living in the city

From Inhabitat (click for more images), I read about a design concept for high-rise suburban living called Skyburb. It’s designed by Sydney architects Tzannes Associates to provide flexible, modular, and park-like vertical spaces in densely built areas. I am a bit skeptical about the idea of “introducing qualities of the suburbs into denser urban environments” because it is hard to imagine suburban living without privatized open space, automobile dependency, and nuclear family anomie. I think revitalized cities can and must do better than that. Still, the open steel structure and heavily green renderings are certainly appealing.

Omatsuri in Tsukishima

Omatsuri in Tsukishima, dog

Last weekend Tsukishima held a lively omasturi (festival) in the summer heat and humidity. The dog above is wearing a traditional happi, a short cotton jacket with a design showing group affiliation. Old and new Japan seemed to come together as this dog’s owner participated in this ancient ritual with his “chosen” family of two well-dressed dogs.

Connecting street festivals to the theme of Tokyo Green Space is the alternative use of streets, not for automobile traffic but for commemoration, community, leisure, and drinking. There is a relaxed atmosphere to Japanese festivals that bring a small-town feeling to the enormous metropolis.

Omatsuri in Tsukishima

The shrine (omikoshi) paraded through the street is incredibly heavy. This one is being lifted by at least 40 people, with spectators throwing buckets of water and spraying hoses.

Omatsuri in Tsukishima

A group of mostly elderly carpenters led the procession singing a haunting song. If you click on the YouTube video below you can hear the chorus followed by a soloist and then the chorus again.

And finally, a very short video clip of carrying the shrine and chanting.