behavior

Begonias draw attention to surveillance cameras

あなたは監視されている。監視カメラと花のコンビは、公道を安全で楽しくするけれど、見張られているのはあまり好きじゃないです。

You are being watched. Surveillance paired with flowers keep streets attractive and safe. Still, I am not sure I like being watched.

I noticed these lovely hanging begonias on the utility poles leading out from the southeast exit of Shinjuku’s JR station. I was admiring the unexpected late fall color they provide, when I realized that each flower pot is paired with a banner explaining that “security cameras in use.”  Sure enough, above the banner and below the spikes to keep birds off, is a surveillance camera.

The banner is ominous, from the spooky greyscale graphic of two human figures in shadow to the logo with a man and his briefcase crossing the threshold of the kanji for exit in the six kanji that state “Southeast Exit Association.” Isn’t shinwakai (association) normally a volunteer group? The more I think about the Tounanguchi Shinwakai (東南口親和会), the less clear it is who is doing the watching.

Often I fool myself into thinking that Tokyo’s super-respectful public behavior is cultural and comes from positive socialization. I forgot how pride is also reinforced by peer shaming and legal enforcement. Tokyo has minimal public litter and no municipal garbage cans. It can also boast minimal street crime and an enormous number of police on the street.

Public behavior: Tokyo’s advantage in building a livable city

Vandalism of Paris' Velib, bike sharing program

A recent New York Times story about vandalism of Paris’ visionary Velib bike-sharing program highlighted an enormous advantage that Tokyo has in creating great public spaces: the respect that citizens pay to shared space and to each other.

To mitigate climate change, reduce traffic and clean the city’s air, Paris created a remarkable bike sharing program, with over 20,000 bicycles available throughout Paris at a very low rental price. With 50,000 to 150,000 daily trips, this bike-sharing program created a real impact on how residents and tourists traversed the city. Since 2007, more than 80% of the sturdy bicycles have been stolen or vandalized beyond repair.

The New York Times quotes Parisian police and sociologists who blame the attacks on “resentful, angry or anarchic youth” in a “socially divide Paris.”  Specific blame is given to suburban youth, the mostly poor immigrants who live in the outskirts of the city and view the bicycles as a symbol of urban privilege that they lack.

Compared to the extreme inequality in many global cities, Tokyo remains surprisingly safe and clean. This allows for some amazing new public spaces, from the wonderous Ginza Farm open to everyone and unguarded– disturbed in five months only by a raccoon hungry for one of its ducks (more on this later)– to the many common gardens and plants placed outside homes and shops.

Most Tokyo residents are unaware that their relative social harmony is unique. With public behavior the norm, there are unparalleled opportunities to create even more exciting new public spaces that revitalize human life connected to plants and wildlife. Public spaces open at night, habitats that require clean running water, valuable plants that require time and care to mature, the care that individuals and organizations invest in place-making are all more likely to be respected and allowed to thrive in Tokyo.

Velib poster

Train museum prompts ordinary behavior

Shibuya fake train

Just outside Shibuya station, next to the famous Hachiko statue, is a single train with wonderful photographs of how the station area has evolved in the past hundred years. What amazes me is that in crowded Tokyo, a museum train prompts most visitors to relax and behave as if they were in a real train. Apart from one woman studying the exhibit and one man representing the exhibit, the other “passengers” are acting like typical Tokyo train riders: two salary men sleeping, two people reading books, and a couple talking with eachother. Below gives you an idea of the context of this non-moving, perhaps hyper-real experience.

Shibuya fake train