I saw this beautiful biodiversity mini-garden at a construction site for the combination surface and underground urban freeways along Yamate Dori not far from Yoyogi Park. Although I bike this route every weekday, it took me a while to realize that this garden was inside the construction site, and visible mostly to the construction workers. What a great idea that workers’ jobs can be improved with on-site gardens. It looks very modular and portable.
This project is, I think, by Shimizu Corporation, one of Japan’s big builders. It’s funny that they get more attention for their grandiose city on the ocean Green Float concept than some of the small and inexpensive projects that they are already carrying out.
This past weekend was the International Federation of Landscape Architects World Congress in Suzhou, China. My co-author Matthew Puntigam traveled there with professors and graduate students of the Tokyo University of Agriculture, and he presented our paper co-written with Professor Suzuki Makoto.
The Kanda River connects many residential, commercial, and downtown neighborhoods before emptying into the Sumida River. We looked at the past, present and possible future of what is the longest river that originates within Tokyo. The biodiversity potential is significant: in one small section of Tokyo’s Kanda river, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s 2001 survey documented 260 plant species, 42 riverbed species, 9 types of fish, 291 types of insects, 30 bird species, 2 reptiles species, and 3 mammal species.
You can download a PDF of our paper, Biodiversity and New Urbanism in Tokyo: The Role of the Kanda River (6 MB). Your comments and questions are most welcome.
The Huffington Post published my article entitled “Biodiversity Remakes Tokyo.” I will become a regular blogger, so if you like the article please leave a comment on the Huffington Post, post it to your Facebook account, or Tweet it to your friends. Thank you!
Here’s the first four paragraphs:
The Copenhagen UN Climate Change Conference addresses unparalleled environmental crisis and the need to transform our relationship with nature. Many people assume that nature has no place in the city. On the contrary, cities are central sites for a sustainable, post-industrial era that supports population growth and a high quality of life. Biodiversity and urban forests can thrive with concrete and people.
Ordinary gardeners and environmental visionaries in Tokyo, the world’s largest metropolis, are improving urban life for human and environmental benefit. While mainstream environmentalists work to save distant forests, urban innovators are creating new shared places that connect city residents to the environment and each other. Successful strategies include maximizing limited resources, engaging urban dwellers, and sharing daily life with plants and wildlife.
Tokyo’s size, density, lack of open space, and past policy failures paradoxically make it a model for rebuilding mature cities and designing hundreds of new cities. Along with climate change, the world faces unprecedented urbanization, reaching 60% of the world population or 5 billion people by 2030. African and Asian urban populations will double between 2000 and 2030.
To make cities sustainable and attractive, limited resources must be used for maximum benefit. Tokyo already offers vibrant and safe street life with relatively small private spaces. Because of usage fees and public investment, more daily trips are made by transit, walking and bicycling than automobile. And large numbers of often elderly residents tend gardens spilling out from homes into streets. With minimal horizontal area between homes, Tokyo residents are experts in blurring public and private spaces, and growing vertical gardens in even the narrowest openings.
Click to read the full story on the Huffington Post.
Recently I met with Yamada Yoriyuki (山田順之), Manager of the Office of Global Environment at constructino company Kajima and a leader in bringing biodiversity ideas to Japanese corporations. He showed me the new interactive illustration Kajima created of an integrated sustainable city, where bees pollinate community gardens, school fields are mowed by goats, falcons provide crow control, rivers support animal life, hospitals have healing gardens, and plants and animals contribute to a better environment.
Yamada’s vision for new urbanism is holistic, with the widest variety of wildlife improving human life. Contrary to the government’s minimal regulations, Yamada boldly states, “I am not interested in greening.” Instead of applying green to existing projects, Yamada emphasizes habitat and culture. Habitat requires links between insects and birds, bees and food, trees and birds, clean water and fish. As an anthropologist, I was also pleased to hear Yamada emphasize culture as key to creating social change in cities. Yamada cites the importance of “eight million kami” (ya-o-yorozu no kami or 八百万の神), a Shinto belief in animism and the presence of spirits in an infinite number of natural beings and materials.
In addition to working with Kajima and the Japanese Business Initiative for Biodiversity, Yamada is very hands-on. He explained how he monitors honeybees on Kajima’s Ikebukuro dormitory using GPS and biking along a 2 kilometer radius. From his observations, he sees urban honeybees avoiding park and street trees because pesticides have made them unsafe, and preferring instead small gardens grown by residents.
Yamada also cites the Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker as a key indicator species. Because it travels relatively short distance, urban habitat requires a series of interconnected parks and street trees creating a green web. I find this idea of the ecological connection between large public spaces and individual gardens very inspiring.
I also highly recommend the article he co-authored: Kumagai, Yoichi and Yoriyuki Yamada. “Green Space Relations with Residential Values in Downtown Tokyo: Implications for Urban Biodiversity Conservation.” Local Environment, Routledge Press, Vol. 13, No. 2, 141–157, March 2008.
Yamada Yuriyuki (山田順之) , a biodiversity specialist at Kajima, one of Japan’s largest construction companies, appears in a video on Japanese TV about Kajima’s beekeeping and biodiversity education work. Kajima has started a hive in one of their buildings, and is studying how and where bees travel.
Yamada-san makes the important point that “greening” is not just about aesthetics but about eco-systems. Bees play an important role because they pollinate fruit trees that in turn attract birds. Bees also scare away crows. And it is because of the decline of bees in the wild that farmers need to manually pollinate fruits and vegetables. The video also shows how Kajima has educated school kids about the value of bees.
I am curious how far bee-keeping can take off in Tokyo, and the connections its advocates can make with native plants, urban wildlife, and city agriculture.
A great article in today’s New York Times about “daylighting” the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul. Daylighting refers to uncovering streams buried under pavement. Three miles of elevated freeway were removed, a plant-rich stream restored, and central urban land was converted from car-centric to people-centric.
- summer temperature reduction by 5 degrees Fahrenheit
- improved storm drainage, which global warming has worsened
- reduction in small-particle air pollution from 74 to 48 micrograms per cubic meter
- less auto congestion despite the loss of vehicle lanes
- bio-diversity gains include 25 versus 4 fish species, 36 versus 6 bird species, and 192 versus 15 insect species
- 90,000 daily visitors, including walking and picknicing
- higher real estate values for adjacent buildings
- political gains for former mayor, now South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (also formerly head of construction at Hyundai Corporation)
- restoration of the historic center of a 600 year city
Government officials and urban planners from Los Angeles, Singapore, San Antonio, and Yonkers have expressed interest in restoring urban streams. Sadly, the article did not mention anything about Tokyo, where most of its historic canals and rivers are covered by streets and elevated freeways.
This week I had the amazing opportunity to meet one of my landscape design heroes, Tase Michio (田瀬理夫) of Plamtago. He has created urban architecture and a green business that bring native plants and habitats to urban areas. His most famous work is the 1995 Acros Fukuoka building, a 15 story lush hillside on top of a downtown office building. More recently, he provided the creative direction for 5bai Midori, a Tokyo company that brings “satoyama” (里山) or a slice of rural Japan into urban areas through a modular 5-sided system.
With a shock of grey hair, Tase sensei is patient with visitors, provocative and without pretense. Born 60 years ago in Ichigaya, Tokyo, not far from his current Plamtago home office, Tase says he has been monitoring the natural environment of Tokyo since his childhood. His view is that urban land use is worse today than in the 1970s. And despite the success of Acros Fukuoka, which looks fuller and more wild after 14 years of growth, Tase is disappointed that there have been no other high rises incorporating bio-diversity into their architecture.
Tase describes his work as “Passive Architecture & Active Landscape with Nature.” For cities, he aims to increase the number of plant species, slow rainfall and filter it before it reaches rivers and bays, create healthy wildlife habitats, and improve the soil. I was struck that he sees as urban eco-system indicators tiny ticks, which reflect good soil and perhaps small animals, and also hawks. Ticks and at least one hawk reside in the forest of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.
In Japan, all corporations have “Corporate Social Responsibility” groups, and most of them focus on the environment. Some corporations have grant-making foundations (such as Coca Cola Japan), and others have green businesses (Japan’s largest car company Toyota and largest beverage company Suntory both have green roof subsidiaries).
Starting on April 1, 2008, nineteen large companies formed the Japan Business Initiative for Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity (JBIB). Members include major electronics, construction, housing, insurance, food and telecommunication companies. I am hoping to learn more about this group, and its efforts to become corporate leaders in advocating for biodiversity.
Shortly before it closed for renovations, I visited an unusual basement farm set up by one of Japan’s largest staffing agency Pasona. Named Pasona o2 (a summary in English here), this underground farm aims to raise popular awareness of agriculture, provide relaxation for nearby office workers, and attract media attention:
As a gesture for improving a huge street in Shibuya, I admire the shop owner who contributed these small planters with pansies. It certainly makes the wide sidewalk, busy street and subway construction zone a bit more beautiful.
As a contrast for visionary ideas to improve major streets, I am showing below an image from a native plant company 5bai Midori (literally five-sided greenery) that uses a modular system for residential exteriors and interiors, small businesses and neighborhood improvements.