Balcony lavender surrounded by strawberry, snap pea, and roofs



Next week I am talking at Shibaura House’s Community Herb Garden talk event. Herbs can be used for flavor, food, medicine, and perfume. Even in small urban spaces, herbs are very tough and can be used in daily life. This balcony lavender attracts Tokyo butterflies.

Spring has sprung on my Tokyo balcony


I love sensing spring’s arrival on my Tokyo balcony. First butterfly of this year, more birds, blueberry bush flowering, strawberries taking shape.

The Butterfly in the Metro

Metropolis magazine published my essay, “The Butterfly in the Metro,” that presents my impressions about the difference between public space in Japan and the United States. What is the role of shared spaces in urban life?

What makes a city desirable? After living in Tokyo for just two years, I realize that what passes as normal in a large US city now seems peculiar, unnecessary and even unpleasant.

. . .

Please read the full article on the Metropolis website. I am grateful to Eparama Tuibenau for the lovely illustration above.

San Francisco’s new urban ecology projects

Via Twitter, I’ve come across some fantastic new urban ecology projects in San Francisco:

Nature in the City, an NPO focused on conservation, restoration and stewardship. Currently creating habitat corridors for the the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys dumetorum), a small butterfly present in only three places in the city.

Urban Gleaning Program, a project of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works that encourages city residents to collect fruit from city trees and community gardens and distribute them to the homeless and hungry.

Urban Hedgerow, a new global cities project that creates space and allow more of our wild world into the city. The project joins urban naturalists and artists to increase insect, animal, and plant life, with projects starting in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, the UK.

Roppongi West Park is a quiet oasis on back street

Roppongi is a very foreign neighborhood for me since I rarely visit its offices, nightclubs and museums. However, with the recent conference, I took a friend along a back street between mega developments Mid Town and Roppongi Hills. We stumbled a very charming, small park named Roppongi West Park (六本木西公園). It was a welcome escape from the elevated freeways and concrete overload.

The park provides a great amount of shade and the loud murmur of cicadas. My fellow Maryland state friend and I wondered how come mid-Atlantic cicadas only appear every seven years, while Japanese ones go through similar seven year cycles but appear annually. The park had benches with businessmen smoking, chatting, using their cellphones, and escaping their offices. There were also sand box, playground, and a public bathroom.

Seeing this small gem made me think about the up-until-now unrealized possibilities for the mega developers to connect with their neighborhoods through landscapes. Mori Building talks about how its vertical gardens lower summer time temperature in its neighborhoods. And Mitsubishi Estate is concerned with making Marunouchi more attractive through livable streets.

Creating gardens and habitats that extend to nearby  pocket parks, as well as neighboring residential and commercial gardens, could brand these new places with historical memory, a signature fruit tree, butterfly or bird habitat, outdoor recreation, and innovative public place making. While the developers goal is to maximize rental income, attention to the neighborhood, its existing assets and people, could be a low-cost and high impact way to brand, differentiate, and attract visitors and tenants.

District landscaping is one of the most economical and transformative improvements. By extending beyond the limits of a single property or the holdings of one developer, district landscaping is vital to place-making, memory, habitat, and human affection.

Turning empty lot into wildflower meadow for butterflies

Cool San Francisco project to turn an empty downtown development site into a temporary California wildflower meadow and pollinator garden that will attract butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and other pollinators. The two organizers are Rebar, a public space arts group, and Pollinator Partnership, which aims to make city and farm ecosystems hospitable to pollinating species.

Residential Green Wall

Residential green wall

On a small street, a residential building with pavement extending to the street has a fantastic, thick green wall of morning glory and bitter melon. The “green curtain” is growing from two pots on the staircase landing, with a simple next extending to the roof. It’s a great example of adding greenery on a lot that has very little exposed soil.

Residential Green Wall morning glory

The bitter melon adds a healthy, edible dimension to this seasonal green wall.

Residential Green Wall bitter melon

I wonder why our green wall never got this thick? Perhaps the southern exposure was too hot for bitter melon and morning glory. This morning I saw a fluttering large butterfly, a resting dragon fly, and a juvenile lady bug enjoying the shady side of a leaf. A few days ago I noticed a trellised collection of morning glories on the way to Nodai has already been cut back, so I think the season is almost finished.

Update: A week later, on Sept 19, I returned to this small street, and there is no sign of the green curtain. The vines and even the planter boxes are gone.