car

Have you seen a new year decoration on a car or bike?

bike_shimekazari_shinjuku

車か自転車につけられたしめ飾りを見たことがありますか。これは、手仕事屋久家で作ったぼくの手作りです。新宿で。

I made this one at Kuge Crafts.

Tidy garden is pruned and ready for winter

冬のために、小さな庭の準備ができました。木を短く剪定したので、日光が家に入ってこれます。何百も植木鉢があるから、駐車場を使わないそうです。

I like how this small home is prepared for winter: the tree’s been hard pruned, the bushes rounded and shaped, and nothing out of place. The pruning looks severe, but it serves to bring more sunlight into the house for winter. I like the mix of western plants and Japanese traditional garden elements. And the hundreds of small pots lining the driveway. I have a feeling that they never park a car there.

A house overflowing with flowerpots in Nakano

Somebody clearly loves flowers.

だれか花が大好き見たいだ。

Tokyo is an endless adventure. Walking through the backstreets of Nakano, I was amazed by this flowerpot garden that covers the entire facade of the house, and even camouflages the car parked in front. There must be hundreds or thousands of potted plants, mostly secured by wire.

You can see on the car that the gardener is showing off some winter flowers, like chrysanthemums, pansies, and cyclamens. The car seems very tidy and protected with styrofoam sheets so I am guessing that they really do use their car. I like how they are making car-driving less convenient in order to increase the amount of plants and make their home more beautiful.

Chris at Tokyo DIY Gardening has assembled four other Tokyo examples where plants seem to have greater importance for residents than the ease of using their car. You can see examples of a similar house on Tokyo DIY Gardening, a perhaps abandoned motorcycle and car also on Tokyo DIY Gardening,  Linus Yng’s Tokyo Parallellt, Twitter’s @Remmid’s YFrog stream.

I love the amazing spirit behind this Nakano house where more is really more. Covering your house and parking pad with plants gives you a different relationship with your neighbors. I think it’s interesting to contrast this exuberant urban forest with more cutting edge Tokyo architecture that not only ignores landscaping but creates a hostile interface with neighbors. Two examples come from my fall bike architecture tour with Linus Yng.

First is the fantastic Endo Masaki “Natural Wedge House.” The triangular shape meets sunshine regulations and provides an interesting and translucent shape. The structure is entirely visible, and the house seems to float on top of the base. However, from the street you can’t see the front door, and there is absolutely no plants as part of the design or actual residence. Instead, this house interfaces with the city through its car.

Another example is perhaps unexpected. Ban Shigeru’s Hanegi no mori building is celebrated for preserving the wonderful old forest canopy that surrounds the 10 or so units. Yet, again, this Tokyo architecture seems to draw inspiration from car-dependent cities, with the residences atop a parking lot. From the street, the visitor sees cars first, then the building, then the tree canopy.

I wonder if residential architects even in Tokyo imagine that their clients do most of their trips by car. Is this a class bias or a mistaken assumption. Do those with money neither walk nor take transit? Or is it a matter of wanting to show off the houses’ novel designs unobstructed by plants? Devoting so much scarce resources to car parking and access cuts off the home from the neighborhood and promotes a type of urban life that seems wasteful and unattractive.

3 levels of roadway create a dead corridor

Is dead corridor the opposite of green corridor? What are the effects of urban highways?

死んでいるような交通ルートは緑の交通ルート『green corridor」の反対ですか?都市の高速道路はどんな影響をあたえるでしょうか?

Many landscape architects and urban biodiversity planners talk about the value of green corridors: places that provide wildlife shelter, that connect neighborhoods, integrate city and country, and mitigate the heat island effect. What should we call the multi-level roadways that are in many ways the opposite, that divide neighborhoods and reduce life? Dead corridors?

I took this photo on Linus Yng’s architecture bike tour; I think it’s near Sasazuka. It’s very close to the lovely remnant of the Tamagawa josui (玉川上水). I think the image makes an interesting contrast with the serenity of the train photos from yesterday’s post.

One gorgeous tree and 15 lanes of roadway

木が人間の環境をもっと魅力的にしているのでしょうか。それとも、人間の環境が木をもっと魅力的にしているのでしょうか。

Do trees make the human environment more attractive, or do human environments make trees more attractive?

On an elevated pedestrian bridge just outside Iidabashi station, on the way to Koishikawa Korakuen, this gorgeous street tree and its fiery leaves caught my attention. It stands in front of two intersecting wide boulevards, two elevated freeways, and two shadowed canals. Not only does the tree soften the urban blight of devoting so much space to cars and their air pollution. I think the mundane and gruesome human environment also elevate the tree’s beauty beyond what it might attain in more pristine wildness.

ここの話, Koko no hanashi: Talking about Here

The incredibly prolific, creative, and productive Chris Berthelsen has launched a new public project, called ここの話, Koko no hanashi: Talking about Here. It’s an amazing, low tech and also analog project that creates community dialogue about public, publicly visible, and abandoned urban spaces. He’s prototyped it this week in western Tokyo, and you can read about it online and follow its progress through Twitter and a mailing list.

Talking about Here relies on a simple framework: placing a laminated sign and a simple question, like “Why can’t we use this park at night,” to invite neighbors to discuss very local spaces that are shared, visible, or under-utilized. People can respond using the QR code, or by simply writing in the notebook that is attached to the sign with a pen. Responses will be collated on a stripped down blog specific to each location.

The five initial locations are an interesting mix: a bleak park in front of a factory (run-down, official), a friendly neighborhood park which has been declared a ‘night no-go zone’ (well-kept, official), a park under an elevated freeway (run-down, secluded, official), an abandoned car in an apartment complex parking lot (illegal use), and a deserted house on a school route (run-down, private property).

The prototype just went up this week, and there are many questions: Will the signs be taken down? Will officials contact Chris to question his actions? Will neighbors use the QR code or notebooks to record their feeling and memories? Will neighbors be interested to read what other neighbors record?

I am always amazed at Chris’ imagination and ability to make things happen, with low fidelity tools and a bit of daring. We have worked together in creating the Tokyo DIY Gardening project, including the blog and collaborative mapping workshop last August at 3331 Arts Chiyoda. I believe he’s now got four projects launched in his spare time, all of which are shared freely online.

I have asked Chris if I can participate in Phase 2 of this project. I already have a few places in mind: a beautiful abandoned wood house with a garden that is minimally maintained by a neighbor, a pedestrian path that is heavily used and sitting above an old creek, my neighbors’ fruit trees. It might be interesting to ask property owners if they would like to have a sign that seeks comments about their public gardens. I wonder what the reaction will be?

Small green curtain at factory car shop

This small green curtain makes a nice contrast with Suginami’s giant green curtain. When I see small green curtains, mostly they are on residential balconies and small houses. This one is at a car shop across the street from a printing factory in Bunkyo ward. I love how the shop worker or manager chose to create a small green spot with bitter melons climbing up the window and to the roof. It’s great to see people make use of work time and space for some vegetable gardening.

A historic landmark buried under freeway in Tokyo

Approaching by foot or by car, you would not know that up ahead is one of Tokyo’s most famous historic landmarks, Nihonbashi (日本橋, or literally Japan Bridge). During Edo, it was an important wooden bridge in the center of the capital. Today, Japan’s highway network uses the bridge as the zero mile marker.

Despite its landmark status, the 1911 stone bridge is obscured by the elevated freeway. When I visited, I saw a pair of elderly Japanese tourists taking photos of themselves with the bridge. The many pedestrians and the speeding cars on street and freeway level showed no signs of recognition that this space was special.

Like many of Tokyo’s rivers, what could be natural habitat and urban attraction has become dead space. Apart from one outdoor hotel cafe, the neighboring buildings face away from the river, freeway, pillars, and exhaust.

A charity for the orphans of car accidents

This adorable porcelain doll with red skirt and shoes and a yellow hair bow is collecting money for the orphans of car accidents. It was a rare, if not my first experience using a central Tokyo car parking lot. I am surprised to see this direct message about the dangers of driving at the lot entrance. It’s nice enough to be driven within Tokyo by car or taxi; however they are often a lot slower than the trains and subway.

Benefits of compact, car-free cities

Worldchanging

Tokyo Green Space examines the ecological and human benefit of reimagining cities with a focus on people and natural environments. I was interested to read a provocative article recently in Business Week entitles: “Cities: A Smart Alternative to Cars.”

The author Alex Steffen of Worldchanging argues that rebuilding cities into walkable places through in-fill and zoning changes might be more realistic and faster than the typical 16 year cycle to replace 90% of the United States automobile fleet. His definition of a new urban city is one in which daily driving is not a necessity and many people can live without private car ownership.

It is interesting that confronted with climate change, some hope that technological change will allow Americans to live as we have for the past thirty years with no change: zero emissions vehicles allowing for the same transportation patterns, and new building materials to permit the same massive housing structures. It’s analogous to finding a pharmaceutical cure for the effects of obesity without changing the foods we eat or the energy we exert.

The costs are staggering: transportation accounts for 25% of United States carbon, and 20% of that from personal transportation. There is also the environmental burden of manufacturing and disposal. I was surprised to learn that Americans spend more than 19% of household income on personal transportation, second only to housing.

Perhaps hardest for Americans to grasp is that denser, walkable cities can improve lifestyle compared to McMansions and suburbs. Well design buildings, smart infrastructure, and the community created through walking and biking could be a huge improvement to quality of life. Tokyo certainly exhibits many of the advantages of compact, transit-oriented cities where almost all daily activities are accessed by foot, transit and bike.

In addition to environmental and economic benefits, compact cities create more human interaction and community, improved public health from daily walking, and an opportunity to use public space currently devoted to vehicles for urban plants and wildlife.

(Note: I found this article on Allison Arieff twitter feed: http://twitter.com/aarieff)