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English artist Simon Parish sent me his lovely drawings of Tokyo potted plant gardens

サイモン・パリッシュというイギリスのアーチストから、東京の植木鉢の庭の絵をいただきました。二十年前に東京に住んでいたそうですが、今でも東京の感じをよく覚えているんですね。

I was pleasantly surprised to hear from English artist Simon Parish, who shared with me (and my readers) his drawings of Tokyo potted plant gardens. I love his compositions, the contrast between the line drawings and the (hand-colored?) plants and pots, the mix of cultivated and semi-wild urban vegetation.

Simon explained that he lived in Tokyo about 20 years ago. I am super impressed with his current art work, and feels it evokes the types of Tokyo city gardens that this blog celebrates. Maybe, garden-wise, Tokyo does not change so much over the decades or even centuries.

Summer of green walls on mid-rise offices and retail buildings

節電のために、この夏は東京のどこでもグリーン・ウォール「垂直の庭」が作られています。混雑して、背が高い都市では、垂直の表面のほうが屋根より多いです。まず、杉並区役所とマンションのベランダでグリーン・カーテンが作られました。今、事務所や店の建物で、グリーン・ウォ―ルを作りはじめました。夏にグリーン・カーテンはヒートアイランド現象の緩和のために良くて、一年中、グーリン・ウォールは庭や農園や生息地を提供します。この写真を芝公園、新宿御苑前、大井町、大門で撮りました。

Spurred by the energy crisis post-Fukushima, there’s been a notable increase in the number of mid-rise office and retail buildings with green walls. In an over-built city, vertical surfaces are the largest potential area for gardening, farming, and habitat creation.

Tokyo has far more vertical surfaces than roof areas, and we are only at the very beginning of creating an urban forest.

I have been following this topic for a while, and have watched this idea spread from notable public spaces like Suginami’s ward office (world’s largest green curtain) to apartment balconies, flower shops, and now commercial and retail spaces. This wide distribution across Tokyo and across building types is very exciting to see.

Some questions I have include:

  • What types of plants can be grown vertically and for what functions: aesthetics, habitat, scent, seasonal change, food?
  • How can green walls enhance innovative architecture and place-making?
  • How can vertical and roof gardens connect buildings, neighbors, and wildlife?
  • What is the impact on heat island effect, global competitiveness, and quality of life?

The answers will come from experimentation and diffusion. The photos, from top to bottom, are four green walls I’ve recently seen:

1. Hasegawa Green Building in Shiba Koen

2. Office mid-rise in Shinjuku Gyoen-mae (2 photos). The company that created and maintains this green wall is called Ishikatsu Exterior (石勝イクステリア).

3. Oimachi retail building near station.

4. Daimon office building.

Urban layers with wild space in the middle of Tokyo

この代々木の写真には、風景が3つ見えます。この組み合わせはとても東京らしいです。
This image sums up my love of Tokyo green spaces. In the background is the iconic Docomo Tower in Shinjuku. In the foreground is a typical Tokyo sight: a lot where the old structure has been raised is now used for hourly parking. In the middle is an older residence whose wild garden is thriving through neglect and the absence of redevelopment. Tokyo is a dense place full of the iconic and prosaic, living nature and concrete structures, traces of the past and constant change.


Modular satoyama box in full fall color

ベランダの庭には小さな里山がある。色が毎日変わって楽しみだ。

There’s a small satoyama in my balcony garden. The color changes every day.

The leaves on tis small tree in my balcony’s modular satoyama box are turning dark crimson. I love how this small box from 5bai Midori is full of Japanese native plants. I have kept this satoyama box for just over a year now, and always enjoy watching the change in seasons. It’s just 15 cm by 50 cm!

19-20-21 Super City project by Richard Saul Wurman

The 19-20-21 Super City project by Richard Saul Wurman looks at the impact of mega urbanization on the environment and people. From the inventor of the term “information archictect” and founder of the TED conference, this project succinctly captures the massive change worldwide caused by the unprecedented growth of global cities and what it means for “business and urban planning.”

Corporate reaction to climate change

With the Copenhagen international climate conference approaching in December, the reaction of business leaders to climate change is becoming increasingly dynamic.

Recently California’s Pacific Gas and Electric, PG&E, resigned its membership in the United States Chamber of Commerce in protest of their positions on climate change and cap-and-trade proposals. Its spokesperson referred to its “disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort” scientific findings about global climate change. Other members such as Nike and Johnson & Johnson have tried to distance themselves from the Chamber’s environmental statements and activities.

In Japan, the nation’s most prominent business association, Keidanren, strongly supported the Liberal Democrat Party and their recent low carbon emissions targets. There seems to be considerable conflict with the current Democratic Party Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s ambitious goals of a 25% reduction in emissions, including technology transfers to developing countries.

I recently learned that there is a second business council in Japan called Keizai Doyukua (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), headed by the CEO of Ricoh, that is closer to the new prime minister and more open to the new global business opportunities that environmental regulation will bring. It is interesting to note which corporate executives Hatoyama recently appointed to the Government Revitalization Unit, a key committee on eliminating government waste: Kyocera Corp. Honorary Chairman Kazuo Inamori and Kikkoman Corp. Chairman Yuzaburo Mogi.

5bai Midori plants arrive during typhoon

5bai Midori plants arrive during typhoon, Shiho pottery studio

Thursday 5bai Midori delivered the three “satoyama units” I ordered, two for my home and one for Shiho, the pottery studio I attend in Suginami. I was amazed that the delivery service was uninterrupted by Typhoon #18 (known as Melor outside Japan), the first typhoon to hit Japan’s mainland in two years.

5bai Midori in boxes at home

5bai Midori’s native plants were more than I expected. It takes 4 weeks from ordering to delivery, and they arrive in large cardboard boxes. When the teachers and students opened the box at Shiho, they found a lizard. I hope he adjusts to life in the big city.

5bai Midori box at Shiho

The “satoyama units” are amazing: a mix of small trees, bushes, grasses and vines. The Shiho unit is a 30 centimeter square. The home ones for the balcony are 20 cm square and a rectangle measuring 15 cm by 50 cm. Included is a detailed list of the plants, including name, family name, latin name, description and care instructions. There is even a description of the metal frame and the soil. Attached to many plants are small metal tags with the plant’s name.

5bai Midori plants arrive during typhoon

I will blog about the seasonal change and growth of these 5bai Midori satoyama units. The locations could not be more different: the home balcony is on a high floor balcony with full southern sun. The pottery studio faces north and is underneath an awning.

5bai Midori plants arrive during typhoon

The pottery teachers were somewhat concerned about police protests (apparently they previously complained about the air conditioning units that also sit on the small strip of pavement between studio and sidewalk), and the possibility of theft. Still, they are excited to have this live environment which will slow pedestrians down and introduce more people to their studio. If it works out, I’d like to add several more units.

Here are my previous posts about 5bai Midori:

Beautifying major streets (May 5)
Meeting Tase Michio (May 21)
5bai Midori, or 5 sided green (May 22)
3 Projects created by 5bai Midori (July 22)
Satoyama and biodiversity (August 26)

And here are the sketches they created when we first discussed the projects.

5bai midori sketch for Shiho garden 5bai midori sketch for balcony garden

The balcony plant list is: Reineckea carnea, Quercus acustissima, Quercus serrata, Camellia sasanqua, Quercus myrsinaefolia, Clematis terniflora, Carex siderosticta, Trachelospermum asiaticum, Trachelospermum jasminoides, Eurya japonica, Petasites japonicus, Ardisia japonica, Liriope muscari, Kerria japonica.

2016 Olympics Decision on Friday

2016 Olympics, 4 cities competing

On Friday the Olympics committee will announce in Denmark which world city will host the 2016 summer games. It is exciting that Tokyo used sustainable urbanism as a core feature of its bid: re-using existing facilities, keeping the games within a small urban radius, and showcasing their best-in-the-world city transit system.

Still, it will be hard to compete with Rio de Janeiro, which would be the first South American host, and with Chicago, which has Obama and Oprah promoting its bid. It is interesting that despite the abundant official displays around Tokyo touting the bid, I have not heard much popular enthusiasm.

After starting this post, I read a Japan Inc column by successful expat in Tokyo Terrie Lloyd, who writes that low public support for the Tokyo bid is a big negative factor in the evaluation. Apparently a poll in February showed only 25% of residents “strongly favor” the bid. Given the exclusive focus on promoting Tokyo’s eco-city attributes and financial resources in their bid, perhaps Governor Ishihara and his committee did not even realize that the International Olympic Committee considers popular enthusiasm an important selection criteria.

In my research on Tokyo green space and sustainable urbanism, I often see the disconnect between the most well intentioned leaders and public participation. Master plans and visions are one thing, but creating change requires the participation of a very capable and resourceful population.

Certainly Japan is not unique in this shortcoming, but it seems that so much potential is wasted by ignoring the potential of popular participation. What do you think?

Carbon reduction is electoral issue

Japan election results from 2005

Japan is entering a heated campaign for the Diet, and the Liberal Democrat Party ruling party faces a serious challenge that is unusual in the post-war period. The campaign by the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, has largely revolved around  a broad call for “change,” while many observers have difficulty discerning differences in campaign promises or likely governing policies.

It is interesting to note that the opposition DPJ declared yesterday that they are committed to a 25% reduction of carbon emissions by 2020 (from 1990 levels),  in contrast to the LDP’s 8% target. Policies include a cap and trade policy, opposed by business, a “feed-in tariff” that obliges power companies to buy renewable energy at a fixed price, and the “consideration” of an environment tax.

Reaching agreement between advanced and emerging countries on 2020 targets is critical to the success of the upcoming UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. Some may be skeptical about whether electoral promises will be carried out. Regardless of the outcome, it will be interesting to see how much this issue resonates with the Japanese electorate and whether they will accept the price for environmental change.

(Note: The chart above shows the distribution of seats from the 2005 election).

Creating a common vision for green cities

governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and 2009 California budget deal

Reading about the drastic budget cuts in my home state of California makes me wonder about the potential future of green cities in that state and in the United States. After months of political deadlock, governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and a divided state Congress agreed on $US 30 billion in cuts over two years to schools, colleges, health, welfare, prisons, recreation and other services.

A New York Times analysis quotes University of California, Berkeley professor of political science Bruce E. Cain saying, “In the end, we do not know for sure whether the California public really wants the California dream anymore. The population is too diverse to have a common vision of what it wants to provide to everyone. Some people want the old dream, some want the gated privatized version, and some would like to secede and get away from it all.”

The conventional wisdom that California or the United States has no “common vision” reflects a political and cultural deficit, and will create more long-term damage than the economic downtown. For many government and educational authorities, diversity makes a convenient excuse for an unwillingness to invest in social programs that broadly benefit the public good. Nostalgia for previous boom times obscures the massive investment and cultural change needed to create green and sustainable cities.

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