Dead space

A city view without people

opera_city_from_below_freeway
東京にはディストピアな場所もあります。例えば、このオペラシティーの前の交差点。よく自転車で通ります。
Often I bike under this maze of freeways, and sometimes I look up and see the Opera City tower rising 50 floors above. A city view without people and plants seems sad to me.

Biking under three levels of elevated expressway on a cloudy day

hatsudai_overpass_biking_under_yamate_doro
この交差点の下を、よく自転車で通ります。三つのレベルの高速道路があります。初台のオペラシティーの前で。

I often find myself biking under this intersection, outside Opera City in Hatsudai. The surface roads are wide and congested, and there’s also a newish underground expressway. This is a major corner not designed for bicyclists or pedestrians.

Another sad view of the Shibuya river. Is this Tokyo’s most unloved river?

shibuya_river_umbrella
悲しい渋谷川の景色がもう一つ。この川は東京のなかで、一番愛されていないのでしょうか。

 

Entrance to Shibuya from Roppongi is a river of auto traffic

六本木から渋谷に来ている車の流れが50年前の都市デザインを保ち続けています。東京はいつ21世紀の都市デザインをはじめることができるでしょうか。

Layers of auto traffic rush towards Shibuya station. Has any global city maintained its aging urban auto infrastructure as thoroughly as Tokyo? Planning wise, Tokyo today can feel like it’s reliving the 1960s, as if nothing has changed in terms of mobility, urban design, and creating maximum value in dense cities.

An endless cityscape of houses with minimal tree canopy

東京ではあまり木が見えない。背が低い家がつくる模様はクモの巣のようです。

Tokyo is super dense. I love how so few of the houses are lined up in this irregular web of small streets.

What a color! An ugly view of river in Shiba below the freeway

首都高速道路の下の古川に何が住んでいるでしょうか。

Is there anything alive in this river? Cutting through Shiba in Minato-ku, it’s covered by the Shuto freeway and cut off from the street with a chain link fence. What a color!

Tokyo waterfront infrastructure at Tatsumi: the beautiful and the ugly

東京湾のあたりは50年前に、高速道路と公園のようなインフラをたくさん作りました。全く使われていない不毛の空間ときれいな場所が同時に存在しています。雑草と偶然にできた緑の空間が生き残ります。

I often show images of the long cherry tree path that leads from Tatsumi’s subway to the municipal swimming pool. The 10 minute walk mixes all that’s both beautiful and dirty about 1960s infrastructure projects. There’s the amazing public sports facility, a now mature park with tall trees bordering the elevated freeway, and an odd mix of new construction, prior buildings, and informal green spaces that benefit from a lack of attention.

Can you spot the Shibuya river? It’s below everything else.

陸橋や自転車駐車場やオフィスビルの後部やスロットクラブの看板やほかの看板の下に、ほんの少しだけ残っている渋谷川が流れています。渋谷を歩いていて、川がないことに気がつきます。渋谷川がきれいなら、楽しめるのに残念です。

Below the overpasses, bicycle parking, the rear end of office buildings, signs for Slot Club and other shops, runs what remains of the Shibuya river. Rivers and ports traditionally animate cities, allowing for trade, transportation, and food. In Shibuya, it’s easy to think there is no river at all. What a wasted opportunity.

Potted camellia brightens concrete patio dead space

普通だけれどもたくましい椿は、コンクリートのテラスに命を与えます。だれがそこに置いて、剪定しているのでしょうか。

I like how this very common and hardy camellia brings some life to a concrete patio in a Nakano back street. I wonder who placed it there and keeps it well pruned.

I can easily  imagine a jungle growing between these older commercial buildings, a living food alley with scent and maybe a small creek bed. As it is now, this space between buildings functions as a giant chute for capturing rainwater, which then travels many kilometers and must be processed, alongside sewage, before being released into Tokyo Bay.

At least someone working or living there is decorating and enjoying the space.

Temporary and semi-permanent parking flanked by temple, offices, apartments

仮設の半永久的な駐車所はお寺やオフィスビルやマンションに囲まれています。高いエレベーターの駐車場はお寺の土地を使っているそうです。

In the foreground, there’s an automated surface parking lot on a lot that may get developed. The tall white structure is an elevated parking lot that is semi-permanent, and it appears to have been erected on the property of a fairly large temple and graveyard. On either side, offices and apartment buildings  frame a dense and changing city.

Trees add life to bleak cityscape

後ろにあるこの高い木には、はじけるような命を感じます。ところが、前にある駐車場や自動販売機やマンションは暗いですね。

These tall trees in the background provide a burst of life in a bleak cityscape of apartments, vending machines, and surface parking lots.

A freeway runs through Odaiba

お台場の駅から浜に行く途中で、この大きな高速道路を渡らなければなりません。空いた所有地のほうが開発されたものより多いです。だから、出入り口のふたつが放棄されて、そこに植物が育っています。浜からの景色は楽しいです。港やスカイラインやレインボーブリッジや小型の自由の女神が見えます。この組み合わせはちょっと奇妙です。

Exiting the subway station in Odaiba, the way to the famed “beach” with city view includes walking past vast parking lots and then over this eight lane freeway.

What’s amazing about this view is that in addition to the enormous freeway, there are abandoned ramps on both sides, that are gradually being reclaimed by plants. Is land so value-less that this waste is considered appropriate?

There are still more empty than developed parcels on Odaiba, an urban development project with mixed results. The focus on freeways, parking lots, and chain restaurants and stores often makes it feel like a generic exurban landscape.

I hear that it is a popular place for dates. But I’ve been there only three times in as many years. Most recently I was there to get a ride to Umi no Mori for a volunteer tree planting day (more on that later). But a few extra hours gave me my first taste of Odaiba itself.

Once across the freeway and past the mall, there are some beautiful public spaces including an artificial beach. There are views of the port, the Tokyo skyline with the Rainbow Bridge, and some odd built decor that includes a mini Statue of Liberty on land.

Giant electric pole dwarfs persimmon & street

東京の中には、たくさんのあまりきれいでないものがあります。とても高い電線は江戸時代の五日市街道の上を渡ります。ごみ焼却炉の煙突や高架道路やマンションの終わらない蛍光灯の列も都市生活に奇妙なリズムをつくります。このとても高い電線の下に柿の実が見えます。

There are many urban sights in Tokyo that are jarring to newcomers, perhaps none more so than the giant electricity poles. Well, there’s also garbage incinerators with tall chimneys in every neighborhood, elevated freeways, endless rows of fluorescent lights stacked high on exposed residential hallways, and the zeal for paving over almost all surfaces.

This photo was taken near Shin Koenji where the elevated main power line crosses Itsukaichi Kaido, a road that dates back to Edo and maybe earlier. You can just make out a silhouetted ripe persimmon fruit. Sometimes these unattractive elements create their own rhythm and patterns in urban life.

Real estate image of forest doesn’t match surroundings

最近、贅沢な不動産開発が自然のイメージを広告に使っています。広告の中の田舎の森や現場から離れた風景を見ていると妙な 気持ちになります。本当の都市の森を作れば、不動産の価格はもっと上がります。西新宿で都市の森はどんな風に見えるだろう。

I’ve noticed recently more and more real estate advertising at construction sites and at recently completed buildings that show images of forests or famous urban landscapes that are nowhere near the location. A new luxury development rising at Jingumae 3 chome #37, the site of the former Harajuku Danchi, shows a photo of the ginko trees turning yellow on Icho Namaiki (いちょう並木).

Above is Nishi Shinjuku, which has several new office towers and new apartments on Ome Kaido, towards Nakano Sakaue. Following regulations, these buildings have planted street trees. But it is comical to see the image of a path meandering through a forest that’s half way up the new apartment building.

On the one hand, it’s good to see city people still dream of forests. On the other hand, these wealthy developers and the City of Tokyo regulators could increase the value of their properties by actually turning this marketing image into a reality.

What could an urban forest look like at this intersection?

Landscape dead zone in posh Omotesando

なぜ表参道の交差点はこんなに醜いのですか? 表参道のケヤキ通りの近くなのに、一番大事な交差点に植物がありません。歩行者にもっとふさわしい環境を作れるはずです。

Why is this major intersection so ugly? Pedestrians deserve better.

Some people think that Omotesando is Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées. There is an incredible zelkovia tunnel and many posh global brands. However, at the main crossing, just above the Omotesando train station, the aggressively barren non-landscape is shocking. The small in-ground landscape triangle and the four above ground planters contain nothing but dry soil and some lonely weeds.

I wonder how long they will remain this way. In a city where most people commute by train and foot, the areas above stations should be amongst the greenest, with nature being used to make these frequently passed areas more pleasant and inviting.