Construction sites in Japan, unlike in the United States, are almost always concealed behind shiny white walls. Recently, I have noticed more and more of these temporary walls being decorated with plants.
Above, three simple flower pots seem like a small an and informal gesture. Below, ivy is built into the wall itself. Somehow, given the humbleness of the plant material and scale, the less designed plants seem more generous and heart-felt. What do you think?
The first photo is from a development called Nakano Twin Mark Towers. A short while after taking the photo, I noticed a hand-made sign on the back alley complaining about its massive scale: a residential tower that will be 29 stories high, at least twice as high as any neighboring building on the south side of the station. I am surprised by its height, and also wonder whether the developers will succeed in finding such a luxurious clientele in this rather humble residential area. Below is a developer’s image from the website.
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.
The San Francisco Chronice published an interesting article about how San Francisco is offering developer incentives to turn empty lots into temporary green spaces: potted trees, thirteen foot tall miscanthus grasses that capture carbon, artists’ spaces, and a garden tended by homeless. Could this be a green solution to the Great Recession’s impact on real estate development, replacing blight with food, habitat, and public spaces?
Mori Minoru’s Mori Building is Tokyo’s largest urban real estate developer. His Vertical Garden City idea and Urban New Deal Policy are private enterprise visions for a re-made city that is at once more densely populated, more environmental and green, and more profitable for the largest developers.
I had the intriguing experience of being invited to witness a presentation by Mori Building company for a US journalist. Asked to remain silent so as not to detract from the journalist’s work, I witness one foreign journalist, a simultaneous translator, a guide from the Tokyo Foreign Correspondent’s Club, two Mori Building Public Relations officer and one urban planner. This is clearly a business where image is created through tremendous resources.