If you look carefully, you can see there are five different palm trees in this photograph.
San Francisco is often windy and cool. Despite the fact that palms thrive in many cool climates, somehow seeing them gives us the illusion of being somewhere warmer and exotic.
Beyond my garden, the old car dealership and repair shop have been torn down and replaced with luxury housing and a Whole Foods. The top floor apartments will rent for over $8,000 per month.
Hamarikyu is an elaborate garden between the office towers of Shiodome and the harbor full of warehouses, garbage incinerators, and the massive immigration office with no cellphone coverage. Inside the garden, you can learn how the Emperor created a special landscape to facilitate duck hunting that used decoy ducks, falcons, and nets. But on the edges of the garden, you can see the messy metropolis with its relentless accumulation of transportation, commerce, and recently new luxury residential development. I like how on the city side, the stone-lined canal has been preserved, and on the harbor side, an older looking flood gate still regulates the garden’s pond.
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?
Urban planners Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava have a provocative essay in the New York Times about how post-war Tokyo can serve as an example of rebuilding Haiti. Researchers and activists who have worked in Tokyo and Dharavi, Mumbia, the authors evoke the strength of Port-au-Prince in its “urban landscapes (of) communities, street life, resourcefulness, aspirations and dynamic local exchanges.”
They urge a decentralized and highly participatory urban renewal with government investment in infrastructure and dense, low-level structures built by local efforts. I like their view that cities are about resourceful people and not large-scale developments. It is particularly timely to remember now how Tokyo rebuilt after the war (and the 1923 Kanto earthquake) and became a megacity that combines futuristic elements with a vibrant civic life.
You can learn more about their work at Urbz, “user-generated cities.” Below is an image from the Japan Society website of the 1923 Kanto earthquake in Tokyo.
Ho Chi Minh City’s Park and Greenery Office reports a 50% loss of green space in the past 11 years. Blame is attributed to developers ignoring city requirements for green space. The calculation includes parks, flower gardens, and road-side plants.
There are some interesting statistics. Currently there is .7 square meters of green space per person in the 7 million person city. The city’s goal is 4 to 5 square meters per person. The World Health Organization has set a global standard of 8 square meters per person.
This story illustrates the rapid rate of urbanization in Asia, the importance of green space as a health issue, and the difficulties of balancing urban development and human health.
I have written on this research blog about vertical space being an underused resource in cities. Many walls could serve as gardens, habitat, and “green curtains.” There is also room for art on the countless dull urban surfaces. The photo above shows graffiti by the aptly named Jef Aerosol, who contributed to a fun art show covering the interior and exterior of Tokyo’s French Embassy, scheduled to be demolished soon and replaced with a high-rise apartment building. Even embassy compounds must contribute to urban development, but for now you can wander through the old building and see installation art in “No Man’s Land.”
According to the United Nations Population Fund, in 2008 the world achieved an urbanization milestone, 3.3 billion people, more than half the world’s peoples, now lived in cities.
By 2030, 5 billion people will be city dwellers, and more than 81% will be in developing countries. From 2000 to 2030, in one generation the urban populations of Asia and Africa will double (from 1.7 to 3.4 billion).
The pace of urbanization is astonishing. From 1900 to 2000, the number of city dwellers rose from 220 million to 2.8 billion, an increase of more than 10 times. Poverty and sustainability are the two biggest challenges of our century’s global urbanization, with implications for transportation, water and energy supplies.
The role of gardeners in retrofitting mature cities and building emerging cities is vital in promoting cities where residents are connecting to each other and the environment. I hope that Tokyo Green Space can contribute ideas for global urbanization and development.
Related posts: Peter Head’s “Entering the Ecological Age”