heat island effect

Real estate ecology

Mitsubishi Estates Heat Island District Plan

Mitsubishi Estates, one of Japan’s largest real estate companies, has created a comprehensive plan for the downtown business district of Otemachi-Marunouchi-Yurakucho, where it owns one third of the land.

Mitsubishi Estates’ size and ecological principles lead the company to think beyond the scale of individual buildings. District heating, cooling and hot water systems provide energy efficiency for 65 buildings. Rooftop greening lowered summer temperatures 25 degrees celsius compared with concrete slab roofs, mitigating the heat island effect. Other efforts to lower the summer temperatures include sidewalk sprinklers, street trees, vertical gardens, and permeable sidewalks and roadways.

Mitsubishi Estates Marunouchi properties

I am impressed that Mitsubishi Estates is not only improving the environment and efficiency of its own buildings, but taking a leading role in improving the city’s environment. Working on the district level, Mitsubishi Estates relates their greening efforts to a larger goal of using their district to connect cooler breezes from Tokyo Bay across the office towers and into the Imperial Palace grounds and other parts of central Tokyo.

Why green cities?

Green cities, where the urban forest replaces concrete slabs, are receiving new support from city governments and corporations. The Tokyo Municipal Government announced many exciting green city initiatives starting in 2006 in a ten year plan for transforming the city in its bid for the 2016 Olympics. Other motivations include climate change, heat island effect, energy efficiency, and tourism.

Japanese governments and corporations are begining to promote their leadership in green cities for a global audience. It is a pleasure to see Hitachi, a sponsor of Tokyo Green Space, promoting environmental diplomacy in China. Under Hitachi’s China Energy Conservation and Environment Commercialization Promotion, Hitachi activities include sharing water treatment technologies with Sichuan University and hosting an “eco-cities” conference with Chinese government organizations and corporations.

Hitachi CEO Kawamura Takashi is backing an unprecedented 2025 Environmental Vision in which Hitachi products will reduce global CO2 emissions by 100 million tons. This ambitious vision seeks a 50% reduction from 2000 levels. And to provide a concrete idea of the size of this committment, Hitachi explains that eliminating 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions would require a new cedar forest of 130,000 square kilometers, or one third the size of all of Japan.

Hitachi's image of forest required to eliminate 100 million tons of CO2

Hitachi’s bold plans suggest that reversing climate change is not a charitable gesture but essential to its business success in a global marketplace. Rather than seeing trade-offs, Hitachi envisions “harmonious coexistence of environmental preservation and economic growth.” 

Efforts to reduce carbon dioxide and promote the environment must of necessity focus on cities. According to the United Nations Population Fund, in 2008 more than half the world’s population, 3.3 billion, were living in cities. If the 20th century saw urban global populations rise from 220 million to 2.8 billion, the rate is now only increasing. By 2030, almost 5 billion people will be living in urban areas, with the largest growth rates in Africa and Asia. The UNPF estimates that in 2030, more than 80% of urban residents will be in the developing world.

If designed well, the city of the future promises to be most sustainable environment for the world’s population. It is exciting to see how Japan, with its 30+ years in energy efficiency and bold new ideas, is becoming a global leader in smart growth, technology and the environment.

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Umi no mori: What if a forest is created and no one knows?

Umi no mori, Sea Forest, wind passage, Tokyo

What if an urban forest is being built in Tokyo and no one knows?

In the past weeks, I have met with a Tokyo Metropolitan planner, the Mori Building press department, a foreign real estate developer, a University of Tokyo environmental scientist, a clean energy entrepreneur, and a visiting artist-in-residence working on urban farming. In the next days, I’ll also be meeting with a Tokyo architect and a senior Hitachi representative.

At this early stage in my project, one thing that has become clear is how little known some of Tokyo’s most innovative projects are among real estate professionals, cultural leaders and ordinary citizens. I have been surprised how few people in Tokyo know about Ando Tadao’s plan to create a forest in the sea, called Umi no mori, with half a million trees built over 88 hectares of landfill in the Tokyo bay.

Initiated in 2007 as part of the ten year plan to re-make the city in part to compete for the 2016 Olympics, this Sea Forest project aims to clean the city’s air, reduce the heat island effect, involve elementary school children, and provide cool breezes throughout the city in summer.

The land is built on top of 12.3 million tons of municipal waste buried from 1973 to 1987, topped with alternating layers of refuse and cover soil, originating at no cost from water purification plants, sewage sludge, city park and street tree compost.

Resoil for Umi no Mori, Sea Forest

There are also ambitious plans to involve elementary school children with growing seedlings and planting them in the new forest.

Umi no mori, Sea Forest, kids planting and growing seedlings

And here’s Tado Ando’s inspiring message about this project’s importance for Tokyo and the world’s connection with the environment:

Umi-no-Mori ( Sea Forest) will become a symbol of our recycling-oriented society through which Japan, a country that has a tradition of living hand-in-hand with nature, can make an appeal to the world about the importance of living in harmony with the environment. In view of the fact that landfills exist in all corners of the world, I perceive this island as a forest that belongs not just to Tokyo, but to the world, and through this project, wish to communicate the message of “living in harmony with nature.”

「海の森」は東京の森ではなく地球の森として、世界へ向けて、「自然とともに生きる」というメッセージを届けることができると考えています。かつて焼け野原になった街・東京は、先人たちの努力によって復興されました。今度は私たちの手で緑豊かな森をつくり、次世代の子供たちに美しい自然を愛でる心を伝えたいと考えています。未来の東京、日本そして地球のために、皆さん一人一人の「志」をどうか募金に託してください。

Perhaps the Tokyo government does not want to spend too much money on publicizing their activities, with the idea that it’s better to act than talk. However, this enormous public work project seems like a great opportunity to educate Tokyo residents and the world about the positive activities city governments are taking on behalf of people and the environment.

To read more about Umi no Mori:
http://www.uminomori.metro.tokyo.jp/index_e.html (English)
http://www.uminomori.metro.tokyo.jp/index.html (日本語)