Olympics

Tokyu Hospital covered in vines and plants

The Tokyu Hospital building in Ookayama is truly stunning. I blogged about it last fall, when I noticed that the Tokyu rail/construction/retail conglomerate was advertising “we do eco” in the Tokyo Metro. Seeing the hospital in person exceeded my expectations: a huge building on top of a rail station and enveloped in plant life that will only become more attractive over time as the plants mature.

In addition to the two large facades with vines climbing the height of the building on tension wires, another side has deep balconies that are lushly planted. The landscape is meant to promote healing for the patients who can see and access the balconies from their rooms. I imagine it is also calming for visitors and workers, plus it makes an amazing contribution to the neighborhood and all the people using the rail station.

I would love to see the landscape from the inside of the hospital, and to learn more about the plant selection of this fantastic vertical garden.

Between reading about this project and seeing it recently, I was also very fortunate to meet Tokyu Hospital’s landscape designer, Hiraga Tatsuya (平賀 達也). After working at Japan’s largest architecture firm Nikken Sekkei, designers of Tokyo’s new Sky Tree, Hiraga-san now runs his own successful landscape architecture firm called Landscape Plus.

Alongside institutional and private projects, Hiraga-san contributed to Ando Tadao’s master plan calling for a new Sea Forest in Tokyo Bay (Umi no Mori or 海の森) linked to a network of old and new green spaces that would improve wind circulation throughout Tokyo. This was part of Tokyo’s failed bid for the 2016 Olympics.

Speaking with Hiraga-san, I was very impressed by his vision that an individual site design’s performance and aesthetics are improved when it responds to its context. Hiraga-san also told me about his love for Tokyo’s hills and soil.

It seems very courageous that he has created his own practice despite the poor economy for architects in general, and also Japan’s still limited understanding of the value of landscape architecture. I wish him great success, since I am certain that Tokyo as a city will continue to benefit from his projects.

New year decorations

Above is a kadomatsu, or new year’s decoration that rests on the ground. These large ones are usually in front of businesses. This one is in front of one of my favorite Tokyo haunts: the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium constructed for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and open to the public now in central Tokyo.

The materials are bamboo, pine, straw and red berries. I love the decorative rope flower and the splayed straw at the base. Below is the shimekazari hanging outside of our apartment door. Notice the folded paper and rice stalk. After the holiday, these plant-based new year’s symbols are  burned at shrines. So different than the un-ceremonial sidewalk dumping of US Christmas trees.

Happy new year! Best wishes for a bright new decade.

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?

Olympic countdown

Olympic countdown

Yesterday in Roppongi’s Midtown, this well-dressed lady was promoting the countdown to the decision on the 2016 Olympic Games location. Tokyo is competing against Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Chicago. The lady’s digital sign, uniform, floral arrangement, and presence did not attract much attention in the busy shopping mall, and provided the uneasy spectacle of corporate boosterism without much popular interest.

The big decision day is October 2, 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Given the ecological theme to Tokyo’s Olympic bid, what will happen to green city initiatives if another city is chosen? How can Tokyo and the Olympic promoters gain more interest from local residents? Is Olympic pride more or less difficult to instill in this megalopolis than passion for urban ecology?

Vancouver’s Olympic vegetable gardens

Vancouver Olympics 2010 mascots

In 2006, the Vancouver City Council created a challenge to add 2,010 vegetable gardens before the 2010 Winter Olympics. As of the end of June, they had reached 1,800 new food-producing gardens, only 210 gardens from their end of year goal. Working with the Vancouver Food Policy Council, the city government urges new gardens to be created on roofs, balcony, in the ground, a backyard sharing program, and a “grow a row, share a row” program that contributes to local food banks. They are currently working on a backyard hen policy.

The Sharing Backyards program is ingeniously simple: it connects people who want to grow food with people who have land and want someone’s help with gardening. “Yard sharing” makes use of wasted space, creates connections between city residents, and increases local food production. Here’s a screen shot of the interface that allows gardeners and people with garden space to connect.

Vancouver backyard sharing

Vancouver’s City Farmer says that 44% of Vancouver’s residents are involved in some form of urban agriculture. This program seems simple and low-cost. Why aren’t more global cities promoting urban agriclture?

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.

Support the Tokyo 2016 Olympic Games! Tokyo 2016 Bid Committee