opportunities

Public behavior: Tokyo’s advantage in building a livable city

Vandalism of Paris' Velib, bike sharing program

A recent New York Times story about vandalism of Paris’ visionary Velib bike-sharing program highlighted an enormous advantage that Tokyo has in creating great public spaces: the respect that citizens pay to shared space and to each other.

To mitigate climate change, reduce traffic and clean the city’s air, Paris created a remarkable bike sharing program, with over 20,000 bicycles available throughout Paris at a very low rental price. With 50,000 to 150,000 daily trips, this bike-sharing program created a real impact on how residents and tourists traversed the city. Since 2007, more than 80% of the sturdy bicycles have been stolen or vandalized beyond repair.

The New York Times quotes Parisian police and sociologists who blame the attacks on “resentful, angry or anarchic youth” in a “socially divide Paris.”  Specific blame is given to suburban youth, the mostly poor immigrants who live in the outskirts of the city and view the bicycles as a symbol of urban privilege that they lack.

Compared to the extreme inequality in many global cities, Tokyo remains surprisingly safe and clean. This allows for some amazing new public spaces, from the wonderous Ginza Farm open to everyone and unguarded– disturbed in five months only by a raccoon hungry for one of its ducks (more on this later)– to the many common gardens and plants placed outside homes and shops.

Most Tokyo residents are unaware that their relative social harmony is unique. With public behavior the norm, there are unparalleled opportunities to create even more exciting new public spaces that revitalize human life connected to plants and wildlife. Public spaces open at night, habitats that require clean running water, valuable plants that require time and care to mature, the care that individuals and organizations invest in place-making are all more likely to be respected and allowed to thrive in Tokyo.

Velib poster

Hitachi CFR Opportunities

More than three months into my Council on Foreign Relations Hitachi International Affairs Fellowship, I am astounded by the wide range of activities it has allowed me to participate.

In the past week alone, I met Japan’s most prominent scenario-planning business consultant, Nishimura Michinari of Greenfield Consulting, attended a Japan Initiative forum featuring new Diet members with a prominent design and communication leader, met the former Patagonia Japan president who is now promoting permaculture, heard a lecture about net-native nation from Amazon Japan’s director of public policy, met a Sophia University anthropology professor, was interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle‘s transportation reporter, attended the monthly Pecha Kucha design forum, and visited the Innovation Lab at Hakuhodo, one of Japan’s largest advertising agencies and one of the most beautiful offices I have ever visited.

I realize what a unique opportunity this fellowship is, and am very grateful to my sponsors and the open-minded Japanese who have been very patient with my Japanese and generous with their time.