On my way to the sento, I passed this old house on a busy corner, across from a “family restaurant” featuring its own parking lot. In addition to a large sidewalk garden, the home features a welcoming dog above the mail box. I think the dog looks good with the new year decoration hanging above him.
Below the overpasses, bicycle parking, the rear end of office buildings, signs for Slot Club and other shops, runs what remains of the Shibuya river. Rivers and ports traditionally animate cities, allowing for trade, transportation, and food. In Shibuya, it’s easy to think there is no river at all. What a wasted opportunity.
In the foreground, there’s an automated surface parking lot on a lot that may get developed. The tall white structure is an elevated parking lot that is semi-permanent, and it appears to have been erected on the property of a fairly large temple and graveyard. On either side, offices and apartment buildings frame a dense and changing city.
These tall trees in the background provide a burst of life in a bleak cityscape of apartments, vending machines, and surface parking lots.
Exiting the subway station in Odaiba, the way to the famed “beach” with city view includes walking past vast parking lots and then over this eight lane freeway.
What’s amazing about this view is that in addition to the enormous freeway, there are abandoned ramps on both sides, that are gradually being reclaimed by plants. Is land so value-less that this waste is considered appropriate?
There are still more empty than developed parcels on Odaiba, an urban development project with mixed results. The focus on freeways, parking lots, and chain restaurants and stores often makes it feel like a generic exurban landscape.
I hear that it is a popular place for dates. But I’ve been there only three times in as many years. Most recently I was there to get a ride to Umi no Mori for a volunteer tree planting day (more on that later). But a few extra hours gave me my first taste of Odaiba itself.
Once across the freeway and past the mall, there are some beautiful public spaces including an artificial beach. There are views of the port, the Tokyo skyline with the Rainbow Bridge, and some odd built decor that includes a mini Statue of Liberty on land.
I like how this small home is prepared for winter: the tree’s been hard pruned, the bushes rounded and shaped, and nothing out of place. The pruning looks severe, but it serves to bring more sunlight into the house for winter. I like the mix of western plants and Japanese traditional garden elements. And the hundreds of small pots lining the driveway. I have a feeling that they never park a car there.
A furin is a glass wind chime whose sound Japanese find cooling in summer; something about glass and metal striking. I was amazed to see this domestic symbol, along with a white chandelier (below), decorating two homes in this long row of wood and blue tarp cubes sheltering the homeless. (The furin is just to the right of the rolled up bamboo used to screen door).
I am struck by how incredibly orderly these living structures are, and how on a warm day when you gaze inside, the homes seem orderly and common place: tidy kitchens, matt floors, shelves and storage, on a scale just slightly smaller than what most Tokyo-ites live in.
This long alley of make-shift homes is just below Miyashita Park that paces the Yamanote line for a fe blocks. It’s just past Nonbei Yokocho and near the center of Shibuya. There was controversy over gentrification and corporate funding for city resources when the city accepted Nike sponsorship to renovate the park with design by Atelier Bow Wow. It seems the homeless merely migrated to the area just below the fenced-in skate park and fusball court.
Now it is a typically Tokyo close juxtaposition of semi-public and vacant space, design and non-design, and living, sports, drinking, and parking spaces.
This parking lot palm tree has so few leaves yet so many flowers. No wonder the shuro palm tree spreads so easily in Tokyo.
This image sums up my love of Tokyo green spaces. In the background is the iconic Docomo Tower in Shinjuku. In the foreground is a typical Tokyo sight: a lot where the old structure has been raised is now used for hourly parking. In the middle is an older residence whose wild garden is thriving through neglect and the absence of redevelopment. Tokyo is a dense place full of the iconic and prosaic, living nature and concrete structures, traces of the past and constant change.
My friends John and Ruth McCreery sent me these wonderful photos of their guerrilla garden in Yokohama. The McCreery’s adopted a neglected patch of land between the road and the parking lot of their large residential complex. I like how they captured the odd feeling at New Year’s in the Tokyo region when you see plants typical of all four seasons all thriving. Plants that I recognize include large leafed taro, red maple leaves, and blooming daffodils.
Maybe nothing is more typically winter in Japan than the presence of all the other seasons!
Update: Later I received an email from Ruth explaining how the taro plant arrive in the garden unexpectedly:
Rebar, an art and urban planning project in San Francisco, has just unveiled their first prototype of a street-side “walklet.” Rebar became famous for converting parking spots one day every year into inventive urban parks. The event grew, and drew more and more people around the world who changed the streetscape for one day. Now, Rebar is putting in semi-permanent “walklets” with benches, tables, bike parking, and planters on top of parking spaces. The project has been OK’d for six months, and can be continued if well received.
This is genius!
To quote from Rebar’s site:
Inspired by Rebar’s PARK(ing) Day and other efforts to convert parking spaces into people places, cities around the United States are transforming excess roadway into public plazas, pocket parks and experimental sites for new forms of urban infrastructure.
To help support this growing trend, Rebar has created “Walklet”—a modular, flexible sidewalk extension system designed to create new public spaces for people by extending the pedestrian realm into the parking lane.
The installation at 22nd and Bartlett in San Francisco is part of a pilot project supported by the City. The collection of benches, planters, bike parking, and tables, sheathed in stained bamboo and red wood, will be in place for six months, and if it’s well-received, could remain in place indefinitely.
The prototype has been arranged to suit the needs of that neighborhood’s site, but Walklet are incredibly adaptable. Each three-foot wide Walklet module provides a single, specific program that can be mixed and matched with other Walklet modules to create the right design combination for each unique site. Walklet extends the sidewalk surface into the street but provides much more than just a place to walk—it creates an adjustable, flexible, full-scale laboratory for developing and refining the perfect combination of user programs.
Like Flora Grubb Gardens, I, too, wonder what will they plant?!
Update: Here are photos of the planting.
This adorable porcelain doll with red skirt and shoes and a yellow hair bow is collecting money for the orphans of car accidents. It was a rare, if not my first experience using a central Tokyo car parking lot. I am surprised to see this direct message about the dangers of driving at the lot entrance. It’s nice enough to be driven within Tokyo by car or taxi; however they are often a lot slower than the trains and subway.
The Sugiyama Koen near Shin Nakano station has just been renovated, with a shiny new playground and some new landscaping. I am glad they kept the old school clock.
They also put in underground bicycle parking. It’s cool but a bit daunting that the system has no staff. What if your bike doesn’t come out? I need to learn to read the instructions before I dare put my bike in there!
It is interesting how Tokyo provides no accommodation on streets for bicycles: no bike lanes and few bike-only paths. Bicyclists range from the elderly to young mothers with children to hipsters on fixed gear bikes, and they generally compete with pedestrians on the sidewalk. A few brave ones take the road. Still, there is a huge bicycle parking infrastructure, which shows perhaps that the government is mostly concerned about storage, especially near the stations which are critical transit and shopping nodes.