pavement

Only recent human history: American, Japanese, American, Japanese ownership of Ogasawara

cave_chichijima

小笠原の人間の歴史は二百年くらいしかありません。第二次世界大戦のトンネルもアメリカの教会まだあります。

What’s surprising about Ogasawara is that there are no indigenous people. First settled in the mid 1800s by Americans who departed from Hawaii, the Japanese seized it during their colonial expansion, retaken by the United States after World War II, and then returned to Japan in the 1970s.

There are numerous reminders of the war. Inside the many hills you still see dank tunnels created for the island’s defense. Apparently there was no land war here, unlike (somewhat nearby) Iwo Jima. There’s also this incredibly forlorn-looking, Saint George church in the main port village. I love how the entry walkway does not meet the current sidewalk.

It’s odd to be in a place with such little human history. The English name for the islands, Bonin, is a mispronunciation of the Japanese words “no people” (bu nin, or mu nin).

american_church_shu_chichijima

Cherry petals become dark red mush as leaves fill out. Magnificent long path of cherries.

十日後、花吹雪のピンクの花びらは濃い赤色になりました。花びらと茎が分解していて、若葉がまだらの光を作っています。

In just ten days, this lane of cherries in Tatsumi has gone from pink to a dark red, with petals and stems decomposing on the pavement. I like how the leaves are growing fast, and providing shade as the weather warms up.

Spectacular maple tree grows in street with no visible soil

昨日の階段の紅葉の写真は、このモミジから来ました。土がほとんどないのに、きれいになりました。本当に東京は植物に良い場所です。なんでも育ちます。

This is the maple tree that shed the leaves on yesterday’s photo of the tiled steps. I am amazed that this tree survives despite the fact that the roots and the pavement join with no gap. Where does it find water, or nourishment? Tokyo really is a great place for growing, and its resilient plants show how much is possible.

Squeezing mini-creek into San Francisco sidewalk

I am amazed by this illustration of how to squeeze a mini-creek into a San Francisco sidewalk (from the wonderful Streetsblog). Faced with an aging sewage infrastructure at risk of failure, San Francisco’s water utility is experimenting with bold, low-impact designs, including green roofs, daylighted creeks, rain barrels, and permeable pavement.

The obstacles to this change are enormous. For decades, urban water management has meant removing green space and channeling water into treatment plants. But if successful, mini-creeks and urban watersheds can significantly reduce sewage discharge to the city’s bay and rivers, with estimates ranging from 28% reduction to 91% reduction in water pollution.

In addition to the functional benefits of reduced pollution, mini-creeks will add beauty to what are now life-less streets, and attract wildlife and nature. Restoring creeks will provide a greater connection to the natural environment and urban history.

Small lane in Nakano Fujimichou

I love this tiny lane in Nakano Fujimichou that extends two blocks between a larger building and a series of small residences. The proportion of pavement seems just right: soil, pavement, soil in almost equal thirds. The lane serves as access to residences, bicycle storage, laundry drying, garden, and public passageway.

I wonder if the land is officially part of the ward or the residences. In any case, I imagine that it is the residents who maintain it and set informal rules about usage. The charm of this type of small semi-public semi-private space seems impossible to create by government planners or real estate developers.

Zoushigaya walk: winter citrus trees (part 2)

On our walk through Zoushigaya, we came across this mature yuzu tree, growing in the small space between the street and a residence. Yuzu is a special, perhaps only in Japan citrus fruit.

It’s also another example of how a tree planted in a styrofoam container managed to send roots through the disintegrating styrofoam, down a sidewalk crack, and into the earth below. It is amazing what a great climate Tokyo provides for plants to go renegade.

We also saw this gorgeous orange tree full of fruit. The oranges, the old house, and the hill above make you feel that you are far from the big city.

Tree breaks out of pot and into soil

This is a close-up of a small tree that has survived the disintegration of its styrofoam planter box and rooted itself into the ground. It is amazing that it was able to force its way through the pavement and reach the soil.

This potted tree breaking the pavement to root itself in the ground is almost the opposite of the cana flower spreading under and breaking the road to reach the air above. I find these images hopeful signs that no matter how much we pave over nature or confine it to a pot, plants are resilient, resourceful and able to confound our built environment.

By rooting itself in the ground below the street, the tree is able to draw more nourishment and grow larger. I wish that governments and residents would begin to de-pave Tokyo, and it’s great to see that domestic plants are not waiting for us to act.

Flower breaking through the pavement

Much of Tokyo is covered in concrete and pavement. In the photo above, a low traffic small street has impermeable pavement. There is a wide, unnecessary brick sidewalk in the foreground built to accompany a recent apartment building. Two private residences also have concrete car-parks and cement surrounds. If you look very closely, to the left of the red traffic cone, a canna flower is breaking through the concrete and blooming.

Up close, the flower is brilliant on a sunny November day. Even more remarkable is that the plant has somehow managed to break through the pavement. How did it get there? How does it survive the city’s relentless drive to bury every grain of soil? Do the neighbors appreciate this floral beauty and the power of nature over the built environment?

After the jump, a closer view of the plant in its context.

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Residential rice harvest

Neighbor harvests rice

One of my neighbors tends an interesting garden on the edge of a small street leading to the JR station. I previously blogged about her spring peonies and her use of recycled containers for growing rice. On October 13, I stopped in front of the rice plants and was surprised how dry the soil was. Within minutes, my neighbor came out and told me that she was going to harvest the rice. It did not take long.

Residential rice harvest on pavement

Next time I see her, I have to ask her how it tasted.

Praying mantis on Tokyo Metro platform

Praying mantis on Tokyo Metro platform

On a Tokyo Metro platform, I saw some small children and their mothers gathering around and pointing. On the harsh pavement of the train platform was a praying mantis. The children began screaming and running. I don’t think I had ever seen a praying mantis so far removed from plant life.

Neighbor’s Fig and Grapes

Neighbor's figs

A neighbor’s garden, which I blogged about twice before, has almost ripe fall fruit. This garden consists of no more than eight potted plants and some hanging baskets, occupying a small footprint and extending two stories up to the front entrance.

Above are figs, and below grapes. The fig tree seems to have busted its way out of the plastic pot and somehow found the soil below the street’s pavement.

Neighbor's grapes

Worms and soil

Worms and soil

Recently I heard Robert Blakemore talk about earthworm biodiversity, ecology and taxonomy. Blakemore, a fellow at the Soil Ecology Research Group at Yokohama National University, reveals that less is known about soil than the oceans and even outer space. Soil is the foundation of our food and human life, even though in the mega-cities it is easy to forget that it is buried under the pavement.

Blakemore explains that worms enrich the soil and double crop output. As such, they play a role in ecology perhaps similar to bees: essential for food production yet often invisible and in decline.

The permaculture movement promotes worms for urban farming. Vermicomposting uses worms to break down food waste and turn it into fertilizer. Red wigglers, or Eisenia fetida, are recommended for worm boxes because they eat their body weight in food every day and produce exceptionally nutritious castings.

In Tokyo, city-run composting depends upon each individual ward government. I wonder if many individuals or groups are using worm composting. And what about the state of earthworms in Tokyo parks and soil? Here’s a how-to for building your own worm box.

Dead space by design

Dead space, Shin Nakano, Tokyo Metro

Tokyo Green Space celebrates the ingenuity of people who create greenery in a city that is often poorly planned, dominated by concrete, and overly paved. However, it is worth pointing out the prevalence of dead spaces by design, often created by local governments and even Tokyo Metro.

Above is a nearly brand new elevator providing access to the Shin Nakano Marunouchi station of Tokyo Metro. The elevator occupies an odd shaped and small space between a road and parking lot, and between a pachinko parlor, a large apartment building and a busy street. Next to the rectilinear elevator and covered entrance is a sizeable triangular area bordered by a brown colored metal fence.

Clearly, the Metro does not want people to park their bikes in this small area, and is probably pleased that they have accomplished this goal. However, the fence has made this centrally located land a dead zone. So many other uses could be made with that space: a tree or two, a bench, a vegetable garden, a food cart, newspaper stand, a bulletin board for community events. Given the amount of local gardeners, I am certain that the Metro would not need to maintain the space with their own staff.

Dead space in Nakano

A similar dead triangle zone was created between a pedestrian path and a small street. Again, the design goal is to prevent vehicles from entering the pedestrian path (in the foreground with white tiles on the ground). Here, too, the brown metal fence creates a triangle of deadness, where the yellow and green poles would have seemed adequate for the job.

If the brown metal fence was not there, the space could also be used for much needed shade, a fruit tree, a community garden, or a bench. The creation of these dead spaces by government authorities suggests a lack of imagination and awareness.

Nakano Honcho dead space

Finally, this space between houses and apartments is filled with concrete, and apparently unused. It is unclear whether the space is public street, individually owned or somehow shared space between neighbors. In any case, it is a wasted opportunity for greenery and community.

Tsukishima: green alleys & new construction

Tsukishima: green alleys

Walking in Tsukishima is an interesting contrast between old and new, green alleys and wide boulevards, wood houses and new construction.

Some of the alleys are remarkably well planted. The alley in the photo above seems to benefit from trees whose roots forced themselves out of their pots and through the pavement. Tsukishima and Tsukudajima survived the earthquake and the war, but the pace of modern development has outpaced preservation.

Tsukishima: old houses & new construction

More photos after the jump.

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SF Sidewalk planting

SF Sidewalks, Dwell magazine article

Dwell magazine has a great article about San Franciscans’ digging up their sidewalks and planting gardens. Much of the credit is due to Jane Martin and her organization Plant*SF, which has helped neighbors and corporations turn concrete into habitat for plants, wildlife and community.

Martin estimates that 15,000 square feet of pavement have been replaced by public sidewalk gardens that absorb rainwater and require no irrigation. I like how Martin describes her test for native plants: “I’m an Iowa girl, so I learned about natives by planting stuff and leaving town. Whatever was alive when I returned passed the test.”

Compared to San Francisco, Tokyo’s climate, with almost year-round rain, offers an even greater potential for plant life in public spaces with minimal care. With so many avid gardeners growing such a variety of plants in small pots, I can only imagine how much more impact they would have if they received government or nonprofit help to dig up the concrete and plant directly in the earth.