rebuild

Edge between new road and post-war past

新しい道と古い道が出会う場所。

New town and old cities meet at this intersection.

On Linus Yng’s @ArchitourTokyo Western Tokyo bike exploration, the second stop was a fascinating corner. A wide and modern road (4 lanes, sidewalks)- Inokashira Dori (井の頭道り)- from the skyscraper district of Nishi Shinjuku meets a major ring road (6 lanes, sidewalks)- Kan-nana Dori (環七道り). The modern road dead ends into a narrow one-way street full of old sheds that must have housed many small businesses and residences in the post-war era.

I was fascinated by Linus’ explanation of how planning created these large roadways, and paradoxically preserves old neighborhoods on the edge. Although many maps show the road continuing through this neighborhood, Izumi (和泉名店街), the money and priority must have become exhausted. What you see instead is a neighborhood preserved for decades because no one will invest in improving or replacing buildings that are in a right-of-way of a possible, future major road.

In addition to the lane that runs in the center of the planned new roadway, Linus also pointed out the 10 to 15 story buildings that extend to the edge of where the road might one day be. In much of Tokyo, new buildings along major roads are often granted heights up to 15 stories, whereas the buildings behind them remain low. Tsukamoto Yoshiharu of Atelier Bow-Wow calls this the “cream puff pastry” of Tokyo urban planning, and explains that one function of these modern buildings, built to new standards, along the major roads is to provide a firebreak in this disaster-prone city.

It is amazing that for the width of the proposed road, the neighborhood is a time capsule of a Japan that was rebuilding itself rapidly after the war. I’d like to go back and explore more about who is still living there, what businesses thrived in the post-war period, and what creative re-use may be happening with these provisional buildings that were never intended to last this long.

UPDATE: Linus shared his excellent photos of this intersection with me later.

Tokyo as example for how to rebuild Haiti

Urban planners Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava have a provocative essay in the New York Times about how post-war Tokyo can serve as an example of rebuilding Haiti. Researchers and activists who have worked in Tokyo and Dharavi, Mumbia, the authors evoke the strength of Port-au-Prince in its “urban landscapes (of) communities, street life, resourcefulness, aspirations and dynamic local exchanges.”

They urge a decentralized and highly participatory urban renewal with government investment in infrastructure and dense, low-level structures built by local efforts. I like their view that cities are about resourceful people and not large-scale developments. It is particularly timely to remember now how Tokyo rebuilt after the war (and the 1923 Kanto earthquake) and became a megacity that combines futuristic elements with a vibrant civic life.

You can learn more about their work at Urbz, “user-generated cities.” Below is an image from the Japan Society website of the 1923 Kanto earthquake in Tokyo.

Tokyo University hosts biodiversity symposium

Tokyo University is hosting a symposium next month on Biodversity and Sustainability. It promises “a multi-faceted exploration of how to assess and rebuild traditionally human nature relationships into modern sustainable social systems.”

Speakers include Tokyo University professors, government leaders, and international researchers. You can see the program online (in English and Japanese) and fill out a free online registration (Japanese only). The sponsor is IR3S, or the The Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science.

Japan Times: Tokyo’s urban design role

The Japan Times published my op-ed article “Tokyo’s urban design role.” My argument is that Tokyo’s past urban design failures paradoxically make it a model for rebuilding existing cities and designing hundreds of emerging cities. In the context of climate change and global warming, livable cities can create a new balance between people and  nature.

I talk about fireflies, Ginza rice and honeybees, modern bonsai, satoyama in the city, businesses and biodiversity, and how Japan can promote innovations in urban life, alongside achievements in popular culture and high technology.

Benefits of compact, car-free cities

Worldchanging

Tokyo Green Space examines the ecological and human benefit of reimagining cities with a focus on people and natural environments. I was interested to read a provocative article recently in Business Week entitles: “Cities: A Smart Alternative to Cars.”

The author Alex Steffen of Worldchanging argues that rebuilding cities into walkable places through in-fill and zoning changes might be more realistic and faster than the typical 16 year cycle to replace 90% of the United States automobile fleet. His definition of a new urban city is one in which daily driving is not a necessity and many people can live without private car ownership.

It is interesting that confronted with climate change, some hope that technological change will allow Americans to live as we have for the past thirty years with no change: zero emissions vehicles allowing for the same transportation patterns, and new building materials to permit the same massive housing structures. It’s analogous to finding a pharmaceutical cure for the effects of obesity without changing the foods we eat or the energy we exert.

The costs are staggering: transportation accounts for 25% of United States carbon, and 20% of that from personal transportation. There is also the environmental burden of manufacturing and disposal. I was surprised to learn that Americans spend more than 19% of household income on personal transportation, second only to housing.

Perhaps hardest for Americans to grasp is that denser, walkable cities can improve lifestyle compared to McMansions and suburbs. Well design buildings, smart infrastructure, and the community created through walking and biking could be a huge improvement to quality of life. Tokyo certainly exhibits many of the advantages of compact, transit-oriented cities where almost all daily activities are accessed by foot, transit and bike.

In addition to environmental and economic benefits, compact cities create more human interaction and community, improved public health from daily walking, and an opportunity to use public space currently devoted to vehicles for urban plants and wildlife.

(Note: I found this article on Allison Arieff twitter feed: http://twitter.com/aarieff)