residents

My interview about a new waterfront high-rise is now online and in many free real estate magazines distributed around Tokyo’s stations

braiterman_ad_mitsuifudosan_recruit_suumo

最近、芝浦についての私のインタビューが出ました。この三井不動産のプロジェクトは、住宅と同時に公共の公園も作り、新い住人と今住んでいる住人とのコミュニティーを作ろうとしています。画期的な計画だと思います。緑と水は人をつなげられます。

In August, I began working with Mitsui Real Estate, Recruit, and a small NGO to introduce a new luxury high-rise residential tower in Shibaura, a less known waterfront area between Shinagawa and Hamamatsucho. It’s near where the base of Rainbow Bridge is located.

In this online interview (in Japanese) and in real estate brochures distributed around Tokyo, I relate my experience working in the neighborhood at Shibaura House, where I led gardening and fieldwork workshops for locals and international visitors, adults and small children.

The new tower, which is just now breaking ground, contributes to the restoration of Edo-era canals by creating a public waterfront park. This park contributes to the developer’s goal of creating a resilient community that includes new and existing residents. Providing greater access to the waterfront also restores a vital part of Tokyo’s history that was neglected in the 20th century.

What makes a home desirable? Who wants to Grow Best Life Stage?

grobel_sendagayaJR_housing_billboard

最近、不動産関係のコンサルティングをさせていただいているので、都市開発の魅力について考えています。東京の高級住宅はよくカタカナ英語を使います。けれども、日本のお客さまへのものなので、和製英語が多いですね。

Recently I am consulting for one of Japan’s largest real estate companies seeking to attract residents to a waterfront area that many might not have considered before. What makes an apartment or a neighborhood desirable? What architectural and landscape choices are most important? What are the trends today and in the future that drive consumer choice?

As an English speaker in Tokyo, I am also always drawn to the selective English language marketing, often an odd English name for the property. This building advertised in the Sendagaya JR station has a name that has a certain logic, but which also completely fails as an English language name.

Yes, Gro-bel is a shortened form of “Grow Best Life Stage.” It’s also the Japanese pronunciation of the word “global.” What was meant as optimistic, modern and international, instead comes off as bizarre, stilted, and heavy handed. In this context, using English is more decorative than functional or expressive.

Suginami ward’s giant green curtain shows positive activity by local government

今年の杉並区役所のグリーンカーテンはすてきです。

When people ask me about positive government action for urban nature, I always point to the Suginami ward’s giant green curtain. This massive screen of vines rises each summer on their eight story ward office next to the Minami Asagaya station on the Marunouchi subway line. It has inspired local residents to create their own balcony green curtains, inserted a huge green space that occupies very little square footage on the ground, and demonstrated that their old office building can be energy saving, attractive, and full of life.

Bus stop chairs are gifted, unmatched, and spontaneous

この歩道と道にあまり植物がありません。けれどもこの停留所の席はとても東京っぽくて、東京グリーンスペースと関連しています。政府はインフラを作ってくれませんから、住民は独自に家の物をリサイクルして、再利用しています。そんな住民のおかげで、公共スペースを分かち合えて、楽しいです。
こんな結果をどのデザイナーも作れません。色も布地も形もみんな違います。この解決法はとてもきれいで適切とはいえませんが、優しい気持ちが伝わります。

この停留所は東京グリーンスペースの比喩です。昔、公共スペースは計画されたことがありません。今は都市の指導者と官僚が車中心社会とメガ開発を支えすぎます。3.11の前、政府が悪くても、東京はいい都市だと思いました。3.11の後、無能な指導者は危ないと思います。

年末が近づくにしたがって、もっと生きている都市をどう作れるかと考えています。

This sidewalk and street have nearly no visible plants. Yet anonymously gifted bus stop chairs are very Tokyo and very much in the spirit of Tokyo green space. Reacting to a lack of infrastructure– no shelter and no seating– neighbors simply recycle and re-use stuff from their homes and share it with neighbors in a public space.

Few designers could have coordinated this unlikely mix of colors, fabrics, and shapes. Its aesthetic arises from its spontaneous appearances. Is this the most beautiful, practical, or ideal solution to the lack of infrastructure? Probably not, although it reflects generosity and concern for others in shared spaces.

I have been writing about Tokyo green space for a while, ever since moving here three years ago. Tokyo is surprisingly green and livable despite the complete absence of planning for public open space, from its rise as Japan’s Edo capitol in the 1600s through the 20th century’s natural and man-made calamities that twice obliterated the city.

Tokyo has such forward-looking urban features like walkable small streets dominated by pedestrians and bicyclists. But these vital paths exist not because of  contemporary Tokyo’s good planning, but because the bureaucracy still in the thrall of automobile infrastructure and mega-developments hasn’t had the chance to alter them.

Documenting Tokyo green space has been a way for me to understand the life of this city. The grass-roots reclaiming of public space certainly increases the city’s appeal. But, post 3.11, I also now wonder if the residents haven’t demanded enough of the city leaders. We now know more clearly the dangers of leaving vital decisions to reckless and outdated politicians and bureaucrats.

As this difficult year ends, I wonder what all of us can do to create a more alive city.

A mobile app for city residents to monitor and promote urban wildlife

Takahashi Yusuke, a database expert with a Keio PhD, and I created a poster for the URBIO conference last month introducing a mobile app for city residents to monitor and promote urban wildlife.

In brief, our mobile app entitled UBITS (Urban Biodiversity Identification and Tracking System) allows school children, bird watchers, gardeners, hobbyists, and amateur naturalists use their mobile phones to capture images, sounds and locations of birds, butterflies, bees, insects, trees, and other plant life; query multiple databases to identify wildlife and plant species; participate in collaborative mapping of urban species by location, frequency and time of year; and increase habitat for urban biodiversity.

The project is at concept stage, and it would be great to find a start-up, corporation or university that can fund a working prototype and launch this application for iPhone or Android. Participatory science that promotes increased habitat provides an excellent branding opportunity, educational tool, and new way to bring nature to the city.

Dead space by design, II

Dead space by design

This five or ten year old residential mid-rise residential building is surrounded on two sides by hardscaped alleys that provide fire access. This design intentionally creates dead space since the developers chose not to allow pedestrian traffic. Nor did they create any amenity that would attract residents. Perhaps it keeps the apartments quieter, but this space is effectively dead for the public and even the residents.

This is a larger scale version of my previous post about dead space featuring fenced-in concrete triangles created to prevent bike parking near a Metro entrance and on a walking path, and excess pavement between houses.