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.
On the first anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, I spent the afternoon at a memorial in Hibiya Park, and then joined tens of thousands forming a human chain around Japan’s national assembly, the Diet. I snapped a lot of photos, along with @sub_fauna, who took some great photos.
It was great to see so many people coming together to ask for fundamental change to energy and politics. Striking were the number of seniors, the odd costumes including several Pokemon, the mix of the mournful and colorful. A few Japanese friends asked me what a “human chain” was, as if it were a complicated imported notion. It was very touching to see people holding hands around the center of government.
I was also impressed with how organized the entire demonstration and policing were. The long cross-walk in front of the Diet was occupied only while the light was red. The police remained very calm, and their main tools were rolls of neon police tape, megaphones, and fabric traffic barriers with rings for lines of police to easily hold.
I bike down this road so often, and suddenly I am surprised to see Mount Fuji at the very end. How come I am seeing it here for the first time? Maybe it’s the red of the sky against the traffic and brake lights.
Itsukaichi Kaido is one of the main Edo roads connecting Tokyo with western Japan. Near the city, it connects Koenji with Kichijoji while veering across and away from the Chuo train line. It also crosses the Zenpukuji river, which is a lovely greenway far from the train stations and mostly enjoyed by the neighbors.
Few buildings in Tokyo are as iconic as Tokyo Tower. In a mega-city that sprawls as far as Japan’s second largest city, Yokohama, Tokyo lacks a single center, a recognizable river, or a conventional view of its skyscrapers, unlike NYC’s Hudson River or Central Park views.
I like how the top photo’s framing of Tokyo Tower mixes auto traffic with mature trees and a shrine entrance gate in a nostalgic ode to the 1950s. The lower photo shows its reflection at night in an office mid-rise.
What a clever idea! This simple metal structure places four flowerpots on a traffic cone. It’s very space efficient because all four are in a single line, with a slight variation in height.
The Japan Times published an interesting story about the lack of benches on Tokyo’s streets. From the official government and planning perspective, streets are for moving traffic and pedestrians. The idea of city streets as a community space is not a factor.
I am always struck by how retrograde city planning is in Tokyo. As an architect professor friend told me, Tokyo’s many narrow, single-grade small streets-which are now considered the “new” thing in the US and Europe for promoting walking and biking-are undoubtedly considered shameful relics by the city’s traffic planners, whose mission is to move auto traffic as rapidly as possible.
The most innovative ideas for using streets as community life seem to come from residents (see my previous posts about residents supplying their own bus stop seating), and from real estate corporations that own enough Tokyo land to motivate them to create unique and livable streets. I thought of the latter last week seeing the many public benches in the Marunouchi district’s wide, tree-lined streets. The district is largely owned by Mitsubishi Real Estate.
Tokyo Green Space focuses largely on how green space and plants make the city livable. Recent walks through Shibuya, Meguro, and Sasazuka made me realize anew the tremendous obstacles created by elevated freeways that cut through Tokyo.
Above is the Shuto 4 expressway in Sasazuka, known as Koshu Kaido (甲州街道). There is a high speed expressway on top of an eight lane surface road. Crossing this mass of asphalt, traffic and emissions requires climbing a pedestrian overpass that goes between the levels.
Below is the 246 expressway going west from Shibuya into Meguro. If I am not mistaken, there is an elevated freeway, a surface road, and a below grade highway as well.
These massive structures are the opposite of the small lanes that make Tokyo feel so village-like and livable. There is some potential to “add” greenery to these structures. But I wonder why there isn’t more discussion in Tokyo, as there is in other world cities, about the potential for reclaiming these structures for non-automobile uses, through demolition or reuse as sky parks.
I am struck by how poorly maintained and under-used many of the residential neighborhood parks are. This one, close to where I live, is large, has many mature trees facing the street, and has almost no usage. To call it uninviting and unloved would be an understatement.
The street side is almost promising. There is a long row of mature trees and a community bulletin board. Next to the bulletin board, and also on the far end of the park, are designated areas to leave your trash. Unfortunately, there is no receptacle for the bagged garbage, so crows and cats pick through the bags and the contents start to disperse.
The entrance to the park reveals vast areas of gravel, unplanted beds, and few amenities or attractions. The size of the park only underscores the waste of so much public space going unused. Given how avidly neighbors tend to their tiny gardens and occupy small strips of public space, why are local governments unable to harness this human resource for beautifying and maintaining public space?
I can imagine many other uses for the park: community vegetable gardens, flower contests, rice field, bee hives, food stand, children’s play area, public art-making space. Given limits to local government budgets, maybe there would be a way to attract corporate sponsors and neighborhood volunteers. If more people were attracted to enter the park, I am sure it would be cleaner and more inviting.
After the jump is a photo inventory of the current park assets, mostly aging structures with a surprising amount of trash. During my visit I noticed a small garden crew and two people on a bench.
Over this past weekend, the Tokyo Green Space blog surpassed 10,000 page views. Begun in August of 2008, blog traffic has been exponential in the past months, with this current month reaching 3,500 views.
It is a great pleasure that the blog’s themes– the remarkable green spaces of Tokyo and the value of urban ecology– have resonated so widely. The international audience includes ordinary gardeners, researchers, professors, students, urban planners, landscape designers, environmentalists, government and corporate leaders.
I welcome all comments in all languages, including Japanese. ありがとうございます。
Above is a photo of a Nakano sidewalk on a busy boulevard. Between pedestrians and the street is an organized planted green strip with railing, ginko trees and azalea bushes. In May, seemingly out of nowhere, giant pink hollyhocks have appeared. What is amazing is that they extend over 1 kilometer on the sunny north side of the boulevard. Someone must have planted a few, which then went viral.
Below is a sidewalk and street in Odaiba, with corporate planting on the left and public planting on the right. Despite the greater green quotient, this Odaiba sidewalk is generally lacking in street traffic, pedestrian traffic and any un-planned greenery. There is something dead and sad about these streets, where large convention centers, a few offices and shopping malls are interspersed with empty lots.