walking

Sumida river sparkles at night. Is Tokyo best experienced by dark?

日中より、夜の東京のほうがきれいですね。国技館を出て、橋を渡るときに見える隅田川や神田川やスカイツリーはロマンチックな感じがあります。

Tokyo looks more magical at night. Walking across the Sumida River after seeing a sumo tournament, we admired the retro modern view of the bridges, elevated freeways, railway tracks, and inky black river. Even Sky Tree, the latest addition to this skyline, projects a futuristic image that is oddly familiar.

The green neon marks the Kanda river’s last bridge before joining the Sumida river. This river starts at Inokashira park in Kichijoji, west of where we live and winds for 26 kilometers before joining the Sumida and flowing into Tokyo Bay. A few years ago, I co-wrote an article about the Kanda river’s history and potential for new urbanism in Tokyo. You can download the 6 MB document in PDF form here.

At the bottom, you can see that there are still pleasure boats parked at the bottom of the Kanda for river dining and drinking. I’ve never been on these smaller boats.

Green corridor zig zags through residential neighborhood, with river and shrine

杉並区の善福寺川は長くて楽しい緑の回廊です。川がジグザグと流れています。このあたりで、夜、本当のタヌキを見ました。

Zenpukuji river is a lovely green corridor in Suginami: walking and biking paths, playing fields, and the large Omiya Hachiman shrine. I love biking by this windy river. Not far from here, I spotted a tanuki crossing the road that leads to a city onsen.

Mature dogwood beautifies old Showa-era building in Tamchi

雨の日の田町、ハナミズキが昭和の建物をもっときれいに見せています。隣の建物が今はコインパーキングになってしまいました。@Shibaura House の岩中さんと散歩して、来月のフィールドワークのワークショップの準備をしました。

On a wet day in Tamachi, this mature dogwood beautifies a Showa era building. The building next door has been replaced with coin parking. I took a long walk with Iwanaka-san of Shibaura House to prepare for next month’s “field work” workshop on green mapping.

Contrast between pre-Bubble and post-Bubble residences in Omotesando

なぜは庭なしの新しい自宅が人気なのでしょうか。表参道では、バブル前と80時代後の自宅の差が大きいです。

Walking in Omotesando, you can see the contrast between houses built before and after the 1980s. Unfortunately, most of the new houses occupy the entire lot, with no room for the sizable gardens in their pre-Bubble predecessors.

Landscape dead zone in posh Omotesando

なぜ表参道の交差点はこんなに醜いのですか? 表参道のケヤキ通りの近くなのに、一番大事な交差点に植物がありません。歩行者にもっとふさわしい環境を作れるはずです。

Why is this major intersection so ugly? Pedestrians deserve better.

Some people think that Omotesando is Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées. There is an incredible zelkovia tunnel and many posh global brands. However, at the main crossing, just above the Omotesando train station, the aggressively barren non-landscape is shocking. The small in-ground landscape triangle and the four above ground planters contain nothing but dry soil and some lonely weeds.

I wonder how long they will remain this way. In a city where most people commute by train and foot, the areas above stations should be amongst the greenest, with nature being used to make these frequently passed areas more pleasant and inviting.

Guest post: úti, a mobile game to discover nature

Frequently I hear from urban planners, professors, students, and green city people from around the world who want to share their projects or meet people in my network. I encourage them to create a guest blog post. Below is a French student project that turns urban or rural nature discovery into a video game. It sounds creative and fun! The makers will be at Tokyo’s Miraikan this week to talk about it. And, if you would like to share your project, please send in a guest blog post! [Editor]

Can nature be the playground of a video game? Interested in this idea, five students in digital design and production from Gobelins, l’école de l’image, Paris, worked for nine months on a common graduation project named úti (Icelandic for “outdoor”). By addressing the discovery of nature using a game, the team, composed of three graphic designers and two developers, wishes to approach a young audience.

The concept is simple: put in the shoes of a explorer, the player starts exploring the nature that surrounds him, be it a green space downtown, or a forest in the countryside.

The game is composed of a mobile application, which uses GPS to record the walking path and provide the player with contextual activities: discover nearby points of interest, identify tree species, take part in collaborative timelapse animations by taking photos…

Back home, the player can visualize the territory he explored and the species he identified, by connecting to his base camp on úti website.

úti will be showcased at the Digital Content Expo, in the Miraikan, from tomorrow to Sunday. You will be able to test the mobile application and meet the team at the “Futur en Seine” stand (1F).

They are looking for partners and investors, so if you are interested in supporting the project, please contact the team at contact@projet-uti.com

More info on the Digital Content Expo website: http://www.dcexpo.jp/en/programs/futurenseine/

Visit úti website for video demos: http://www.projet-uti.com

Wayward plants

 

Wayward plants

Wayward plants

A London art, plants and urbanist organization Waywardplants.org rescues unwanted plants– discarded, abandoned, rogue, stray or runaway”— and discovers new homes where they will be cared for. This horticultural intervention has created adoption forms, placed itself in the Barbican Art Gallery in London, and encompasses a full life range from “freecycle” sharing to composting “cemetaries.”

You can watch a Wayward Plant presentation made at Pecha Kucha London. As all their talks, it is 20 slides at 20 seconds, for a total less than 7 minutes. They will also be participating in the Graham Foundation‘s exhibit, “ACTIONS: What you can do with the city” that presents 99 actions “that instigate positive change in contemporary cities around the world” based on common activities such as walking, playing, recycling, and gardening. It’s in Chicago until March 13, 2010.

Waywardplants.org

 

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)

Green alleys go mainstream

Green alleys go mainstream

When USA Today focuses on green alleys, you can feel that this topic of recreating cities has reached a mainstream audience. A recent USA Today article focuses on Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle efforts to use alleys for environmental benefits and improved community life. Resurfacing alleys with porous surfaces reduces runoff, lowers the burden on municipal storm drains, and improves lake and ocean water quality. 

In addition to functional environmental benefits, green alleys turn underutilized spaces into living spaces, places for walking, biking and gathering. The article quotes Suzanne Simmons who worked with her neighbors to close their alley to car traffic and set up instead benches, grills and tables.