ward

Winter cherry trees in Adachi-ku

農大の鈴木誠先生のおかげで、足立区の桜の木のバスツアーに参加させてもらいました。今年は東京がワシントンにあげた桜の百年記念です。今では、ポトマックという川の桜は有名な風景になりました。寒い日なのに、たくさんの人がツアーに参加しました。足立区はたくさんの種類の桜を育ています。冬に咲いているの木もあります。残念なことに、桜を植えた場所は高い電線や高架高速道路の下です。

Thanks to Professor Suzuki Makoto at Nodai, I went on a bus tour of Adachi ward’s cherry trees. They are celebrating the ward’s role in the 100th anniversary of Japan’s gift of cherry trees to Washington DC, where they are now a landmark landscape along the Potomac.

It was fun to see how many local people turned out for the tour and ward office symposium. Adachi-ku continues to cultivate many types of cherry trees, including this winter blooming one. Unfortunately, many of the open spaces for tree-planting are marginal spaces: below the high voltage power lines, and along the Arakawa River, where they are drowned out by multiple levels of elevated freeway.

Like most of Tokyo, it all depends in which direction you’re looking. Adachi-ku is proud also that it retains many views of Mount Fuji. Many of these views include the river and also smokestacks and factories.

Summer of green walls on mid-rise offices and retail buildings

節電のために、この夏は東京のどこでもグリーン・ウォール「垂直の庭」が作られています。混雑して、背が高い都市では、垂直の表面のほうが屋根より多いです。まず、杉並区役所とマンションのベランダでグリーン・カーテンが作られました。今、事務所や店の建物で、グリーン・ウォ―ルを作りはじめました。夏にグリーン・カーテンはヒートアイランド現象の緩和のために良くて、一年中、グーリン・ウォールは庭や農園や生息地を提供します。この写真を芝公園、新宿御苑前、大井町、大門で撮りました。

Spurred by the energy crisis post-Fukushima, there’s been a notable increase in the number of mid-rise office and retail buildings with green walls. In an over-built city, vertical surfaces are the largest potential area for gardening, farming, and habitat creation.

Tokyo has far more vertical surfaces than roof areas, and we are only at the very beginning of creating an urban forest.

I have been following this topic for a while, and have watched this idea spread from notable public spaces like Suginami’s ward office (world’s largest green curtain) to apartment balconies, flower shops, and now commercial and retail spaces. This wide distribution across Tokyo and across building types is very exciting to see.

Some questions I have include:

  • What types of plants can be grown vertically and for what functions: aesthetics, habitat, scent, seasonal change, food?
  • How can green walls enhance innovative architecture and place-making?
  • How can vertical and roof gardens connect buildings, neighbors, and wildlife?
  • What is the impact on heat island effect, global competitiveness, and quality of life?

The answers will come from experimentation and diffusion. The photos, from top to bottom, are four green walls I’ve recently seen:

1. Hasegawa Green Building in Shiba Koen

2. Office mid-rise in Shinjuku Gyoen-mae (2 photos). The company that created and maintains this green wall is called Ishikatsu Exterior (石勝イクステリア).

3. Oimachi retail building near station.

4. Daimon office building.

Edoble brings people together to eat free food growing in Tokyo

東京の「エドブル」は人を集めて、無料で料理を作ったり、食べたりします。
ハッサクという果物が食べられることを知っていますか? 区役所の公務員と一緒にハッサクを廃校になった中学校で収穫しました。先月、20人が集まって、ハッサクを切って、皮や種や膜を取って、マーマレードを作りました。もっとエドブルの料理パーティーに参加したい。

Through this blog, I was contacted by Edoble, whose tag line is “free food everywhere, in Tokyo.” Last month Edoble organized a hassaku marmelade party at a small shoutengai in Nakano, not far from where I live.

Edoble’s founder Jess Mantell is a Canadian designer, doctoral student, city explorer, and community organizer. As you can see from the poster above, she’s a great illustrator, too. At Keio University, she previously led a team that created an iPhone app that tracks movement across Tokyo with city sounds.

Edoble’s hassaku marmalade making event was great fun. Hassaku is a citrus tree that I often see growing in older gardens in Tokyo. The tree is very robust, and the fruits bright orange and large starting in winter. Seeing them makes me feel like there’s a bit of Florida or Southern California in Tokyo. But everyone had told me that the fruit is inedible. Jess’ idea was to bring people together to harvest and prepare hassaku.

It seems that if you pick the fruit at different times, the taste changes. Jess spotted mature hassaku trees in an abandoned city middle school near her house in south Nakano. She asked permission from the ward office to harvest the fruit in the spring, and several city workers unlocked the gate and joined her in collecting and sharing the fruit. That alone is pretty cool.

In June, Edoble hosted a marmalade party as a public event at a small space that is shared by the shoutengai association. On June 11, about twenty people very rapidly peeled the fruit, eliminated the membrane, put the seeds and membrane into a cheese cloth, and then boiled everything in four large pots. It was fun to see the amazing knife skills, particularly the older women and one young nursery school chef. We even got some help from some neighborhood kids.

The workshop was super-inspiring. It is great to realize how much food is growing in Tokyo, and that we can join with our neighbors in collecting and preparing super local food. Edoble’s accomplishment was in bringing together residents and local government, children and seniors, mostly Japanese and a few foreigners, mostly women and a few men.

Edoble reminds me that cities can grow a lot more of their own food, and that residents enjoy opportunities to work together and share food. Urban foraging is low cost and high return.

Why are there so few old trees in Tokyo?

どうして東京は木がないところが多いのでしょう?特に、都市キャノピーを作れる成熟した木がたくさんありません。新しい工事は、古いランドスケープを取り除いてしまいます。渋谷区は、どれだけ木があるかを確認して、住民に知らせて、木の価値について説明して、保護しようとしています。

Many parts of Tokyo seem perversely devoid of tree canopy. That’s why I was thrilled to see this very public sign on a chestnut tree (shiinoki or シイノキ) in Shibuya ward. The tree sits at the back of the Naganuma School for Japanese study, in an area where large office buildings and residences are still being constructed. In almost every urban construction site, the prior landscape is scraped.

I am not sure how much protection this sign offers the tree, but it’s good to know that the city is aware of the value of mature trees, and that passers-by will see the sign and wonder where the other trees went.

CNN on Tokyo’s green streets and vertical gardens

CNNのインタビューです。みんなが小さな緑をたくさん作って、東京生活を楽しくしています。路地と区役所のイノベーションについて話しました。@KyungLahCNN さん、 ありがとうございます。

CNN broadcast their interview with me about how neighborhood gardens make Tokyo life so enjoyable. Focus on small green streets & local government innovations. Thanks @KyungLahCNN

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Shinjuku Ward Office greening on sidewalk, facade and roof

A friend told me to check out this green “bus stop” between Kabukicho and Hanazono Shrine. This incredible vine providing shade for the sidewalk is no longer a bus stop, but is in front of Shinjuku’s ward office. As I’ve written before, the wards seem to be leading Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the national government in creating innovative green spaces on their properties.

What’s great about this sidewalk awning is that it requires minimal space and maintenance, yet impacts thousands of people coming to the ward office, or just passing by on this busy street. Two very kind city workers involved with green space took time out to talk with me about the sidewalk, facade, and roof greening.

The sidewalk awning is a combination of two hardy vines: nozenzakura (ノウゼンカズラ in Japanese or Campsis grandiflora in Latin) with orange flowers, which I have seen in my neighborhood blooming all summer.

The other vine is akebi (アケビ, also called Akebia in English), which flowers and fruits. Wikipedia says that it is frequently mentioned in Japanese literature and evokes images of pastoral landscapes; it’s also considered an invasive in New Zealand and parts of the United States. Here in the heart of Shinjuku, it’s a very attractive shade plant with the added bonus of having distinct seasons.

It was nice to see that parts of the facade have vertical plantings, although a simple full facade retrofit would modernize and make more attractive the 1960s building.

The city workers also showed off the roof garden, which has different areas including edibles, herbs, and water plants. It was sad that most of the usage seems to be a place for smokers to congregate. I wonder how they can make the space more attractive for non-smoking workers and neighbors.

It would be cool to see a complete redesign of the entire usable surface of the ward office to eliminate the dead space. Too much of the facade is monotonous concrete with minimal pattern, and too much of the plaza in front and along the side is hard surfaces. A redesign could capture the imagination of residents, retailers, and office owners.

Morning glory green curtain in front of 3331 Arts Chiyoda

3331 Arts Chiyoda is a cool art space recently created by the Chiyoda ward government. They converted an old junior high school into exhibition galleries, art studios, and creative industry offices. In addition to a beautiful remodel of the unused school building, the ward also refurbished a small park at the entrance.

Katsuhiko Hibino created this  created this beautiful morning glory green curtain rising on the front side of 3331 Arts Chiyoda. Called the Asatte Asago project, the morning glory seeds here had been taken to space by Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamasaki. The project involves community gardening and sharing across different regions of Japan.

Other green projects at 3331 Arts Chiyoda include Chaco Kato’s”Slow Wheat” project at the cafe, with wheat grass plants that will be used as a health drink. The art space is also offering small vegetable plots on the school’s rooftop. If you live nearby, check it out!

On August 21, 2010, Chris Berthelsen of Fixes and I will lead a bilingual interactive workshop on greening the city from 7 to 9 pm. More details will appear soon. The same day, Kato-san will be teaching a beginner’s compost class in the late afternoon.

Views of Mount Fuji

Views of Mount Fuji

In the fall, views of Mount Fuji reappear in Tokyo. Summer is too hazy to see long distances clearly. Even in fall, the times you see Mount Fuji are unexpected, surprising and sublime. The view above and below is from our apartment balcony at sunset.

Views of Mount Fuji

There was a recent newspaper article about a Nippori, Tokyo neighborhood association‘s effort to save their view of Mount Fuji from a hillside named Fujimizaka, “the slope for seeing Mount Fuji.” The Nippori Fujimizaka is the last of sixteen hills named Fujimizaka in central Tokyo where the view has not yet been fully blocked by high rise construction. The Arakawa ward, where Nippori is located, would like to protect the views, but the Bunkyo ward, where the construction is occurring, would like the tax revenue from new construction.

Fujimizaka view, partly blocked

Although unsuccessful in preventing a 14 story building from blocking one third of the view in 2000, the Society to Protect Nippori’s Fujimizaka is organizing to protect the remaining two thirds view. The Mount Fuji view from Nippori was included in Hiroshige Utagawa’s famous woodblock prints of urban Edo life. The preservation leader is an 83 year old man named Kaneko Makoto.

Hiroshige's view of Mount Fuji from Edo

Removal of green curtain in Suginami

Removal of green curtain in Suginami

Last week, on October 7, I took a friend by the Suginami Ward office to see their giant green curtain. Unfortunately, the workers were in the final stages of removing it: sweeping up, saving the net for next year, cleaning the planter boxes (which last winter they filled with pansies), collecting the information signs.

Removal of green curtain in Suginami

It seemed a little early, until the next day when I realized what chaos Typhoon #18 would have caused. Our balcony garden suffered some damage to our green curtain, which is a mere 2 meters by 4 meters. I can only imagine how the wind would pull on Suginami Ward office’s seven story green curtain, and deposit leaves and vines in all directions. I wonder if a typhoon had come in September, if they would have dismantled it beforehand.

Removal of green curtain in Suginami

It’s sad to realize that fall has most definitely replaced summer. I wonder if the vines will be composted? Suginami is one of Tokyo’s few wards with residential composting, so I hope so!

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.

Government

Innovative government projects include Tokyo’s Suginami ward office building. In 2008 the municipal government in 2008 planted the world’s tallest “green curtain” to reduce carbon dioxide, lower energy costs, and demonstrate new green technology.

Suginami assembly green curtain

The green curtain covers the south wall of the main city offices, with support from a net nearly 29 meters in height, and a wall of vegetation consisting of fast-growing vines such as loofah, cucumber, gourd and morning glory. The vines are growing in small containers, with a moisture sensor that makes watering very efficient. During summer and fall, the offices are cooler by 4 degrees celsius.

This Tokyo ward-level project is an amazing demonstration of vertical urban gardening, but unfortunately little information is available online in English about this project.

UPDATE: There’s a fantastic 2010 blog about a Suginami resident creating a small green curtain. Wonderful photos document the progress, lots of information about plant types, and participation of 4 year old child. Very cool!