waste

Like a brief tropical holiday at very low cost

寒いときには、温室に来るのが熱帯林への安い休暇みたいです。夢の島熱帯植物館を訪れました。戦後、たくさんのごみで作られた島です。外でパパイアの並木を見ました。この果物を東京で育てることができますか。

The same week I participated in the Umi no Mori tree planting, I had the opportunity to re-visit Yume no Shima, Tokyo’s most famous artificial island made of waste. This urban development started in the 1950s. Now it’s a vast area with a sports club, botanic garden, playing fields, semi-wild palm landscape, a marina, and a still functioning incinerator. It’s showing its age with deferred maintenance and sparse usage.

I love how it’s named “Dream Island.” This time I visited the botanic garden. On the outside is a row of papaya trees, which I thought too tropical to grow outdoors in Tokyo. There’s also a row of ceramic frog planters leading to the front door. A green house is a great place to go on a cold day, like a brief tropical holiday at very low cost.

Planting trees at Umi no Mori

先月友だちと海の森でボランティア植林に参加しました。二時間以内で、二十人が五百の木を植えました。この新しい都市の森はすばらしいと思います。五十万木はごみの上で育ちます。たくさんの都民はこの大掛かりなプロジェクトをまだ知りませんでした。

Last month some friends and I participated in a volunteer tree-planting at Umi no Mori, a forest being created on a landfill island on the bay. I’ve written before how few Tokyo residents know about this ambitious project promoted during Tokyo’s failed second Olympic bid in 2007. Umi no Mori is meant to carry cool ocean breezes into Tokyo’s crowded urban core.

The tree planting was fun. We were in a group of twenty or so volunteers planting 500 trees in a 25 square meter section. There were about 25 varieties of trees, and we planted them very close together. I learned from one of the volunteer leaders that this dense planting encourages the trees to compete and grow faster than normal. One of the volunteers explained to me that this is part of Miyawaki Akira’s method for restoring forests on post-industrial greenfields.

Creating new waterfront parks and planting 500,000 trees is certainly a great thing for Tokyo. Still, I wonder if this project were less top-down and more open to the citizens what greater impacts this project could have:

1. By encouraging more people to participate in the creation of the park, it would be a great chance to explain to Tokyo citizens about native trees and habitats. It would be awesome to link planting new trees in the Tokyo Bay with also adding greenery in every Tokyo neighborhood, with active participation by city residents.

2. By opening even a small section now, more people can begin to experience the park and perhaps learn more about urban garbage. What precisely is being put into this landfill? How do the layers of garbage reflect our contemporary lifestyles? What can be done to reduce the amount of garbage that must be buried?

I think this park will eventually be fantastic. However, it’s a missed opportunity not to make its creation more participatory, more transparent, more public, more connected to the rest of the city, more educational, and a catalyst for public and collective rethinking of the urban environment and waste production.

Ambassador Cedeno of Costa Rica and his wife Tauli, and Edoble’s Jess Mantell and her friend Miho participated with me.

A visitor’s view of “pure living” in Tokyo

PSFK and Pure Living in Tokyo

An interesting blog post about Tokyo’s environmental paradoxes by Piers Fawkes of PSFK, organizer of the Pure Living Tokyo idea salon last month sponsored by Nissan. In a very brief visit to Tokyo, Piers captures in words and photos some of the achievements in energy efficiency and resource maximization, while also lamenting wasteful consumerism and the desire to appear modern.

Zero waste

Zero waste vs landfill

Interesting New York Times article about how zero waste is moving from fringe to mainstream, including Yellowstone National Park (plant-based cups and utensils), an Atlanta restaurant (composting on premises), and Honda North America (no packaging means no dumpster at factories).

Food waste, 13% of United States trash, releases methane– a climate warming, greenhouse gas– when sealed in landfills without oxygen. Composting provides non-petroleum fertilizers. Other initiatives include bio-degradable packaging, recycling, and re-using.

Meeting John Moore

Over a lunch of French crepes and organic cider, I had the pleasure of meeting John Moore. John is the former president of Patagonia Japan, a permaculture teacher, and entrepreneur involved with retailing and advertising agencies, corporate foundations, the design school Ikejiri, and social businesses. He will also be teaching a bilingual class at Freedom University on indoor vegetable gardening and natural soil creation.

John will be releasing a book and website soon about seeds and what to plant when for urban gardeners. In promoting the practice of growing your own food, he is adamant about keeping his distance from hippie aesthetics and connecting organic living with modern life today.

Our conversation ranged around so many topics: rural town planting fruit trees along roads for free food; a mountain bike resort for rural town revitalization; unused facilities and opportunities in the Japanese countryside; a program for kids with cancer to visit Okinawa; organic wasabi farming; a special machine to make “revitalized water” based on wasabi farming; indoor edibles in cites; kids and gardening; a farmer’s market at United Nations University in Tokyo; borage, elder berry, camfry and yarrow as compost accelerants; turning a small town’s landscaping waste, including branches and grass clippings, into compost and thus reducing the town’s cost of hauling and disposal; the role of animals, particularly rabbits & chickens, in soil improvements by turning leaf waste into fertilizer; use of urine, including human, in soil improvement; Japan’s need to create organic farming standards; lack of awareness of free range, antibiotic and hormone free meat and eggs in Japan; and connecting city dwellers with farming.

I hope we can find urban food and other projects to work on together.

Omotesando Farm

Iimura Kazuki (飯村一樹) at Omotesando Farm

On the first of September, Iimura Kazuki (飯村一樹) opened Omotesando Farm (表参道彩園), a roof-top garden rental space in a central upscale commercial and residential district. He is offering sixteen small plots at rents ranging from $170 to $250 per month (15,750 to 23,100 yen). Although community gardens exist in outer neighborhoods of Tokyo, Omotesando Farm is only the second roof-top one in central Tokyo. The other is on top of the JR Ebisu station.

Omotesando Farm

With stunning views of Shinjuku, Roppongi and Aoyama, the roof is located on a three story modern structure, next door to the Paul Smith boutique on a small back street. Because the roof is concrete, no structural changes were necessary. Iimura-san brought in special light-weight soil from a Chiba Research Center (Norin), and the same wood artisan Hirano who created Ginza Farm built the planters and deck here using untreated Japanese cedar (杉). Both are great examples of fine craftsmanship combining function, elegance, and avoidance of chemicals. On the roof perimeter, vines have been planted to cover the banister.

Omotesando Farm

Iimura-san explained several surprises in starting this new urban farming concept. He was able to quickly rent all the plots, with many responding to ads on Yahoo Japan and all registering online. Iimura-san imagined that he would attract people who live nearby and families. However, these first customers are almost all young, many couples, and most are drawn by the proximity of Omotesando Farm to their work spaces. While visiting, I spoke briefly to an older customer who lives in Saitama, but is making Omotesando Farm part of his work day. He showed off his vegetable seedlings protected with plastic bottles from the birds.

Omotesando Farm seedlings

Iimura-san estimates that 70% of his customers are female, and that 75% are new to vegetable farming. Omotesando Farms is planning to provide a coaching system, using agricultural students and/or farmers visiting on the weekends. Although Omotesando Farms does not have the public access that the street-level Ginza Farm does, there has been tremendous media attention, including newspapers, television and radio. Even Japan’s top business newspaper, the Nikkei, has written a story about Omotesando Farm. Iimura-san thinks it is because this project combines “LOHAS” (a lifestyle of health and sustainability) with a green business idea that turns wasted space into a profitable business benefiting green entrepreneurs and property owners.

Iimura-san is already planning to open several more rental garden plots early next year, in Harajuku and Chuo-ku. I wish him luck in inspiring urban residents to grow their own food and creating an urban farming business.

Omotesando Farm

NTT Facilities’ Green Potato

NTT Facilities Green Potato

From City Farmer‘s amazing blog, I found this photo and story about NTT Facilities‘ growing sweet potatoes on rooftops in Tokyo. This urban agriculture project makes use of wasted urban space, reduces the heat island effect, and provides local and safe food. Sweet potatoes apparently thrive in harsh sun and strong wind. The Agence France Presse story from November 5, 2008 says that NTT Facilities hopes to take their “Green Potato” project to other Tokyo office buildings and nation-wide to schools.

What prevents other corporations from implementing rooftop agriculture? Is it know-how or cost? There should be some savings by reducing air-conditioning costs (and carbon emissions), and also an opportunity to give office workers opportunities to work together and learn more about how food is grown.

Vancouver’s Olympic vegetable gardens

Vancouver Olympics 2010 mascots

In 2006, the Vancouver City Council created a challenge to add 2,010 vegetable gardens before the 2010 Winter Olympics. As of the end of June, they had reached 1,800 new food-producing gardens, only 210 gardens from their end of year goal. Working with the Vancouver Food Policy Council, the city government urges new gardens to be created on roofs, balcony, in the ground, a backyard sharing program, and a “grow a row, share a row” program that contributes to local food banks. They are currently working on a backyard hen policy.

The Sharing Backyards program is ingeniously simple: it connects people who want to grow food with people who have land and want someone’s help with gardening. “Yard sharing” makes use of wasted space, creates connections between city residents, and increases local food production. Here’s a screen shot of the interface that allows gardeners and people with garden space to connect.

Vancouver backyard sharing

Vancouver’s City Farmer says that 44% of Vancouver’s residents are involved in some form of urban agriculture. This program seems simple and low-cost. Why aren’t more global cities promoting urban agriclture?

A Statue of Liberty amount of waste, every hour

Terrefuge, Statue of Liberty, waste

Terrefuge, a New York City urban-eco design collaborative, has created this visual of the amount of waste produced by New York City every hour. To reach a goal of carbon negative cities, this collaborative explores future designs and urban planning that increase the production of energy, food and public health. It is an interesting mix of architects, ecologists and artists.

Umi no mori: What if a forest is created and no one knows?

Umi no mori, Sea Forest, wind passage, Tokyo

What if an urban forest is being built in Tokyo and no one knows?

In the past weeks, I have met with a Tokyo Metropolitan planner, the Mori Building press department, a foreign real estate developer, a University of Tokyo environmental scientist, a clean energy entrepreneur, and a visiting artist-in-residence working on urban farming. In the next days, I’ll also be meeting with a Tokyo architect and a senior Hitachi representative.

At this early stage in my project, one thing that has become clear is how little known some of Tokyo’s most innovative projects are among real estate professionals, cultural leaders and ordinary citizens. I have been surprised how few people in Tokyo know about Ando Tadao’s plan to create a forest in the sea, called Umi no mori, with half a million trees built over 88 hectares of landfill in the Tokyo bay.

Initiated in 2007 as part of the ten year plan to re-make the city in part to compete for the 2016 Olympics, this Sea Forest project aims to clean the city’s air, reduce the heat island effect, involve elementary school children, and provide cool breezes throughout the city in summer.

The land is built on top of 12.3 million tons of municipal waste buried from 1973 to 1987, topped with alternating layers of refuse and cover soil, originating at no cost from water purification plants, sewage sludge, city park and street tree compost.

Resoil for Umi no Mori, Sea Forest

There are also ambitious plans to involve elementary school children with growing seedlings and planting them in the new forest.

Umi no mori, Sea Forest, kids planting and growing seedlings

And here’s Tado Ando’s inspiring message about this project’s importance for Tokyo and the world’s connection with the environment:

Umi-no-Mori ( Sea Forest) will become a symbol of our recycling-oriented society through which Japan, a country that has a tradition of living hand-in-hand with nature, can make an appeal to the world about the importance of living in harmony with the environment. In view of the fact that landfills exist in all corners of the world, I perceive this island as a forest that belongs not just to Tokyo, but to the world, and through this project, wish to communicate the message of “living in harmony with nature.”

「海の森」は東京の森ではなく地球の森として、世界へ向けて、「自然とともに生きる」というメッセージを届けることができると考えています。かつて焼け野原になった街・東京は、先人たちの努力によって復興されました。今度は私たちの手で緑豊かな森をつくり、次世代の子供たちに美しい自然を愛でる心を伝えたいと考えています。未来の東京、日本そして地球のために、皆さん一人一人の「志」をどうか募金に託してください。

Perhaps the Tokyo government does not want to spend too much money on publicizing their activities, with the idea that it’s better to act than talk. However, this enormous public work project seems like a great opportunity to educate Tokyo residents and the world about the positive activities city governments are taking on behalf of people and the environment.

To read more about Umi no Mori:
http://www.uminomori.metro.tokyo.jp/index_e.html (English)
http://www.uminomori.metro.tokyo.jp/index.html (日本語)