Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Metropolitan Tokyo Needs a Grand Design based on Culture and Solidarity
TORIUMI Motoki  / Associate Professor, Tokyo Metropolitan University

October 31, 2013
Tokyo has been chosen to host the 2020 summer Olympic Games, leading some to advocate a total urban renovation of the capital region to coincide with the event. However, it would be impossible to get the relevant parties to agree to a blueprint for Tokyo's future within such a short time span, let alone implement it, and should not be attempted in the first place.

For an example of urban planning, let us look to France. Marseilles, which had been regarded as an absolute laggard among declining French cities, reemerged in 2013 as a European Capital of Culture. The resurgence was based on the Euroméditerranée Project, an urban design concept that envisions a hegemony of European cities facing the Mediterranean, which had its start in the early 1990s. Considering that a city such as Marseilles with an urban population of 1.5 million spent a quarter of a century planning its redevelopment, the idea of undertaking a major remodeling of metropolitan Tokyo with its 30 million population within a few years is simply unrealistic.

In that sense, the blame rests heavily on Japan's successive administrations; they should have drawn up a grand design for Tokyo with or without the Olympics. Meanwhile, irrespective of such public negligence, private enterprises have gone ahead with their own urban renovation projects to maximize their profit. While that may be sound economic activity, whether the resulting composition of their projects has created a metropolis that combines functionality, disaster prevention capacity and aesthetic value is open to question.

Take the Linear Shinkansen (maglev bullet train) as an example. The planned station of origin is set in Shinagawa, which lies outside the city center. However, in principle the starting station should be built in the deep underground of Tokyo Station, despite the expected difficulties involved in such construction work. It would be highly consistent with the network of Shinkansen lines, conventional railway lines and the planned connecting lines to Haneda and Narita airports, as well as with the development of the surrounding business district that has been ongoing since the Meiji era. In other words, the government should have coordinated with each relevant parties to maximize their combined interests.

Incidentally, if I were to cite one project that is imperative to complete by the time of the Olympics, it would be the plaza in front of the Marunouchi wing of the restored Tokyo Station. This is where ambassadors dispatched to Japan from foreign countries board a carriage on their way to the Imperial Palace to receive their agrément (formal approval). It would be a shame if the government didn’t immediately start work on upgrading what amounts to the "face" of the country. In any event, the government should formulate a redevelopment plan based on a vision for metropolitan Tokyo around 2030. Today there is a greater need than ever before for a comprehensive discussion on the ideal state of our capital region as it finds itself in the midst of globalization, including measures for addressing the side effects, such as the social divide created by globalization.

What then would be Tokyo's ideal Grand Design circa 2030? Details aside, I would like to suggest that the plan be based on the old yet new value of culture.

In the overall ranking of global cities compiled by the Mori Memorial Foundation, Tokyo is perennially left in the dust of London, New York and Paris, perched in its permanent place at fourth, and culture has been cited as its weak point. Tokyo has no facility that ranks alongside the British Museum or the Louvre, and its small and medium-sized cultural facilities lie dispersed in no apparent order. Let us place this in the context of the Linear Shinkansen. While the plan is to redevelop the area surrounding new Shinagawa Station, the location does not offer an adequate connection to Japan's world-class railway network. If so, we could instead concentrate cultural facilities such as national museums and concert halls in this area and turn it into a city of culture as a twin to "Ueno no Mori." Moreover, there is no need to wage a war of attrition within the metropolitan area by offering the same content. We should develop a cultural policy that is rooted in the history of each city by creating a museum for railways, or bonsai, for example.

I already mentioned the resurgence of Marseilles, but planning is also underway for the future revival of metropolitan Paris. In fact, the city of flowers is on the decline in terms of its socioeconomic reality. To bring about a breakthrough, in 2007 the President took the initiative and declared the formulation of a Grand Paris plan, which roughly translates to a vision for a grand and large-scale redevelopment of metropolitan Paris. It is particularly noteworthy that what began as a debate in central government served as a catalyst in bringing forth constructive proposals from various quarters, and encouraged by active media coverage, eventually developed into a truly national debate.

This is in stark contrast with Japan, where there is little debate on the redevelopment of metropolitan Tokyo. Yet, it is essential to have a transcendent discussion that sums up the individual discussions on topics such as government intervention aimed at minimizing the fallacy in the combination of private development initiatives, a strategic approach for avoiding futile competition with similar policies being pursued by neighboring prefectures, giving airports and harbors a unique character within East Asia, a development policy for transportation infrastructure based on interlinking roads and railways, and issues related to housing and culture. As in France, any debate led by the central government will be met with objection from the provincial regions. That is fine as long as it leads to deepening the discussion.

Another feature of the Grand Paris plan is that it also upholds - in the name of social solidarity - the effect of sustainable job creation resulting from the construction of public housing and public works. In view of the planned increase in the consumption tax, we would also be able to present such a viewpoint of solidarity in our grand design for Tokyo.

Motoki Toriumi is an Associate Professor specializing in Urban Planning at the Tokyo Metropolitan University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

鳥海 基樹 / 首都大学東京准教授

2013年 10月 31日










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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Metropolitan Tokyo Needs a Grand Design based on Culture and Solidarity