The social context surrounding Japan’s cities is beginning to change dramatically. Cities around the world are being inundated by waves of change that include the blunting of economic growth, falling birthrates and aging populations, the growing involvement of women in public life, environmental issues, and globalization (the shift to high volume, high-speed international movement of information and people). In Japan, all these changes have happened at once, in a very short period of time. Their causes, and effects, moreover, are tightly linked. Thus, for example, the falling birthrate and aging population have contributed to the slowing of economic growth. The economic slowdown has induced greater numbers of women to enter the workforce and also has made it necessary to employ guest workers from overseas. Thus, values are becoming increasingly diverse, and it is becoming increasingly commonplace, in major cities, for people of different ethnicities to live together. As more women enter the workforce, the birthrate falls even further. Environmental issues have also become impediments to economic growth.
To address these issues, we have launched several urban design projects growing out of our awareness of the limitations of twentieth century paradigms. One of these projects have been commissioned by a local government looking for concrete images of the city of the future (carried out jointly in cooperation with the A.P.L. architects office. Others have been undertaken entirely on our own initiative ("Tokyo Vision Project", cooperated with Prof. Kitazawa from the Dept. of Urban Engineering, U. T. and Prof. Oikawa from the Dept. of Environmental Studies, U. T.). Still others are worked out from the design studio for the students in the dept. of architecture (Ono Hidetoshi Studio) or the dept. of environmental studies (Socio-Cultural Environmental Design Studies). All are works in process; they have not yet well elaborated and integrated each other. While apologizing to our readers for inflicting these still fragmentary efforts upon them, we would like to take this opportunity to invite them to critique our thinking.
Basic Points to Ponder
1. Urban design in an age of shrinking
Of all of the changes in society of which we have seen the beginnings, none will have a greater impact on the form of the city than the combination of a falling birthrate and an aging and shrinking population. These experiments in environmental design thus arise out of issues unlikely to have been addressed before: the need to develop strategies to maintain the quality of life and to preserve the environment, without growth but instead with shrinking. Adopting the language of the business book genre, we are advocating a shift from a focus on sales to a focus on profitability. It should be possible, through the subtractive processes of scaling back and razing some parts of existing cities and structures, to develop possibilities for creating new value. Done well, this process will produce ideas that oppose the simplistic more-is-better concept that governed the development of urban space during the twentieth century. I call this genchiku (reduction of building) instead of zouchiku (addition of building). I sense that opening holes in today’s overcrowded cities will be a major theme in twenty-first century urban planning and architectural design.
2. Compact cities
An urban form that simplifies the problem of addressing both environmental issues and the combination of falling birthrate and aging population is what you call the "compact city.” Here we can see important similarities with European discourse about cities. Urban sprawl makes it difficult to develop appropriate responses to a shrinking and aging population, the growing participation of women in public life, and environmental issues. A more rational scenario is to concentrate residential areas along a fully developed public infrastructure. But how do we attract people now scattered over metropolitan outskirts to return to the city centers? To scrap and rebuild new compact cities en mass is hardly environment friendly. I do believe, however, that with proper control of shrinking demand for urban space, the compact city can become a reality. If , however, the shrinking of the city is left to market forces alone, abandoned areas will eat into the fabric of the city, become hotbeds of crime, and create the conditions for urban disasters. With the right set of incentives, we may instead be able to turn shrinkage into an opportunity to address the mountain of problems now confronting JapanĀfs cities and to create a Japanese version of the compact city.
3. High redundancy
Contemporary cities are exposed to changes both rapid and on a global scale. Cities' survival in this environment will require systems with the flexibility to cope with rapid change, and, according to general systems theory, redundancy is a prerequisite for flexibility. Thus, in one familiar example, mainframe computers are compared with computers linked over the Internet. The former are more efficient and economical as long as they are running well. If, however, a single component malfunctions, the whole system goes down. The multiply redundant protocols that control the Internet are, indeed, wasteful, but if one part of the Net goes down, the impact on the whole is small. The Kobe Earthquake demonstrated the extent of the Internet's redundancy and its value—the Internet quickly restored communication between the devastated city and the rest of the world. Similarly, city should have enough redundancy for tolerate sever change. The issue before us is how we can gain such redundancy in our city.
4. Universal urban design
In the twentieth century, urban design was, I think, characterized by its idealism, even, to use a somewhat loaded term, its eugenic ideals. Eugenicists believe that the existence of inferior beings is without value and that they should be replaced with superior beings. That was the idea implemented in urban planning. When reflecting upon the past century, however, one realizes that the drastic changes affecting contemporary mean that the values by which one would judge what is superior or inferior are also in flux. The result is a major irony: as long as we carry the flag for idealism, we will never arrive at the ideal city. Even if we are building in accord with an ideal, before a structure is half finished that ideal will itself have changed, and we will have to start over again to try to attain a new and different ideal. The result, finally, is only massive destruction of the natural environment and the extinction of traditional values.
If our goal is a sustainable city, then we have to abandon eugenic thinking, with its determination of whether what exists now is good or bad, and become receptive to what is before our eyes, as is. That reminds me of the concept of universal design, which has recently been talked about in social welfare circles. Couldn't this concept be extended to thinking about architecture and urban design as well? The universal design concept would teach us that even the most despised structures in Japan's cities, its small wooden apartment buildings, have the right to survive.
Open spaces inside large housing neighbourhood, where no one feels able to use freely, plazas at the feet of high-rise buildings, where no one can relax, public green belts with soaring maintenance costs, surplus lobby areas in public buildings that infinitely inflate heating and cooling costs: Japan is overrun with "public" spaces for no one. They make people irresponsible for those spaces and feel being alienated. The result is a waste of tax revenues.
While it is often noted that Japan's cities are short of public green areas, in the past private gardens made up for that lack. Individuals' gardens and roadside plantings provided greenery and required no tax funds for their maintenance; they were maintained with love. To use precious resources efficiently and to build comfortable spaces in our cities, we need a kind of ownership of public spaces. It is, I think, necessary to know the faces of those who own such spaces or share them with us and to make clear who is responsible for maintaining them.
The following strategies are derived from these basic concepts:
a. A mixture of various sizes of blocks
The urban planning fundamental for ensuring a lively and sustainable city is having a variety of sizes of blocks. A city built entirely on the super block system, with new urban areas built on reclaimed land, for example, lacks redundancy. It may be that bigger blocks are more efficient to develop; but add the time dimension to your thinking and you will see that the existence of smaller blocks can become the wellspring of growth and development. For example, it is often said that the smaller manufacturers in the Keihin Industrial Belt are the buttress of Japan's industrial technologies and skills. They are creative, full of innovative ideas, can act quickly, and they have built up the reservoirs of skills and technologies that make developing leading-edge technologies possible. A similar example is the personal computer, developed through the drive of young engineers tinkering endlessly in a garage. The owner-chefs who cook up creative cuisine in their own restaurants are another case in point: starting typically with small restaurants in back streets where rents are low, they move to more prominent, main street locations when they have won a reputation. But we have often developed blocks that consist, in effect, of only main streets, where even the basic rental office is large and there is simply no room for people who are enterprising but lack funds. Moreover, being locked into a main street location closes off options by blocking the route to the occasional, temporary, retreat to less prominent quarters. These situations are quite analogous to the diversity of species that ecologists stress.
Those examples suggest that a diversified sizes of blocks--anathema to the modern urban planner--does not necessarily mean that the plan is faulty. On the contrary: in my view, that diversity is the source of vigor. Consider, for example, our hopes for Japanese industry. From now on, our futures rest on high-value-added industries that require the intensive application of concentrated intellectual resources. In many cases, firms in such fields are small. Larger firms might appear more efficient, but pursuing efficiency in the short run is all too apt to prove uneconomical in the long run. Urban design to attract and encourage new industries and the bearers of new ideas will enhance a city's redundancy. The point boils down, in urban planning, to having a degree of randomness in the scale of blocks.
b. Networking: city-to-city alliances
Compared with cities of the past, when the movement of human beings and the transmission of information were both slow, it is hard for a city today to seem very attractive unless it can swiftly attract a huge population. The critical population figure is said to be 800,000, at least in Japan. A city that refuses to have that large a population may lose out to other cities. Smaller cities are at a particular disadvantage when populations are declining, but they do have one powerful strategy: building strong cooperative alliances with neighboring cities in administrative, cultural, or economic affairs, and strengthening the transportation and information infrastructures that support these alliances. The result can be a small city that has, in effect, the attractions of a city of a million or so without losing the advantages of smallness--neighborliness and closeness to nature and rural areas.
c. Rebuild individually, not collectively
It is a basic urban redevelopment strategy, when improving a congested area, to collect small pieces of properties and redevelop it newly as an integrated complex. Such integrated redevelopment requires, however, a huge amount of time and effort in order to win agreement. It is also extremely difficult to rebuild exhausted large-scale structures. Think about housing, for example: even if collective housing were the ideal as a completed form, it scores low on the redundancy in the course of time. Instead of assuming integrated redevelopment is best, it would be well to consider setting appropriate rules for improving fine fabrics individually. That would allow new structures to suit individual circumstances, would permit succeeding the context of the. Such way would thus be better overall although it does not look smart.
d. Don't make suburban station areas commercial areas: let them be sites for high-density housing.
Development around suburban train stations is usually on the cone model: the highest density of construction is the commercial area right by the station. The further from the station, the more density falls off, with first condominia and then individual houses. But flourishing roadside businesses are making that land use pattern less viable. Having a sushi bar and a florist's shop and a bookstore and a coffee shop right by the station might be seen out of date. It would make more sense to have more people live within walking distance of the station, at least in the suburbs of major cities. That would help to ease commuter congestion and be better adapted to the increase in two-income families and employment of older people. The residential area ought to start right by the station. Commercial areas are all right along the roads.
e. The pede-motor city
One of the cherished principles in urban planning up has been to expand pedestrian areas and eliminate cars. On the other hand, the reality of today's city is that the automobile is king. And that gap between principles and reality has yet to be bridged. For the sake of the environment, automobile use must certainly be curbed. And railroads are important for the transport-disabled people who cannot drive or who do not own cars. But eliminating cars seems not to be a top priority item when you think of the inextricable connection between the automobile industry and our economy, how much cars have become part of all aspects of life, what a blessing they are to some kinds of physically handicapped persons, and the speed at which technological are making cars more environmentally friendly. In fact, what we should be thinking of at present is both private automobiles and mass transit (such as railroads). Note though, that half-baked concessions to either side can produce half-baked results for both.
f. Developing academic cities, park cities
Despite calls for living in the city center and despite the shift of the education market toward life-long learning (i.e., adult education), universities keep on moving into the suburbs, repeating a historical mistake. What's worse, as you will see if you visit their campuses, suburban universities are isolated. Why haven't residential areas sprung up around university campuses? Before the war, several neighbourhood was developed on the "university town" concept. The resultant communities are now mature residential areas that are proud to have retained their high quality. Why can't we learn from those success stories in developing housing now?
g. Green strips
The development of public greenery in Japan has taken its model after the Japanese traditional garden which is closed to its surrounding. Recent value shifts now suggest that everything should be open (though I like to reserve my doubts). In any case, when it comes to green areas, we need to throw caution to the winds. Precious green areas should be used by as many people as possible and should contribute to improving the environment of the surrounding residential areas. That is why I think the perimeters of green areas should be as long as possible, to increase opportunities for contact with them. Parks should be long, narrow strips, not rectangles, and the boundaries should be with fold rather than straight.
h. The three-dimensional city
A generation--thirty years—ago--Tokyo had only two skyscrapers. Now high-rise buildings are springing up, seemingly randomly, everywhere from the city's residential districts to areas along the shore. The same is true, on a smaller scale, throughout Japan; Manhattan no longer has an exclusive on a cityscape of towering buildings. Urban planners now need to think in three dimensions, but that idea has not taken root in the urban planning system, as we can see from the high marks given to public spaces at ground level, in both overall designs and designs for specific areas. In our high-rise cities, we should have more public spaces on higher floors. Until modern times, viewing down from a high place was monopolized by those in authority; around the world towers have long been symbols of power. In the modern era, we saw towers making that view from tower was available to the masses--the Eiffel Tower in Paris as well as the Asakusa Twelve Stories in Tokyo, are notable examples. Towers, which had been something for ordinary citizens to look at, became places to look from as well: a dual meaning. At that point, towers shifted from being symbols of power to being symbols of civil society and famous spots in cities. Nonetheless, today's high-rise office buildings are symbols of corporate power pure and simple--a regressive step. Imagine, though, if the top floors of those oddly distributed skyscrapers were used for public facilities: then the city would truly acquire three-dimensional qualities.
If the elevators in skyscrapers are, in a sense, public thoroughfares, running vertically. In effect, each is a dead-end street ending on the top floor, and the building as a whole is an alleyway full of businesses and residences, stood on end. Those elevators, however, are skyscrapers' key structural problem: they are too dangerous to use when a fire or other disaster occurs. Thus, buildings need mid-level links to other buildings, providing a choice of routes for getting up and down skyscrapers and creating three-dimensional streets.
i. Partially widened road (snake swallowing egg road)
The roads partially widened, which was due to the stalled construction, are indeed a headache for those charged with administrating the road system and for those who would like to use them as shortcuts. They are, however, a blessing to those who live along them. With little car traffic entering from outside the area, these roads are safe for the elderly and for children. Partially widened road also gives a high ratio of open space and, with the long contacts of many houses, in effect, a narrow plaza. In some places, planters have been put out on the road, and it has become an excellent place for kids to play. The most famous, indeed, successful of these stalled roads is Harimazaka, at the end of Ring Road 2. It has a wide green strip in the center, and the quadruple rows of cherry trees are now a favorite destination in cherry blossom time.
These partially widened road roads make us recognize that roads are for more than automobiles. If they were exclusively for cars, then they would all be the built in he same standard width; but if they are, in fact, one of the city's open spaces, then there is no problem with their width varying according to location. Roads allow sunlight and breezes to reach the buildings beside them, serve as firebreaks, are places for children to play, and are also where housewives can stand and chat. Given all the functions roads that roads can play, shouldn't we be deliberately building stalled roads?
j. Regulate height, not daylight
There are two necessary conditions for regulating building in residential quarters. One is that a building's size and shape must be a function of the block in which it will stand. The other is that it should be possible to predict the size and shape of its neighbouring buildings. If I am thinking of building a house on my land but have no idea what might be built next door, I would be forced to adopt a very defensive approach. That makes living in the city center difficult and unpleasant. Setback regulations are, by their nature, an excellent system for making it simple and clear to understand what size and shape a building can take, but in the last revision of those regulations, the concept of "presumed roads" was added, and building owners were given discretion in determine the point at which the diagonal lines that determine setbacks start, so that there is no consistency between one parcel of land and the next. That does more than create a jumbled cityscape. It means that one cannot predict the shape and size of the building that could go up next door. That was a retrograde move. The daylight regulations originally provided for a high degree of freedom in the shape and size of structures, and the shape and size were also entirely a function of the conditions pertaining to the site. The possible size and shape of the structure to be built will vary considerably according to whether several plots of land are built on as one or whether only part of one plot is. That freedom reduces the efficiency of urban dwelling and does nothing more than cause people to lose trust in urban spaces. The existing regulations on size and shape constitute a barrier to building good housing stock in the city center and need to be rethought.
k. The horizontal condominium (gated communities)
A society with falling birthrates and aging populations is going to see an increase in people of all ages living alone in cities. There are already many single person households--students, persons on temporary assignment without their families, widows, and those who never marry. But so far, architectural design and housing policy measures have assumed that singletons were merely defective households and have not provided for them properly.
The biggest problem for people living alone is that they tend to leave their homes empty for long periods of time. That is why they find condominia with concierge-like maintenance staff convenient. But if you had a concierge installed at the entrance to a small street with apartment buildings and small houses along it, to serve all the street's residents, then the service would be equivalent to that of a large, multistory condominium. In effect, you would have a condominium built horizontally, or a gated community. With greater concern about crime in the city, such shared concierges might be quite effective.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Ohno laboratory. All rights reserved.
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