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Tokyo's Urban Design Role

Author: Jared I. Braiterman, International Affairs Fellow in Japan, Sponsored by Hitachi, Ltd. 2009-2010
November 27, 2009
The Japan Times

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The Hatoyama government's ambitious carbon reduction goals position Japan for leadership in the postindustrial global economy. Less discussed is Tokyo's remarkable energy efficiency, urban ecology innovations, and its potential for playing a leading role in the next decade's biggest environmental challenge: creating sustainable cities with human and environmental benefits.

Last century's urban renewal relied on demolition and displacement, which frequently privileged real estate profit over the needs of local residents. New urbanism transforms the imperfect built environment with the resourcefulness of existing communities. Key concepts are in-fill, participation, livable streets, reuse and a new relationship between cities and nature.

When I explain that Hitachi Ltd. and the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations awarded me a fellowship to research and write about Tokyo green space, many Japanese colleagues look perplexed. Wouldn't Paris or Washington, D.C., be a better place? The assumption is that cities with better urban planning begun in the 19th century offer a superior urban atmosphere.

On the contrary, Tokyo's poor planning, its rush to develop after the 1923 Kanto Earthquake and the 1944-45 firebombings, and its overwhelming scale as the world's largest metropolis paradoxically make it a model for remaking existing cities and designing hundreds of emerging cities.

Along with global warming, the world faces unprecedented urbanization, reaching 60 percent of the population, or 5 billion people, by 2030. African and Asian urban populations will double between 2000 and 2030.

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