Saturday 31 October 2015

Planning in place - two different perspectives

Practice observed in Japan revealed two very different approaches to planning. Fieldwork provided examples of how planning is approached in a number of contexts. The Tokyo land economics scene and planning for post-tsunami re-development reveal very different objectives on how planning can be applied in these settings.

The construction of new buildings and the re-furbishment of existing infrastructure reveals planning to provide a physical setting for Japanese economic objectives. In an effort to provide economic stimulus, Japan is encouraging growth in financial services. Not only does the development of new office facilities encourage new investment, it stimulates construction and related industries. Political motivation may explain Tokyo’s drive for re-development. Japan’s leaders must plan recovery from financial recession. Development observed in Tokyo reveals initiatives from leaders to draw the country out of economic stagnation. This provides evidence to citizens that the government is implementing policy for the overall benefit of the country while securing citizen trust and votes. The scale, focus and objectives observed in Tokyo is very different from what was observed in Sendai’s Tsunami recovery efforts.

Observations of re-development policy reveal a more community oriented focus. Recovery efforts are focused on providing solutions that encourage citizen input into re-developing Tsunami effected areas. Re-development aims to re-establish the social and cultural setting of the community, including an important focus on restoring the community’s autonomy and boosting its resilience. Neighbourhood associations provide community input into re-building. Platforms such as the Minami Gamo in Uriage neighbourhood association provide a social setting for planning. The Uri age community expressed a desire to preserve rural and coastal culture. Planning that appoints a Neighbourhood Association allows the development of planning in a social and cultural context. Recovery efforts in Uriage aim to restore cultural icons such as Igune trees and coastal recreational activity. Neighbourhood Associations’ 100-year lifecycle for the review of policy and its success, reveals the acknowledgement of the role history has to play in development objectives. Planning in Sendai highlights the value placed on integrating social, cultural and historic objectives into development strategy. Evidence that Japanese policy recognizes the importance of a healthy and vibrant community when trying to achieve broader goals such as financial recovery and the economic development of Tokyo.

Ben Yates

Intentional chaos or a result of restraint?

Throughout the six days I spent in Japan I noticed the planning context of Japan through various settings. In majority, I noticed the striking difference between Australia and Japan in regards to planning in the physical landscape. The landscape overall gave an impression of a chaotic space with high density housing situated next to urban agricultural land next to a single story dwelling being a regular vision throughout the landscape. This was particularly noticeable in Osaka but was present across all the cities visited in Japan. This led me to believe that Japan appears to not have strict planning regulations or zoning, apart from basic development rules in regards to safety of some developments. The Japanese landscape is a stark contrast from the landscapes of Australia, where strict planning legislation is followed explicitly. In Australia this practice results in a significant amount of unusable or open space but in Japan, the population density and land mass limits the possibility of this in the landscape. These practices give an impression of a highly mixed use space but a somewhat organised one, by fitting different land uses in where they fit into the landscape. There has also been the unintentional or not creation of unofficial zones. This was apparent in Tokyo where the highly valuable land of the commercial district in close proximity to Tokyo train station has restricted the potential of any residential development within at least a kilometre of the space due to the extreme cost of occupying that valuable space. Japan also gives an impression of a fairly affluent society. An example of this came from exploring the tsunami affected city of Sendai where after the event the government provided and is still providing the clearing and restoration of the affected spaces.

The social norms of Japan, including the significance of multi-generational households and traditional culture in regards to gender roles, has had an impact on the physical landscape through some development occurring to appeal to a particular demographic. Traditional gender roles could be linked with gender inequality resulting in an impression of a lesser progressive nation in regards to this context compared to Australia. The cultural differences are witnessed throughout the landscape in regards to housing with wealth not flaunted by size as it is in Australia but through the quality of the materials used throughout their home. These cultural differences are also shown through the evident pride the Japanese people have for their spaces. Throughout the whole of Japan I constantly saw the absence of public facilities such as rubbish bins, yet I was never met with the presence of littering as I would in Australia. I also witnessed the absence of other public facilities such as on-street seating and public toilets. The absence of these facilities on the street however are fulfilled by the strong presence of these facilities throughout the many train stations in Japanese cities. In Japan, the train stations are not just a highly effective transport facility but also destination shopping and food facilities too. These privately owned spaces provide all the needs of the consumers of these spaces that the public spaces do not.

Overall, it is difficult to tell if the planning in Japan is actually as chaotic as it seems and if that chaos is intentional or just the result of the restraints Japan faces in regards to population density and land mass.

Kaylee Thompson

Drivers of liveability and places for fun

Despite the ancient status of Japan, the nation is certainly not stuck in time. Efficiency appears to be the primary ideal of the national psyche. This is especially evident in Japan’s ability to support a large population with dense housing options and an extensive public transport network. These successes portray an incredibly liveable city. However, many other factors which appear to drive liveability in Australia, are perhaps less important in Japan. The quality of urban design in many landscapes is one example.

A week in Japan presented a series of cities characterised by heavily engineered infrastructure and excessive signage displays despite an otherwise monotone colour scheme. In endeavouring to achieve efficiency on all fronts, the amenity of many public places seems to have been compromised. Heavily pruned street trees strongly exemplify this notion. Australian cities may plant trees to improve street aesthetics, however they also serve a practical function through the provision of shade. Conversely, the pruned form of street trees in Japan did not enable this luxury. Many Japanese cities also demonstrated a strong presence of exposed powerlines. Even in a newly built, post tsunami suburb, unsightly, overhead powerlines remained the norm. 

Elevated pedestrian bypasses were a common sight in Japan, even in rural Tsunami-devastated areas. More than anything, they were a great example of over-engineering, remaining unused and being situated on roads where traffic flow was not excessive 
A humble built environment did not only reflect an ambitious drive toward efficiency, furthermore, it also reflected the modesty of the Japanese people and their disciplined society. Japan’s efficiency may provide an environment where liveability is high, however the extent to which such modest environments can enable happiness is questionable. A complete lack of graffiti in Japan is one of the most prominent demonstrations of the nation’s cleanliness. First impressions of this cleanliness provide a sense of security. However, this can also be considered a demonstration of a lack diversity and vibrancy. This is in strong contrast to the street art scene in Melbourne, for instance. The ability for Melbourne residents to leave their mark on the city and explore streets as a centre of art, rather than a simple thoroughfare is much more evident in Melbourne as opposed to many of the cities which were explored in Japan.

Other centres visited throughout the tour, such as Nishi Shinjuku and Otemachi represented efforts to parallel the style of western cities. This was evident in tree canopies being allowed to grow less interrupted, powerlines being positioned below ground level, roadways being wide and car-dominated and buildings being much taller and sophisticated in their design. In these precincts, Kit explained the lack of compassion held toward heritage buildings. Intentions to implement high quality urban design measures were obvious in these precincts. However, a lack of vibrancy continued to prevail. Although these districts strongly resembled an American built form, even a short time in the United States has demonstrated that the way a space is used, is a strong reflection of culture. And the purity of the Japanese culture has barely surrendered to western uses of space. This is especially evident in a national lack of bins and street seating which could hold even the smallest possibility of encouraging lingering and fowl-play. Bob Hastings, of Portland’s public transport agency, TriMet, says that above all, it is important to have fun. It is questionable what place fun has in the Japanese context. A very stressed, Japanese train conductor did certainly not appear to be having fun as she rushed 35 Australians onto the Shinkansen, most likely terrified of destroying the national’s optimal average delay times.

Harry Bell

A stark contrast between city and country

Japan appears to be its own small world, with dense housing, agricultural farming in backyards, and a completely different lifestyle to anywhere else. At first sight, Japan’s use of space appears to be efficient, however, once out of the city, there are many areas of Japan that have no infrastructure, are not used for farming; are not used for anything. 

‘Rurality’ is not perceived the same way in Japan as it is in Australia. Japan depicted no middle ground between urban and ‘rural’, only a stark contrast between city and country. Due to the apparent urban sprawl ‘outbreaks’, it was gathered that their perception on rurality meant living in an outer city suburb, as opposed to the Australian ‘middle of no where’.

Kit’s tour on Tokyo’s economic and business district was very eye opening. Kit spoke to the group about land use percentages (e.g. 20:100); he stated that although the base of the building may only be on 20% of the land, however, it will use 100% of the sky space. He also talked about the lifespan of buildings; between 40-80 years before they are out dated/are not functional, and need to be rebuilt. He also described the train system in Japan; two privately owned companies and one public. There are many investors within these private companies.

After seeing the temporary housing and reconstruction of the tsunami-affected areas outside of Sendai, it was hard to believe that the buildings in Tokyo could be refurbished/rebuilt so efficiently when they became unusable. The government largely funds the reconstruction of the tsunami-affected areas. Although the residents of the temporary housing have been there already for 4 years, the government has constructed public housing in a new estate, incorporated with private housing (10-minute neighbourhood).

After seeing and hearing what was being done in preparation for another tsunami, it was evident that this is being done purely as a response to the disaster, denoting that there were no measurements or restrictions in place before the March 2011 disaster struck. Since this day, many strategies have been implemented to prevent another happening. Barricades put in front of the ocean shore, ‘Millennium Hill’ constructed as a place of refuge in case of disaster, and ground level raised by minimum 15cm in reconstructed areas.

The physical structure of the city is very diverse, with new and old buildings scattered around the cities. However, the ‘old’ buildings were typically new remodelled buildings. Infrastructure in the rural areas we did visit was rebuilt after the tsunami hit. Thus, indicating new constructions in most areas.

‘Forward thinking’ is actively carried out in Japan; facilities or infrastructure built as a need, rather than a response. For example, a train station will be constructed in an area before it is seen as a problem. Whereas in Australia, areas are built first, then questions are asked later.Japan has everything built at a convenience; vending machines and 7-eleven’s on every block, a toilet around every corner, food stores on every street. Japan was a very ‘easy’ country in terms of finding what you sought after.

Bella Morton-Pedersen

Lessons on public transport

I came into Japan pretty unaware of operations such as transport and community and I came out very surprised. Osaka, Tokyo and Sendai are all cities which  proved, at least to me, that they had established a strong strategy in the transportation sector, where it is easily accessible and usable by many, both locals and visitors. Even though I was new to the region and not able to speak Japanese, it only took a couple of days and common sense. I found the train networks very workable without assistance. Tokyo’s centre station is truly a sight to behold, with over three million commuters passing through it daily according to the tour guide Kit. He also touched on a concept I was uncommon with, that has since resurfaced during our time in Portland, USA which is the concept of agencies building out public transport networks to areas that are currently underdeveloped.  By putting money into the area through real estate promotion and shopping centres and continued public transport support, the area is given the chance  to expand and unnaturally grow, and then grow into a proper community area. 

It seems that through the cultural character of Japan, the responses of communities seem to be constructing for the best of the areas in focus, where in the case of the tsunami regions the areas are reconstructed with the intention of capturing the essence of the area that was damaged, as well as trying to provide for those that were affected, and creating memorials to keep the memory of this disaster, including other important events in their history such as previous earthquakes, and World War II.

Jeremy Brown

Adapting to conditions

Japan’s planning system is very different to what is currently used in Australia and in particular Victoria, because Japan lies on a tectonic plate line it is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis. These natural disasters are a very important element of their planning system, compared to Victoria, where severe storms, flooding and bushfires are the only natural disasters that affect the planning scheme. When compared to Australia, Japan does not seem to exhibit the same history or historic planning, due to the severity of the natural disasters they experience. Historic buildings do not exist in the same form as they do in Victoria and their history is kept through traditions and generations of families rather in the form of a monument or building, this is because of the natural disasters, if they were ever to have any historic buildings they would have been destroyed during an earthquake, therefore causing more emotional damage to the community. 

The natural disasters have also affected the way the country plans for its future, with the recent construction of a levy along the coast that has been designed to slow down tsunamis, raised new housing estates to be above the flood level and evacuation hills have been built in particular locations for residents to go to in the event of an emergency. The levy that has been built along the coastline blocks access to the beach and the local communities who live along the coast have had to sacrifice a vital recreational place that was previously a tourist attraction and a place of recreation for the locals. Australia has had to develop well structured fire plans and in particular communication with remote locations to allow those who might be in the line of fire to evacuate, planned burning is a frequent occurrence that helps prevents bushfire

Nicole Grey