Saturday 31 October 2015

Practises informing planning

On the train from Osaka to Tokyo, the view was of an uninterrupted dense urban landscape. Marco used the term ‘megalopolis’, which I understand to be a single continuous urban entity, to explain much of this stretch. There appeared to be little segregation of uses, with close transitions between residential and industrial land uses.

The long-term devastation to the agricultural industry following the 2011 earthquake/tsunami was evident as the inundation of salt in rice-fields made the land unproductive. However, since the disaster, a solar farm was constructed on this land, which generates 29000 kilowatts and powers 8000 households. The 2011 disaster, which caused significant permanent damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant resulting in a widespread power shortage, triggered a shift towards alternative, clean and renewable energy sources. Sam, an American professor based in Sendai who guided us in and around the city, explained that since the power shortage people have become more conscious of their energy consumption, for example, they now prefer to leave lights turned off during day.

In Tokyo we were fortunate to received a guided tour of the city by land economist and property developer, Kit Weddle. During this tour we visited the Marunouchi district near the Tokyo Station. The district is almost exclusively commercial with office and retail spaces. As a consequence of the high land value, residential development does not occur there. Kit mentioned that the Japanese economy is often falsely labelled as “underperforming”. He suggested that if this were true then property development would be slow, which clearly is not the case. He explained that the life span of buildings ranges from around 50 to 100 years and renovation occurs regularly. This may be in part due to a traditional belief that bad karma is transferable to homes and the popularity of all things new and modern. In any case, this practice, which seems to be symptomatic of a strong consumer culture, strikes me as unsustainable and wasteful in a world of depleting finite resources and confronted by climate change. 

We learned that there are 3 major train companies in Japan which are privately owned. In the cities we visited, the train stations were also major shopping destinations containing food, retail and entertainment outlets. On the streets, public seating and toilets were limited. However, the private sphere fills this void by providing these facilities in shopping centres and train stations, although they are most likely aimed at consumers. I found the Japanese public transportation to be incredibly organized and luxurious. I was slightly amused by the musical cues on trains that gently remind people what and when to do things.

Through discussions it was hinted that there is a great deal of gender inequality in the workplace. The role of women in the corporate sector is often tokenistic and short-lived, as many end up marrying wealthy businessmen and retiring to a life of leisure and luxury. To a degree, this fits in with my observations – most of the women I encountered were working in services like retail and hospitality. This could be reflected in the development of high-end retail in affluent areas, aimed at the wives of wealthy businessmen.

Japanese and Australian understandings of built heritage differ greatly from each other. Imitation of heritage style architecture is common in Japan. Although this undermines the authenticity of built heritage, the importance of which is heavily emphasized in Australia, with the frequency of major natural disasters, preservation of heritage buildings in Japan is not practical.

Angela Plazzer

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