Saturday 31 October 2015

Planning shaped by the past ...and future

Japan has long been an international epicentre of trade and commerce with a complex history and an urban landscape that is deeply connected to both the events of the past and the social contexts in which they arose. Moreover they are strongly intertwined with planning for the future and are in many ways, the impetus for innovation and global technological transformation, particularly within the Asian region. Although much has been discussed, academically and within broader society, regarding their complex military history and strong monoculture that has developed as a result, visiting Japan however gives you a true sense of this uniqueness of both the physical and social environment. One of the aspects of the trip that was most surprising was the interaction between culture and the economy. Kyoto for example, is known as the Ancient Capital, and is predominately built around key sacred sites and temples that are set aside for religious and commemorative purposes. At many of these locations, locals were dressed in their traditional kimono attire and explained the religious significance of their visit, beyond its inherent tourist attraction. It was interesting however that many of these sites also had retail built within and around them to capitalise on the large numbers of incoming visitors.

Kiyomizu-Dera Temple in Eastern Kyoto
On numerous trips via the extensive public transit network it was also apparent that traditional land use planning appeared relatively non-existent in the central cities. Unlike Melbourne or Portland, the cities were characterised by a patchwork of dense high-rise commercial and retail within the inner core, followed by residential, agricultural and industrial uses prominent in the outer peripheries and along major infrastructure routes. This traditionally haphazard spatial arrangement has however given each city its own distinct features. Tokyo for example, the distinction between private and public spaces is becoming increasingly complex within the highly commodified environment. This was particularly the focus of our guided tour with Kit Weddle as he explored the relationship between land use, property and the exponential growth of Tokyo since the Second World War.

Shibuya Crossing Tokyo

Public space in front of Shinjuku Mitsui Building
Finally, through our experiences throughout Sendai and our interactions with the students and teachers of Shoeki University the importance of designing methods, plans and implementation processes that encourage residents to be involved and active in their community was central. Within the planning in the post-disaster period, there is a conscious choice within the local, regional and federal authorities to rebuild both in a manner that aims to reduce risk to disasters in the future but also improve social capital within and between communities. Essentially however, ‘the speed of recovery is not important, but suitable time to cope’ the role of remembrance and legacy of the event in both coping with the traumatic experience itself but ensuring there is a greater awareness of their natural environment. Public open spaces, community centres and memorial sites were all key components of this process.

The trip to Japan was clearly, an invaluable experience. The knowledge gained and experiences lived not only gave us a deeper understanding of the local environment and the key challenges faced on a daily basis by the Japanese people but secondly gave us the ability to place our cities back home within the context of larger, more intricate transformations occurring in these international agglomerations. Ultimately, notions of historical and social context are central to the past, present and future of any city although they may be hidden beneath mass physical change. 

Lauren Peek

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