Saturday 31 October 2015

The relationship with rail

In Australian cities, there's an unwritten template for city forms – skyscrapers in the CBD, and then building sizes and densities fall as you reach the suburbs. From our first glimpses, Japan’s cities appeared to be haphazard and chaotic compared to Australia, with different building types (and sizes) clashing and bleeding into each other without hesitation. Japan’s planning policies are evidently slightly more relaxed than those of Australia, with less stringent rules about what can be placed where. Despite the apparent chaos, the city functions harmoniously, and I think this is partly due to the nature of the Japanese people. Everyone contributes to keeping the city functioning, from taking their rubbish with them to sweeping up leaves from the front of their house. I think another attribute to their high functionality stems from a strong and highly efficient transport system.

Japan is home to several of the world’s busiest train stations, and trains and train stations play a major role in the functioning of the city in many ways. Apart from shifting millions of people a day, train stations have become mini-cities themselves. Private railway companies, realising the potential economic benefits of capturing millions of commuters (and non-commuters), have built hotels, restaurants and shopping malls above and below railway tracks. Consequently, train stations have everything a person needs all in one place. It seems train stations have become city centres within a city centre. However, this concentration of services around stations drains life away from outlying neighbourhoods. For example, a five minute walk out of the bustling Shin-Osaka will take you to quiet, lifeless streets. You are so close to the station, but the only reminder is the rattle of the trains rushing past. It really makes you wonder what would happen if the train station was removed, or what sort of neighbourhood would exist if the station wasn’t there to begin with.

Talei Lewis

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