Japan’s “FutureCity” Initiative

Issue #2 • 1493

On 20-24 February 2012, on the invitation of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Uzbekistan joined twenty other countries in Japan for an introduction to the National Strategic Initiative known as “Future City”.

The new art of urban architecture sets critical milestones defining the development models of civilizations. Today brings yet another milestone that is different from the one that inspired us half a century ago. Post-war industrial and population boom brought about urban projects of the future, which eventually damaged the environment and overlooked the most important thing – a human being. Creators of those cities were looking through the binoculars of the future, ignoring the microscopes to look at the situation at hand. Yet the future is real and connected to the present. That is why the previously overlooked factors now come into focus of discourse about new “FutureCity”.

It is estimated that cities are home to the half of the planet’s population, which will increase up to 70% by 2050; that is why the XXI century is referred to as the age of the cities. By 2025, along with Tashkent – the Central Asia’s major urban centre, Almaty, Bishkek and Dushanbe will also become mega-cities. Urban residents will live longer: 40% of the Japanese people will be over 65 years old, which requires a new social policy to be introduced now. City boom is fraught with global warming. The problems of environmental pollution and uncontrolled urban development will face many countries, primarily Asian. Therefore, Japan, as an advanced country that addresses problems before any other nation in the world, has begun to search for solution through its Governmental National Strategic Project called the “FutureCity” Initiative.

International organizations and countries are taking different measures to reduce atmospheric carbon – a non-metal chemical contained in coal, coke, charcoal, and soot. Since 2008 the Japanese government has encouraged and provided incentives to eco-cities with low carbon emissions. A ‘model eco-city’ program encouraged the emergence of compact cities with carbon-free or low-carbon communities and homes, energy-efficient buildings and carbon waste recycling. These “liveable cities” become engines of national development, therefore, Asian countries have been provided with technical assistance for creating them.

The goal of the “FutureCity” Initiative that began in 2010 is to introduce advanced technology and urban development models for creating new socio-economic system in the cities of Japan and other countries of the world. Selected cities will have to determine their strategic vision of the future to make progress in environmental, social and economic domains. In the meantime, it is important to see the future in connection with the present and the past, aspire to make cities liveable, diverse and original, and to take advantage of unique natural and social resources. Cities have to be financially self-sufficient and develop models to facilitate the makeover.

A research team of scientists has been assigned to assist the planning of every Japanese city. The city of Kita-Kyushyu decided to restore the prestige of communities and local connections holding these communities together. In Yokohama, the second largest city of Japan, stand-alone houses of people living alone have been rated as poor in terms of energy efficiency. For this reason, the city of Shimokawa located on HokkaidoIsland encourages its residents to live in apartment houses, sharing local heating and electricity system. Municipal authorities also create jobs for senior citizens and promote healthy diet and lifestyle. This is how new environmental, social and economic values are defined and new “urban prototypes” created to drive national development. CASBEE, the Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environmental Efficiency, has already been developed and applied. It has components specifically designed for a single building, a compound, a district, a city, as well as for the purposes of marketing and property valuation.

The city of Yokohama, together with Toshiba Corporation, reconstructed its central seaport district Minato Mirai 21, introducing a self-supporting system of accumulation, management and distribution of electricity, heat and air conditioning. The district has an information centre, administration, police, fire-fighting, and emergency services. Its high-rise buildings are energy efficient, and its Isogo-type four-storey houses with 24 apartments have low carbon emission rate as the traditional way of life has been reformed. Central districts similar to Minato Mirai 21, with headquarters of major international companies, are considered by the Japanese government to be essential for the revival of cities and the country at large.

Cities with low carbon emission rate help prevent global warming. In this respect, the city of Kawasaki situated between Tokyo and Yokohama is one of the leaders in the country, as its industry develops in harmony with nature. State-of-the-art high-efficiency technology of tomorrow is concentrated on the Pacific Ocean coastline; utilities include district heating plant, biomass processing facility, solar and wind energy units. This eco-city follows the principle of proper separation of waste that can be recycled and reused as a resource. Through well-designed processing and treatment, the city’s industry has reached zero carbon emissions rate. Corelex factory producing toilet paper has similar technological process. A solar energy plant supplies solar panels at different prices. Kawasaki owes its good ecology to carefully calculated savings in economy.

Nissan Motor Company, too, connected to the energy system fed by solar panels and wind turbines. Already producing cars with low carbon emission, the company switches to electric cars such as Nissan New Mobility Concept, and offers new car models with batteries that can store and supply energy to homes. In the meantime, residential communities are powered by system utilities that generate clean energy from the sun and wind. Nissan has built a two-story single-family energy-efficient residential demo house, Kankan-Kyo: between the traditional Japanese room with tatami mats and engawa terrace overlooking the garden, there is a living room with an ultramodern display that monitors energy saving in different parts of the house. The screen also shows how close a family member is getting, by saving energy, to his dream purchase: a son – to his bicycle, a mother – to her pricy dress…

The Japan’s Initiative considers fast aging of the planet’s population as a factor prompting the arrival of a new viable and sustainable socio-economic system. Aging societies are recommended to attend to the care for seniors, the cost of health services and social welfare. Keeping mind and body healthy means giving everyone opportunity to be socially active and employed. And this requires reform in lifestyle and employment system. The omnipresent late marriages, declining birth rate, young people living separately from their parents and the associated alienation of seniors undermine not only family and community ties, but also the very spirit of the nation. Therefore, communities in Yokohama and Kita-Kyushyu plan for the seniors, families with children and students to live close to each other for mutual support. These communities have their own transport system and pedestrian access to service centres. Houses for different age categories are grouped around a community centre with offices to receive senior citizens and deliver services to them at their homes. In Kita-Kyushyu seniors get help from a physician, a dentist, a pharmacist, friends, acquaintances, peers also in need of assistance, police and fire-fighters. In the community they are supported by neighbours, the association of neighbourhoods, non-profit organizations, volunteers, social security commissioners and staff. At the city level, assistance is provided by the self-help network manager and a counselling centre for seniors. The assistance covers food delivery, instant communication service, personal care, emergency notification system, public safety, etc.

There are two types of “FutureCity”: the Eco-city, and the Compact city. The Eco-city addresses environmental issues: efficient districts with renewed and retrofitted buildings, as in Yokohama, as well as efficient recycling and use of resources, as in Kawasaki. Yokohama ranks first among the world’s most efficient cities, as its multi-functional and environmentally friendly city centre has improved social stability and living standard. Centuries of experience in overcoming the effects of natural calamities have forged the Japanese self-sufficiency: help yourself first, then help the other person, and then wait for the help from authorities. Therefore, for the Nobiru District (Higashimatsushima City) destroyed by the 2011 tsunami, they develop a model of efficient urban community with early warning and disaster control measures, a health care network, autonomous power supply system and a new industry.

Meanwhile, the Compact city models (author Dzhuo Syuedzhin, the Shanghai Academy) focus on easy access to public transport, work and health care facilities for senior citizens; distances are short and building density high; transport is public, pedestrian traffic and cycling are encouraged, energy consumption is reduced, pollution minimized, and human contact gives people a sense of security. Garden-city with a population of one million has been accepted as a model. Yet the new post-war cities in the United States and new residential districts of Chinese cities have been deemed inconsiderate of senior citizens’ needs.

The Japan’s Initiative can benefit Uzbekistan in developing central and residential districts of its cities. Local standards introduced after the country gained independence have increased the radius of residential districts, without providing detail. A renowned Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa did not detail the districts to fit local environment either, when he designed Kazakhstan’s new capital Astana in the 1990s. As an alternative to radial-circular layout of the soviet cities, Kurokawa, the advocate of regionalism, turned to historical Khiva as a model of Central Asian city. In the 1980s, both locally and abroad, its model was published by Iosif I. Notkin who studied the architecture of Khorezm. Naturally, when applying the model of alternating growth of Khiva to the design of the new capital city, Kurokawa could not get into all the details of the regional urban architecture. Therefore, work initiated by Kurokawa and the experience of Uzbekistan should be taken complete advantage of. Mahalla [community of neighbours] as a district component is seen as a pillar of social cohesion and statehood, which is akin to the Japanese notion of community.

Successful implementation of Japan’s “FutureCity” Initiative requires sustainable management, quick action of the executive authority, and cooperation among cities. National government guides the cities, providing them financial support and assisting in implementing the reforms. Selected cities form consortia with governments, corporations, universities and city residents. Cooperation of Kita-Kyushyu with China and Cambodia shows that the use of the Japanese experience requires speed, government collaboration, culture, local private sector, and local “Environment – Business” model. The initiative involves government, industry, and academia of the participating countries; it also involves sharing experience, knowledge and success stories. The Japanese government will support the budget of the selected cities for reforming their legal and tax systems. Collaboration requires that managing and executive bodies implement the “FutureCity” Initiative as a comprehensive package at the government level.

Reference has been made to the JICA. Photo by the author.

Captions to illustrations:

  1. 1.   Regional Express Ways: Yokohama-Tokyo Highway. Tokyo Railway Station, the Shinkansen bullet-train (300 km/h).
  2. Pedestrian “rings” over crossroads in Yokohama and Sendai cities.
  3. Kankan-Kyo residential house by Nissan Motor Company: a niche for tea-making next to tatami room; engawa terrace overlooking the garden.
  4. Kisho Kurokawa and urban growth models: Khiva (bottom) and Astana. Minato Mira 21 District, Yokohama.
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