The social structure of Japan has been drastically changing, due to population decline and the aging of our citizens. It is clear that cities in which we are now living cannot stay the same as they were during the high-growth era. Local cities are shrinking and, in large urban areas, the declining birthrate and aging population are realities that cannot be ignored. We, as proposers of urban planning and architecture, cannot just stand back and let these cities crumble.
We believe it is our mission and responsibility as a design firm to consider future urban planning and architecture, and to formulate proposals that suit the new concept of urban areas.
As part of this mission, AXS SATOW INC. has decided to commit ourselves to socially responsible initiatives, which we call "Seeds Proposals." We are currently addressing urgent city-related problems. We aim to review, from a new vantage point, compact city schemes advocated as a means of urban regeneration.
When presenting our proposal, we first need to grasp society as a whole, because it makes a huge impact on urban areas, and then explore prerequisite factors for building a new compact city.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the industrial society has been transforming into the information society as information technology has developed. This information society has been creating a new social structure, influenced by globalism, as well as by the unique society of Japan and its economic climate. This may be a worn-out way of putting it, but the society of Japan has changed from a growing society to a mature, post-growth society. Many aspects point to this change. Examples are measures being taken to tackle population problems, changes of interest from material to spiritual wealth, and the related changes of industry structure, lifestyles and communities.
Among these changes is a population decline that few modern societies have ever experienced, and for which we have not yet found effective countermeasures. In most cities, except for major metropolitan areas, numbers are likely to continue fallling, even to 75% of the present population, by 2040. Furthermore, low fertility rates and an aging population are other serious issues. Japan's population has the highest proportion of people 65 and older, in the world. Changes in family structure caused by this aging pattern will result in, to no small extent, changes in communities and the general population's way of life.
Moreover, while globalisation expands, the development of the information society has been accelerating local information sharing, too. For the revitalisation of local societies, it will be necessary to promote industries that take root in communities.
Aspirations for material abundance and a uniformly wealthy society, which used to be strong in a growing society, have already diminished, and new lifestyles, seeking spiritual wealth and happiness through individual means, are gaining popularity.
Under these circumstances, urban structure should not focus on material abundance. What should a city be like, so that people can have a spiritually wealthy life? With decreasing populations, cities do not have to expand further. We belive that it will become more important to have a "compact," yet abundant, life.
Population decline is mostly discussed as a population onus. However, isn't it necessary for us to look at decreasing population in a post-growth society from a different angle, as a necessary step for society to further mature?
Background of "Connection" in a Matured Society and Compact City Building
Based on the practice of "scrap and build," cities in a growing society dramatically spread out to the suburbs, due to urban sprawl. However, when populations start falling, vacant houses begin to appear within the expanded cities. In cities with randomly "hollowed-out" areas, it is difficult to maintain public infrastructure.
Recently, cities have been losing their vitality one after another, as they fail to respond to the changes of society and industry structure. It is predicted that 900 cities, towns and villages within Japan will disappear by 2040.
Shrinking cities have common challenges:
①decreased economic and commercial activity in city centres; ②hollowed-out suburban residential areas; ③increased maintenance burdens for city functions; and ④difficulty in maintaining public transportion.
The Three Town Development Laws were enacted in 1998, followed by the Revised Three Town Development Laws of 2006. Other systems have been introduced, as well, but with only limited success so far.
Kevin Lynch, an American urban planner, presented "five factors that make cities visually recognizable," in his book The Image of the City (1960). Among those five factors, we believe that the "nodes" are the most important concept. Furthermore, Jane Jacobs, an activist, greatly criticized city zoning policies in her book analysis: The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). Jacobs' critique, disseminated from the viewpoint of an ordinary citizen, is something we consider when designing urban planning appropriate for today and the future.
New Compact City Building
A compact city is not necessarily designed to pursue only convenience of transportation and urban functions. A compact city needs to be a "healthy city" that suits the coming years. It also needs to be a city that allows diversity to exist, where people can live a compact life in comfort, and which includes a flexible attitude in the globalised world.
We define the new compact city as one that includes a flexible urban structure, with a central part and outskirts that have balanced independence and interconnection, while the central part (node) has evident, multiple layers of characteristic urban functions (layer). In such a city, people mainly walk from one place to another and can live a compact life.
In the past, nature was destroyed and consumed for development in urban areas. It is hard to say that cities today exist, even in part, in harmony with nature. Originally, however, nature and human beings, even in cities, have a need to be integrated with each other. We think that, in a mature society, cities need to get friendly with nature again, such as having connections with areas of green and water.
Based on this idea, we present three proposals.
Considering Coexistence with Nature: Seed Proposal for the Sumida River
We propose the construction of a "nature city" which strengthens connections between water (river), greenery and the city. Using the Sumida River (a symbol of Tokyo) as a focal point, we consider a way to bring nature back to the city.
We designed a new sub-centre, "River Sumida Sub-centre," with five basin areas of the River Sumida connected by water transporation. New elements are added to city life, such as the beautiful city scape seen from the river and a transportation system where you can enjoy the ride itself.
Healthcare City Initiative: Considering a New Way of Living
Well-being is fundamental, especially for city-dwellers. We propose ways that urban areas should be and design those areas using "health" as a key theme, along with measures for revitalisation of the city centre.
Setting aside a pedestrian area of 800m across the city centre, we consolidate city functions there. This provides a green belt in the peripheral area, making it easy to move around.
Junction City Initiative: Considering New City Structure
By analysing urban structures as layers, with many functions in each area, we propose a new core structure of the city, changing it from the tree-like, configurational structure, to a circle-like structure.
Nodes in a city consist of various layers. We believe that we can create new bustle in a city by analysing these layers and adding necessary elements.