By Sarah Longlands, Patsy Dell (www.lgcplus.com)
It’s refreshing to find that the problems that we are grappling with in the UK are not so different from the challenges faced by planners and economic development professionals on the other side of the world… apart from that is, the economic contribution of Love Hotels in planned communities.
In our second week of research, which is being sponsored by the Norfolk Charitable Trust, we were looking at the planning of new communities in Asia. In Japan, we met local government colleagues in Tsukuba Science City, Kawasaki Ecotown and Tama New Town.
In Japan, the notion of what makes for a successful community is not straightforward and challenges many of our western preconceptions. Convenience or “Benri” is a concept which underpins much of the planning for new communities – the idea that citizens want a convenient place to live which means efficient and equitable access to infrastructure and services.
European and UK priorities around aesthetics and urban design don’t seem to feature, particularly where the majority of housing is delivered through the ubiquitous, system built, apartment block. These buildings, as our hosts told us, are the easiest, the most popular and of course the cheapest to build, in an economy where 125 year mortgages are commonplace.
Housing was not the only issue they were dealing with in Tsukuba Science city, home to 40% of Japan’s research and development community. At the same time as the mayor and his staff, were trying to encourage new high end business investment from global companies, they were grappling with the demand from love hotel developers to set up shop in the town.
Whilst both are sources of employment and enterprise, they won’t both feature in your economic development strategy. The mayor also made some interesting points about localism, Japanese style. The governance structure in Japan is such that, despite their importance as a knowledge industry cluster, Tsukuba don’t have the autonomy to approach central government directly for support and instead, must work through the prefecture government of Iberaki (equivalent to unitary authority in the UK).
Moving on, how many tetra packs does it take to make a recycled toilet roll? This was a key question we were asked during a visit to an paper recycling company based in the Eco-town area of Kawasaki. Kawasaki has focused the regeneration of its industrial community upon a symbiosis of economic and environmental priorities attempting to capitalise on the opportunity of low carbon growth. This has included reclaiming the excess heat and steam from industrial production to generate power for other industrial users. Waste is seen is a valuable raw material to power economic growth rather than as a problem.
Companies in the area are encouraged to work together in collaboration through a not for profit organisation which is also helping to generate greater levels of environmental innovation. (by the way, it takes five tetra-packs to make a recycled toilet roll!).
On Wednesday, the rain arrived with a typhoon as we tramped around Tama New Town, but that didn’t detract from what we saw, although our Japanese hosts blamed us for bringing the rain! Now 40 years old, Tama is an interesting example of the changing life cycle of a planned community.
Originally planned to relieve the congestion of Tokyo, Tama started as a dormitory town for the Japanese salary-men and their families. Now those salary-men have grown old, the infrastructure is struggling to meet the needs of an elderly community. For example, the original five storey “danchi” apartment blocks have no lifts, the landscaping is dominated by hills and steps and there are few local bus services.
The population as a whole has stopped growing as younger commuters want to live closer to the thriving centre of Tokyo. In some neighbourhoods of Tama, more than 70% of the population is over 65 years old. The government in Tama are attempting to regenerate the area in order to attract a new generation back to Tama whist at the same time, better meet the needs of the current ageing community.
It seems that in Japan at least, the key ingredient for a resilient community is difficult to pin down, “a moving target”, because, as Mr Ichihara-san, the mayor of Tsukuba also said, a community’s sense of what makes it resilient, “changes from one generation to the next”.
After the gobsmacking levels of public expenditure we saw in Korea, it has been refreshing to come to Japan and listen to local government colleagues remind us of their concerns around limited public finances, impact of recession and shrinking revenue budgets.
When we return to the UK, we’ll be looking forward to hearing all about Eric Pickles’ latest plans and thinking about what contribution our research can make to the government’s plans for localism, planning and economic development in the UK.
Our thanks go to the Japan Local Government Centre for helping us to arrange our meetings in Japan.
Sarah Longland is director of policy at the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES). This is written in partnership with Patsy Dell, head of planning at St Edmundsbury BC.
(article reprinted with kind permission of Local Government Chronicle)