Tokyo in the Modern Era | MIPIM-World Blog

Reviewed by Greg Clark


In the 1970s, developments of the city sub centers by the government such as Shinjuku also introduced changes to Tokyo.  The wider distribution of central business zone achieved much better accessibility for the commuters from the suburban areas of Tokyo.  However, segregation of working and living environment made the inner city of Tokyo much less attractive in terms of livability. Furthermore, in the late 1980s, the “Bubble” economy hit Tokyo and the land prices, especially in the inner city area, grew dramatically.  The pace of acquisition of land by the public sector became a serious problem, slowing down urban regeneration.

“Work-based” development of Shinjuku Sub-center in 1982 (Left) and 2005 (Right) Source: Tokyo Project, Kazuo Hiramoto


New Development for the 21st Century

Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, the largest private based urban regeneration project in Japan, is now known as one of the most successful mixed use projects around the world.  The entire development took more than 20 years, which reveals the difficulty of the development procedures in Japan.  The area redeveloped was known as one of the most complicated districts in terms of the urban geometry and land ownerships.  There were more than 500 owners of the land within some 110,000 sqm land area devoted for the development.


Roppongi Hills Before and After the Development Source: Mori Building

A master plan was drawn by the developer to create a mixed use and high density complex, providing compact and pedestrian friendly environment with green and cultural assets.  Also, measures to enhance the safety of the district were shown in the master plan. Initially, a number of the land owners refused to participate in the project, but after the unfailing effort of coordination, finally the project was launched. After the completion in 2003, Roppongi Hills has been recognized as one of the most popular venues not only for office workers but also for residents and even for tourists. The value of the district was raised substantially and the surrounding areas have been evolved positively as well as the district.  This application can be a new business model to facilitate the regeneration all over inner Tokyo toward the future.
2011 and beyond: A New Zone to Enhance Urban Competitiveness
Followed by the great earthquake in March 11, 2011, risks of disasters have been widely recognized especially in the urban areas. As the capital of Japan and one of the global financial hubs in the world, tackling the vulnerability of Tokyo is an urgent issue.  After the long discussion, the Japanese Government has eventually decided to introduce the “Special Zones” in inner Tokyo to promote urban regeneration to mitigate the future risks and to provide international urban platforms which attract people, companies, and investments.
Roppongi Hills, in the meanwhile, accommodated more than some 1,000 refugees from around the surrounding area when the March 11 earthquake attacked the city.  The complex also provided electricity to the neighborhood with its own power plant.  Urban design in Roppongi Hills should be referred as a model to achieve the regeneration of the whole inner Tokyo. Regeneration will also help to enhance Tokyo’s urban competitiveness under the globalisation of cities.

International Strategic Special Zone designated in Tokyo, 2012 Source: Tokyo Metropolitan Government

There are many important lessons from Tokyo for other Asian Megacities. Chief among these are the need to shape land uses over long development cycles and the needs to have some continuing leverage over landowners. A second important lesson is the need to get public and private sectors working together on shared plans that are negotiated to advance long term outcomes. Tokyo has relied too much on separated initiatives. A final important lesson concerns the need to adjust to having a much larger population over time by creating a polycentric city, with historic quarters that are carefully managed to sustain historic architecture and character. All in all, Tokyo has emerged with many urban development successes, but the lessons have been hard and should not be ignored.


Top image credit : Photobank gallery

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