Since 1994, I have travelled to Japan over 70 times to work on architectural projects, primarily in Tokyo and including two large areas of regeneration at Roppongi Hills and Futako Tamagawa.
Earlier this year I was fortunate to leave Tokyo two days before the major earthquake and subsequent tsunami that has claimed in excess of 20,000 lives. Whilst never having lived in Japan, I do feel I have assimilated a sense of their culture; a people who place great importance on collective responsibility and cautious decision-making.
It was with this understanding that I was not surprised to read last week that Japan is considering the construction of a completely new
city as a back-up to the functions of Tokyo, in the event of a major earthquake disabling the capital; an event that seismologists believe is overdue.
The new city, currently titled IRTBBC (standing for Integrated Resort, Tourism, Business and Back-up City) would have 50,000 residents and a working-day population of 200,000, built on the 500-hectare site of the former Itami Airport near Osaka.
As such, it is clearly not a replica of Tokyo or a place of safety for Tokyo's population in the event of a disaster, as the capital's population currently stands at about 13 million. It is seen more as a back-up; a spare battery for the functions of the nation.
Such a proposal obviously raises many questions: if the government is primarily concerned about loss of functions, why not follow an immediate strategy of de-centralisation, such as in the UK where administrative departments have been relocated from London to other cities? If the new city is genuinely a functional back-up why do 'Resort' and 'Tourism' appear so prominently in its name? And why is a casino seen as an important part of the initial plan, seemingly mentioned with parity alongside the city's purpose as the emergency seat of government? If the new city is a reaction to concerns about earthquake damage in high-rise Tokyo, why include in the plan the tallest tower in the world at 652 metres high?
of the initial internet-based comments on the proposal cynically question whether this is a first stage in Japan recognising and planning for a Tokyo that will become redundant due to increasing radio-active fallout from further meltdown at the Fukushima plant. I doubt anyone has sufficient information to judge whether this is the case.
Whatever the reasoning and suitability of the IRTBBC, I have learned from my time in Japan that it is a nation that has the vision and determination to deliver such a complex project and build it to the highest levels of construction quality. If it were to happen, my hope would be that Japan uses this as an opportunity to challenge its environmental and sustainability credentials and develop a model for lower-rise, high density city living that could act as a template for progress in the other parts of the region.
Editorial , London
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