The future of Tokyo | Alive


Beginning to understand Tokyo’s future as a walkable city requires two prerequisites: first, you need to know where Tokyo currently stands in terms of walkability, and second, you need to be able to determine what actually makes a city walkable. friendly. Anyone who has set foot in Japan’s capital will tell you that it’s a pleasant if overwhelming place to navigate on foot, but they might have a little more trouble articulating why. Tokyo is undertaking new projects to reclaim and pedestrianize existing transport infrastructure to help it become an even more accessible and walkable megacity. The future of Tokyo’s infrastructure looks decidedly human-centric, and I can’t wait for it to happen.

A useful concept for understanding pedestrian-friendly urban design is the idea of ​​permeability. Permeability refers to the ease with which pedestrians, cyclists or drivers can move through a city without being restricted by urban forms. A high degree of permeability is desirable. A main road through the center of a city may increase the permeability of cars from the beginning to the end of that road, but it will decrease the permeability of pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile traffic attempting to intersect it. If you spot an interesting store, park, shrine, or sculpture across a street, but don’t want to go through the pain of crossing, the area probably has low permeability. Tokyo generally has a high degree of permeability for most forms of traffic due to its main thoroughfares and public transit systems being elevated or moved underground to tunnels. This allows pedestrians and cyclists to move freely at ground level.

Tokyo, Japan – November 1, 2010: Closed level crossing with yellow warning sign at Shimokitazawa station.

Most major thoroughfares avoid busy stations where most people begin their journey on foot. This not only helps improve an area’s passability and permeability for pedestrians, but also helps give each area a unique feel that makes Tokyo feel like a collection of smaller towns or villages. The city is separated by these thoroughfares, but each area thus created is large and developed enough that you usually don’t have to leave. This concept is called the street hierarchy and it is used to separate pedestrian traffic and high-speed car traffic.

In Shimokitazawa, a project to improve both permeability and public transit, underway since the 1980s, is finally coming to an end. The Odakyu Line, a major commuter rail line running through the district, has been moved underground. This not only clears the area where the tracks used to be, but since it is a double-decker tunnel, the tracks can now accommodate more trains at once. The area above the tracks is no longer an impermeable train line dividing the neighborhood, but is currently being redeveloped into a modern pedestrian area called Senrogai.

Senrogai is a 1.7 km development on the old tracks of the Odakyu Line.

Senrogai, which when translated into English means something like “Railroad Town”, is a 1.7 km development on the old Odakyu Line tracks that includes outdoor shopping areas, designated market areas, a traditional style ryokan, hotel and more. The whole area is beginning to fill with trees and flowers, and as construction continues other developments will continue to develop. This project transformed something that was a barrier to foot traffic into a place where people can comfortably gather and hang out. That being said, it’s also worth noting that the project, and others in Shimokitazawa, have been criticized for gentrifying the neighborhood and ruining its once-cool aesthetic. However, if Tokyo’s urban environment is one thing, it is constantly changing. Either this development will blend in with the counter-culture atmosphere of the area, or somewhere else in Tokyo will take its place.

If you want residents to use a city as pedestrians, rather than transit drivers or passengers, you need to encourage pedestrian traffic. This can happen either by making the alternatives less desirable or by making walking a more pleasant experience. Generally, to make a space walkable, you have to make it car-free. Cars come with noise, pollution and a lack of permeability. Moving roads with heavy car traffic to the outskirts of the city, or even better, underground, improves the experience of navigating a city on foot.

Ginza, Tokyo’s upscale shopping district, is taking a drastic approach to increasing walkability by converting its existing automobile infrastructure into pedestrian space. Ginza is generally less pedestrian-friendly than other areas of Tokyo due to its wide, busy, grid-shaped, car-friendly streets. When the streets are suitable for cars, they are necessarily hostile to people. Fortunately, this is already somewhat mitigated by closing some of the main streets to cars at weekends, leaving the wide streets open to walking; and the new Ginza project will help make the area even more pedestrian friendly.

Taking inspiration from New York’s High Line and Paris’s Coulée Verte, Ginza plans to convert an elevated two-kilometer freeway into a leafy driveway and park high above the hustle and bustle below. The park will run in a U-shape, surrounding Ginza from Yaesu to Shimbashi. This new development will add much-needed green space to an area of ​​Tokyo that can feel particularly gray and heavy with concrete. The project won’t kick off until at least the 2030s, but it will certainly help Tokyo become not only a more walkable city, but also a greener one.

The construction of this elevated park is not the only project that puts the experience of pedestrians before that of motorists. The Ginza project is made possible by another project that plans to restore one of Japan’s most important historical monuments to its original state. Just before the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, Nihonbashi, the bridge from which all distances to the capital are measured, was covered by an imposing concrete highway that crosses the river and crosses the rows of towers that line it. Now plans are underway to relocate this underground highway, reclaiming the hidden waterway for people.

The usefulness of the Nihonbashi River as a pedestrian space was destroyed by the post-war industrial boom in Japan through intoxication and industrialization.

While this winding freeway that soars high above lends the cyberpunk aesthetic that some associate with Tokyo, its oppressive structure makes the area below far less pleasant for pedestrians. The area will be developed to utilize the historically significant bridge and the currently unusable waterway. The development is expected to cost over 300 billion yen and will involve major construction work over nearly two decades that will affect many of Tokyo’s expressways, including the aforementioned Ginza Park project.

The Nihonbashi River is just one of many once bustling, human-centric waterways that were effectively destroyed by Japan’s post-war industrial boom. This included toxicity from manufacturing and human waste, industrialization in which rivers were covered by highways or railroads, and flood protection measures making rivers useless for pedestrians. In one of Hokusai’s woodcuts from his 36 Views of Mount Fuji collection, you can see Nihonbashi as a human-scale living place before it was covered in concrete and steel. Another example, the Meguro River, a now popular place for pedestrians for shopping, cherry blossom viewing and walking, has also been abandoned due to pollution and industrial contamination.

Katsushika Hokusai’s woodblock print “Nihonbashi in Edo” shows a bustling, human-centered waterway. From the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei), polychrome print; ink and color on paper.

Tokyo has become a pedestrian-friendly city through a mix of planned development and centuries-old organic growth. For it to continue progressing towards an even more walkable location, it will need to continue this method of building planned areas, while letting local business owners shape, modify and recreate spaces to suit the needs of their neighborhoods. Over-planned areas can seem barren and uninteresting, while completely unplanned areas can seem chaotic and dangerous. Overall, Tokyo has long navigated the boundary between these two extremes, having undergone more change over the past 150 years than almost any other major city. Only time will tell, however, if these major projects will allow the city to develop while maintaining its happy balance between chaotic and organized.


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