In our previous issue, we reflected on how a city, even an entire culture, can be changed by women. In this month’s issue, we would like to explore the Urban in relation to the Rural, or if that opposition is meaningful. You might know about the popular simulation game SimCity. In it, a residential area’s population increases when a park is created nearly. From the Japanese perspective, this seems strange. In central Tokyo, for example, population density does not seem to depend on proximity to a park, but rather on closeness to a railway station, and whether large-scale developments are planned in the vicinity.
Covid-19 has brought a drastic change to every aspects of our lifestyles. We spend considerably longer time at home than we did, and a large number of people work remotely. This transformation has led to a re-evaluation of city centers, and a tendency to move to suburban or rural areas. Nevertheless, a survey carried out in July by Gakujo, a recruitment information company, showed that 60% still “want to live in a city center” or “would prefer to if possible”, with just 25% preferring “living in a suburb”. In fact, land prices in central Tokyo are still rising, where wealthy people are said to be enthusiastically purchasing apartments. This reflects the continuing popularity of the properties in epi-central locations with low commuting times.
Japanese real estate value, as mentioned above, is affected by proximity to a station. People search property websites using the filter ‘X minutes from station’. Yet in US cities like Portland or New York, this is not always the overriding criterion. Unquantifiable factors such as whether parks or nice cafes are close, or if security is good, are also important. Manhattan’s Upper West Side faces Central Park and is famously home to high-income individuals. Areas near to so-called ‘pocket parks’ are also popular, while in Portland, Oregon, cycle paths are well developed, and are important to residents. Whether such areas are convenient for public transportation is less of an issue. These US cities seem analogous to the SimCity model.
It is often said that Japan has an extreme polarization between Urban and Rural areas. If so, this would seem to derive from the way in which cities have been formed. Communities have generated naturally in places where amenities existed, regardless of convenience to access to somewhere else. Covid-19 now restricts people to their neighborhoods, which actually might be a chance. Endless opportunities may open to find value in our own local areas, even if far from stations, or in somewhat inconvenient places. Such re-evaluations are indeed occurring on the peripheries of greater Tokyo.
What is needed for future cities is an essential quality of life, that is, a reason to live there. Without this, whether Urban or Rural, areas will see no meaningful development. Only after a comprehensive balance is reached between cultural programs, a rich natural environment, security, and amenities, will vibrantly activated spaces be fully achieved. Only then will people be attracted to a specific area, gathering naturally. Early adapters inspire more people to move in, so that a positive loop can be expected. A good community will be born from investments that are not solely capitalist in nature. Rather than the separating Urban, Rural and Suburb, small community units and their aggregated network may enable all areas to gain in value.
Writing: Mai Tsunoo
Translation: Kazuhiro Murayama
Direction: Kaz Yoneda