12/12/2011

Tohoku Planning Forum Part I: An Introduction to a research on a New sustained Tohoku


The Tohoku Planning Forum #1, organised at Tokyo University, Tokyo, on December 12th, is closed and a second part is in preparation. It is scheduled for December 20th. I will be in Paris. Sadly.
Tohoku Planning Forum #1. Credit: Urban Lab Global Cities

This first part was very instructive. It should be considered as an introduction of a long-term conversation-led project as participants raised topics that should be discussed before been translated into plans or projects to participate in the reconstruction of the damaged Northeast.
Unsurprisingly, the main idea of the project and its articulation aside, the idea of "share" (共有), mutual aid (互助的関係), community building, etc. dominated the conference. Other subjects such as housing, to quote a few, occupied a large part of the condference.
In my view, the question of temporary housing will gradually be posing a serious problem in particular concerning the elderly people who are the most numerous in the temporary housing. That was the case in 1995 (The 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake): temporary housing already raised lots of issues. This is once again the same with the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami/Fire/Radiation. As Noritoshi Tanida argued (See —> "What happened to elderly people in the great Hanshin Earthquake", Noritoshi Tanida, 1996), the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake was the worst natural disaster in terms of its effect in elderly people. More than half of the fatalities were among those over 60 years old, and most of this group of age were female fatalities. Elderly people were left to their own devices and many of them were relegated to the marginal space in shelters. In this context, many died even long after the earthquake struck Kobe. This is what Japan wants to avoid by proposing a maximum of temporary housing to house the evacuees encouraging volunteers to support the most vulnerable victims, the elderly people.
It has not been said in this conference, but as the reconstruction plan is not fixed yet, people will continue to live in temporary housing. Yet up to when? As it is difficult to determine a date, it is consequently important to considering temporary housing as a place where people want to live in, at least temporarily. A place providing minimum living conditions that will help wait for the reconstruction. It is also important, as one participant, Liz Maly (Kobe University), pointed out, to avoid mistakes of 1995, say: people, in particular elderly people, were relocated far away from where they lived leading to a serious trauma.
Another point that the conference highlighted is the relationship between evacuees and volunteers. People want to talk, talk, and talk. In fact, they want to share their experience in order to help reconstruct the damaged areas. Once again, if we go back to 1995, the elderly people and the vulnerable groups (injuries, orphans) were left behing in temporary accommodation. 
This is why the question of temporary housing should be reconsidered until the reconstruction as a place where people can meet one another. Kamaishi City in the Iwate Prefecture has many temporary housings for the evacuees. Heita is one among many examples. Mr Ohtsuki designed a plan showing a spatial arrangement that can be instructive for temporary housing, in particular where elderly people and various groups are numerous. This plan contains a care zone, a childhood zone, general zones (一般ゾーン), Support center zone, office, retails, a public space, a parking lot, etc., dedicated to the temporary dwellers. As for the community zone it allows for people to gather. But for those who dislike community, privacy zone must be considered in order these people to isolate themselves from the others. In few words, temporary housing must take into account each dweller' territory, privacy as well as safety. And this is the most difficult especially when the victims are numerous. This is a considerable task for those who are involved in "community building".
Another aspect highlighted is the disaster itself which was in fact multiple disasters-in-one disaster: not only earthquake but also tsunami, fire and radiation. A recent exhibition at TOTO Gallery Ma, Tokyo, (until December 24th) mapped these four events and their effects on the northeast cities. These multiple disasters must be taken into consideration in the reconstruction plan. It is certain that Japan will face with increasing similar events in particular coastal cities.
To conclude, as a participant pointed out, this earthquake/tsunami/fire/radiation will have a strong aftershocks not only physically and socially but also economically as it was already the case after The 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. Japan will face many challenging issues including its population aging. If Japan succeeds in designing a place to live, 'habitat cities' for its dwellers, if Japan succeeds in planning human-scale smart cities (I am not talking of technologies but of living conditions, well-being and health) that will provide a high quality of life and standard of living for the most vulnerable, the elderly people as well as children, the country will unsurpringly serve as example for societies that are concerned with this issue of population aging (the United States for instance) as health and well-being will be key urban standard of living.
Then a sustained and self-sufficient area. See these 3.11 events as an opportunity to implement a sustained and self-sufficient area for people who live in. This has not yet been discussed but the region needs a redistribution of urban activities that will allow young people to go back and invest in the region. While the rate of elderly people increases, the number of young people has decreased considerably over the last few decades, young people tending to move to the Capital for work. As Tohoku is considered as the granary of Japan — rice, and other farm commodities —, task will be to rethink the future of these areas as sels-sufficient and sustain areas so that young people will not only go back but also, and if so, revitalize this region.
Finally, as LSE Cities/Urban Age pointed out, it is clear that Japan will continue to rethink its risk management policies as the recent 3.11 events revealed serious limits of the natural prevention planning. The first part of the Tohoku Planning Forum did not discuss this point of risk management but it is important if not crucial to include improvement of risk management policies  in particular when the damaged area gathers all the weak points: threatened areas, high concentration of eldery people, wooden structures, etc.
The conference can be watched: Here. See also Tohoku Planning Forum website for detailed information.

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