Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

The Dynamics of Urban Degrowth in Japanese Metropolitan Areas: What Are the Outcomes of Urban Recentralisation Strategies?

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

The Dynamics of Urban Degrowth in Japanese Metropolitan Areas: What Are the Outcomes of Urban Recentralisation Strategies?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Until the mid-2000s, it felt odd to use the expression 'shrinking city' when analysing the urban dynamics of Japanese cities, as its conceptual framework was originally focused on the study of de-industrialisation, hollowing-out and pauperisation processes in the inner ring of Western Fordist cities (Cunningham-Sabot and Fol, 2010). The attention later given to the impacts of political transition, economic restructuring and demographic ageing all over Eastern Europe has allowed the words 'shrinking city' not to remain confined to post-Fordist case studies. Recent theoretical debates insist on the transnational nature of the factors leading to the globalisation of the shrinking city phenomenon (Martinez-Fernandez et al., 2012a), and on its expansion in Pacific Asia (Pallagst et al., 2013; Richardson and Nam, 2013). In layman's terms, however, the expression invokes a vision of decay associated with the landscapes of Detroit, Liverpool, Leipzig or Ivanovo, and Japanese cities have difficulties fitting in the picture, except for distinct cases of abandoned coal-mining towns (Martinez-Fernandez et al., 2012b) or one-company towns (Oswalt and Reniets, 2008). For a long time, Japanese cities, with their high-value industries, seemed to be spared from blight; their networked urbanism, albeit vulnerable to disasters, was subject to constant renewal. Lastly,Japanese cities are not as homogeneous as one might think, but have not experienced the level of segregation seen in their North American counterparts (Fielding, 2004). Yet, in the late 2000s, several pioneering books sucessfully transferred the notion into the Japanese context (Ono, 2008; Yahagi, 2009): nowadays Japanese scholars are regularly talking about urban shrinkage (toshi no shukusho) to express their awareness of the challenges awaiting Japan's urban society and to reflect upon relevant policy answers.

The spread of this notion is first of all linked to an exceptionally advanced demographic bifurcation which reinforces the deflationary trends that enervated the national economy for two decades (Matsutani, 2006). For the record, in Japan, continuously declining marriage and birth rates combine with the longest healthy life expectancy in the world, so that the national share of people over 65 should exceed 40 per cent by 2040. Absolute demographic decline officially started in 2008 and accelerates, as it is not compensated with net international migration rates. If such trends persist, Japan's population could decrease from 127.5 million in 2005 to less than 100 million by 2050. It forces policy makers, real estate investors and transport companies to revisit planning paradigms based on a continuous demand for land ownership and on a growing number of customers.

But the demographic factor cannot explain the selective concentration of human skills, investments and informational flows in the areas with the best connections to global economic networks, that characterises Japan's 'post-growth' urban dynamics (Hino and Tsutsumi, 2015). In 2012, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism estimated that only 2 per cent of the country's inhabited areas would grow by 2050, whereas 60 per cent of them should expect population loss (MLIT, 2012). The land price bubble caused a residential hollowing-out of city centres in the 1980s; yet, since the late 1990s, the neighbourhoods attracting dwellers are mostly situated inside or near the business districts of Japanese metropolises, especially Tokyo, where the mushrooming of high-rise condos and office towers has resulted in an impressive surge of its skyline. By contrast, 'bedtown' suburbs which housed millions of baby boomers are declining all the more as, supposedly, 'the single family house with the yard is no longer the ideal living style' (Abe, 2015, 31). A combination of peri-urban shrinkage and inward mobilities may at first encourage the sustainable rebuilding of denser cities adapted to the needs of a silver society. …

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