Academic journal article European Journal of Sustainable Development

Designing Autonomous Communities in Suburbs of Japan

Academic journal article European Journal of Sustainable Development

Designing Autonomous Communities in Suburbs of Japan

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Heavy concentrations of population and industry in major cities have increased and even stabilised in Japan in contrast to the trends and efforts in other developed countries where a more balanced population distribution has been achieved (Yagi, 2015)(Motani, 2007). Population outflow to cities has caused depopulation in suburbs, which in part has triggered multiple issues such as a decline in the local economy, loss of culture, identical and interchangeable scenery due to prevalence of chain stores and weak relationships between community members, among other issues. In tackling these issues, the mainstream approach of community revitalisation focuses mostly on what to and how to accomplish this, with a bias towards economic, technological and administrative measures. This is echoed in the concepts of deep ecology that challenge the "short-term, shallow approach (that) stops before the ultimate level of fundamental change, often promoting technological fixes" (Drengson, 2012). Without a bold move to step out of this type of situation, a future community of suburbs1 may resemble a homogeneous and uniform community that merely maintains its functions.

In response to the above issues, this study proposes a new paradigm drawing an ideological change for community autonomy to accommodate contemporary values and lifestyle. A family lifestyle including working styles and household makeup (single-parent family, lone elderly resident, etc.) has become diverse, and responding to various public needs is highly challenging. A new paradigm is based on the concept of a shared principle or vision, rather than fixing a set list of customary practices, in order to foster community autonomy achieving detailed mutual assistance and restoring local dynamism and community appeal. The concept is articulately elucidated using the apron diagram developed in deep ecology, a theory of environmental ethics.

2. Conceptual Framework

2.1 Scope and Definition

A community is considered to be a social unit in which people live in the same geographical location, share common perspectives, or jointly conduct activities. The level of community in this study is even smaller than the elementary boundary, a neighbourhood association called jichikai or chonaikai. The characteristics of a neighbourhood association in Japan are defined as 1) a household unit system, 2) geographical occupancy system, 3) participatory system that includes all households, 4) system inclusive of functions and 5) a terminal agency for public administration (Ito, 2007)(Kurasawa & Akimoto, 1994). Neighbourhood associations as jichikaii or chonaikai did not exist in Western countries in the 1920s.2 The Western nations at the time tended to avoid the transfer of public roles to private entities. A Japanese-type neighbourhood association was viewed as obsolete and even appraised as a remnant of feudalism. Though obligatory participation, one of the four characteristics explained above, has been loosened in recent years, its coverage as a voluntary association is not comparable to any other entity around the world (Kurasawa & Akimoto, 1994). Its role includes a diverse range of public services including community clean-up, collection of recyclables, sharing of local information, organisation of local festivals, distribution of administrative information from governments, disaster prevention action, and others (Cabinet Office, 2004a). The role of the municipal government, which is responsible for promoting the welfare of citizens, has also increased in the areas of medical care, nursing care, education, transport and disaster response, and anticipates an intensification of administrative cost per capita (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 2013). Despite the loss of population along with a shrinking number of children, the number of settlements remains unchanged, so that residents are scattered over a large area, with an increasing rate of one-person household (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 2013). …

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