The Value of Grey
Modern urban planning, initiated in Western Europe and North America at the dawn of the twentieth century, framed the concept of “city” as an area where no agricultural land uses should be included. In Japan, however, the demarcation between the city and countryside was ambiguously “grey” in comparison to that of Western cities. This ambiguous mixture of urban and rural land uses characterized both the fringe and the interior of Japanese cities as well. Edo, the former name of Tokyo, was already the largest city in the world in the eighteenth century with more than one million people; but at the same time, welcomed and was quite compatible with a vast amount of agricultural land that covered more than 40% of the city.
Detesting an ambiguous “grey” mixture and adoring homogeneity and clear “black-and-white” separation of land were the precepts of modern urban planning; that is, how modern urban planners framed the problem of building sustainable cities. According to such an urban planning concept, the Japanese mixed land use has long been regarded as a premodern and deniable use of land. One key feature of the 1939 Comprehensive Parks and Open Space Plan of Tokyo was developing a greenbelt surrounding Tokyo to clearly differentiate the central core of the city with its urban land uses from the surrounding countryside with its rural land uses. The City Planning Act in 1968 also aimed at achieving a clear separation of urban and rural land uses by designating Urbanization Promotion Areas (UPA) and Urbanization Control Areas (UCA) in each local municipality.
Cities are regarded as an entity that never creates but merely absorbs natural resources, especially food. The threat of natural disasters in Western European and North American cities is extremely low in comparison to Asian cities, and thus systems to transport food can be expected to operate with virtually little or no disruption. Cities in Asia, including those in Japan, are not afforded this luxury. They frequently suffer from sudden disruptions in transportation infrastructure caused by earthquakes, tropical hurricanes, and other natural disasters that are part of everyday life. Such a situation should therefore motivate Asian cities to maintain a redundant food supply system that can supply food even in emergencies, when logistics are disrupted for an inordinate period of time, by planning for both internal and external food supplies. Agricultural land in the city – the land likely perceived as an ambiguous “grey” mixture from the non-Asian perspective – should therefore be regarded as a reasonable and prudent land use rooted in the Asian environment. Agricultural lands also provide ecological services and are thus a crucial element for creating a sustainable city.
One conventional framing of modern civilization is its “digital approach”, which tries to deductively identify fundamental elements in a “black or white” manner and then inductively synthesize such elements to re-build the entity. From such a two-value approach, the multi-value approach of “grey” has been regarded as an incomplete stage that should further be analytically identified as an entity composed of black or white elements. However, the land use mixture identified in Asian cities conveys the need for a new framing that restores and nurtures the value of grey, especially when planning for the sustainable future of the city and its surrounding region by respecting their vernacular landscapes.
KeywordsUrban and rural land uses Redundancy Natural disaster Urban agriculture Food system Resilience
Basic theories of modern urban planning were initiated at the dawn of the twentieth century in Western Europe, where almost no threat of natural disasters as earthquakes, tsunami and tropical hurricanes was identified. Cities in the world, including those in Asia, have been taking such theories as the standard and developing themselves according the theories. However, are the theories initiated in disaster-free Western Europe cities applicable for Asian cities frequently suffering from natural disasters? Shouldn’t there be alternative planning theories suitable for Asian cities? As natural disasters in European and North American cities are also increasing due to the global climate change, are planning theories initiated in Asia not suitable for their sustainable future as well? This chapter discusses an alternative framing for sustainable urban planning from one Asian perspective.
4.2 Layer Model
4.2.1 Dichotomy Versus Grey
However, although a dichotomous approach provides a simple and clear but rather static and even persistent solution, “grey” allows for various shades of lightness between the extremes of black and white. If a planning concept is based on a “grey” approach, the result becomes flexible to a given condition, which leads to adaptable solutions that successfully provide “resilience” to cities and regions. The growing concern regarding natural disasters as a result of global climate change has forced cities and regions around the world to seek a new planning concept that provides resilient solutions in responding to unanticipated catastrophes which could very well directly affect them soon. The “grey” approach is one practical answer to such demand.
4.2.2 Landscape Patterns in Three City Regions
In New York City, representing North American cities, and in Paris, representing Western European cities, a distinct boundary between urban land use and rural land use is fixed somewhere in between 15 and 40 km from the city center. In Tokyo, which represents Japanese cities, though, no such distinct boundary between urban and rural land uses can be identified because a small-scale mixture of urban and rural land uses continues the entire distance from 15 to 40 km, and even beyond.
4.2.3 Legacy of Mixture
4.2.4 Layer Model
However, installing a greenbelt did not prove to be a success. Even if you were to look at Tokyo today from a satellite, not even a one remnant of the belt can be found. What is visible is a large-scale maze of urban fabric continuously sprawling all the way towards the mountain ranges surrounding Tokyo.
Other Japanese cities including Osaka and Nagoya also tried to install a greenbelt but they all failed because of the lack of efficient policies on the land use. Instead of a greenbelt, cities in Japan changed their policy to draw a boundary line surrounding each local municipality and not around the entire metropolitan area. The Urban Planning Act, revised in 1968, was designed to achieve such a separation. According to this Act, each local municipality was required to designate land as either one of two types: Urbanization Promotion Area (UPA), or Urbanization Control Area (UCA). UPA is the area for urban developments; UCA is, in principle, primarily for agricultural uses without conventional urban development.
But once again, distinct separation failed to be achieved. What actually happened was an incomplete separation even though a line to designate UPA and UCA was drawn around the city. Why did such a failure occur? We would argue that this situation occurred because of the layer model which the Japanese planning system had been maintaining, and not because of an inadequate application of the City Planning Act of 1968.
In short, two major layers characterize the model. First is, of course, the “Urban” layer, based on the City Planning Act of 1968, but this is not the only layer. The second layer which defines the land use in Japan’s urban fringe is a “Rural” layer based on the Agricultural Land Act of 1952. The Japanese agricultural system had long been based on a landlord-tenant farmer system, which prohibited Japanese agriculture from becoming modernized and thus caused tenant farmers to endure extremely low income. The Agricultural Land Act aimed to eliminate such a system and modernize agriculture by making farmland available to all tenant farmers. The Act, however, also prohibited non-farmers from owning their own farmlands because the former landlord-tenant farmer system could very well have been revived if farmlands were bought by non-farmers, especially by enterprises, and rented out to farmers.
The Agricultural Land Act can therefore be interpreted as an act that aimed to draw a line between people: sharply differentiating farmers and non-farmers. The Urban Planning Act of 1968 was an act to draw a line between land use differentiating urban (UPA) and rural (UCA) land uses. Japanese did not ignore but have carefully been obeying the regulations. However, because these two layers followed different orders – people-oriented versus land-oriented – a chaotic-looking situation occurred when these two were overlaid. The situation should not be labelled “disordered” because each layer is well controlled albeit following different orders. Order is there, but is not visible at a glance. The layers must be separated to understand the order of each layer, which is called an underlying “hidden order” (Ashihara 1989).
4.3 Shaping the “Grey Urban Environment”
4.3.1 “Grey” in Urban Context
“Grey” in Sect. 4.1 mainly focuses on the mix of urban land uses (residential, commercial, and industrial) and rural land uses (farmland, forest, etc.). In the Sects. 4.2 and 4.3 we take a closer look into the urban area, “Grey” is interpreted more broadly: (1) diverse types of “grey”, not only “urban-rural”; (2) mix of uses, forms, and densities; (3) border between private and public; and (4) flexible transformation of land uses. These represent the elements of adaptable planning embedded in the Japanese urban planning system.
4.3.2 Grey Urban Environment in Tokyo
4.3.3 Grey Urban Environment in Tokyo
The view of inner-city and suburban areas of Tokyo from the observatory of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building located in Shinjuku, one major urban centers in central Tokyo, well illustrates the grey urban environment of Tokyo (Fig. 4.14). A mix of buildings – large buildings along skeletal roads and small buildings of different sizes and uses – is seen. The difference between this view and the view of European or North American cities from tall buildings is immediately noticeable.
But, not all urban areas in Tokyo are grey. Master-planned urban (re)developments and the installation of skeletal infrastructures are found in existing urban areas. Okata and Murayama (2011) describe Tokyo’s urban form more in detail.
4.3.4 Japanese Urban Planning System
The Japanese urban planning system consists of four elements: (1) master plans for city planning areas and municipalities; (2) land use regulations (area division and zoning); (3) development of urban infrastructure such as roads, parks, water works, and sewage systems; and (4) urban development projects such as land readjustment and redevelopment (see MLIT (2003) for the details of the Japanese urban planning system). It should be emphasized that urbanization often progresses prior to formal urban planning and development under such a system because urbanization was rapid. The illustrations of urban planning and development in an actual city show that urban development and road development occur in small segments, resulting in a patchwork of various urban areas connected by a continuously expanding road network.
4.3.5 Uniqueness of Japanese Urban Planning
Japanese urban environment can be characterized as the islands of planned development in the sea of urban sprawl where urbanization occurred without master-planned infrastructure. The formal approach of Japanese urban planning and development has been to increase the areas of planned development through urban development projects and to install skeletal infrastructure in already-sprawled urban areas. What results is vast areas of grey urban environment.
4.4 Enhancing the Values of Grey Urban Environment
4.4.1 High Density Urban Areas in Tokyo
4.4.2 Modernization: The Only Solution?
Jane Jacobs (1906–2006), a famous North American journalist and activist who often wrote about preserving urban neighborhoods, raised this question in the 1960s. She fought against new big-money developments and emphasized that existing urban areas with higher population density, mixed uses, older buildings, and short blocks are much more attractive than the redeveloped sites and should be protected from modern redevelopment.
In recent years, North American cities have come to recognize the value of urban farmland. This mix of residential and agricultural land is already common scenery in sprawling urban areas in Japanese cities. Many Japanese planners consider sprawled urban areas – “grey” urban environment – as a failure of modern urban planning, and try to improve or even redevelop these areas. Re-evaluating the positive aspects of this grey urban environment may very well provide alternative solutions to a sustainable and resilient city.
4.4.3 New Values and Ideas to Stay Grey
But recently, the market for detached houses seems to be declining because of the increase in construction costs and the changing attitudes toward home ownership. An alternative approach to deal with the loss of urban farmland must be found. Urban farmlands are important in maintaining the quality of sprawled urban area because the area is unequipped with sufficient streets and parks.
limited to, the assembling of neighboring plots, the greening of vacant plots, the trading of plots in the chances of building reconstruction, and housing design with more open spaces.
There should be many other ideas to re-evaluate and manage a grey – actually “green” in a sense – urban environment to create sustainable urban neighborhoods. In any case, such transformation of space or physical environment should be well planned and well designed.
4.5 Shaping the “Urban-Rural Grey”
4.5.1 Land Use Transformation in Suburban Tokyo
The National Population census reported that Tokyo experienced rapid population growth from 3.7 M in 1920 to 11.4 M in 1970 mainly due to rural migration (Statistics Japan 2000). During this period, urban expansion continuously occurred in peri-urban rural areas. Through the process of urban expansion, the rural areas developed before World War 2 have already been integrated into the current urban fabric of Tokyo center. The rural areas developed after World War 2, however, have formed the current residential bed-town communities in suburban Tokyo.
4.5.2 Area Division System and Agricultural Promotion Regions
Expectations of future development lead to drive land prices up significantly which leads to easier conversion of farmland or forest to housing or other urban land uses. UCA, on the contrary, is an area where urbanization is regulated and which aims at conserving rural settings and agricultural activities. Land prices in UCA are considerably lower compared to those of UPA because of land use regulations concerning future development. The top-right illustration of Fig. 4.30 shows the actual implementation of area division system to the urban fringe of Funabashi. Because the separation looks like a line drawn between UPA and UCA-commonly called “senbiki” in Japanese, which literally means “draw a line”. Even the shape of the line is not simple: the line makes a sharp contrast between UPA and UCA in terms of building density or farmland ratio, for example.
Another dimension of land use control is rural planning. Designating an area as an Agricultural Promotion Region (APR) is the measure with most impact. APR is basically a zoning for promoting agriculture in rural areas. When applied to peri-urban areas, though, farmland protection takes on a more significant role. Once an area becomes APR-designated, the productive farmlands inside APR are protected which, in principle, may not be changed to any other land use (Fig. 4.30). Protected farmland is crucial for farmers who want to continue agriculture near cities. Rice farmers especially can conserve irrigation systems by designating protected farmland. The bottom-right illustration of Fig. 4.30 shows the implementation of APR and protected farmland in Funabashi. Comparing the ADS and APR systems reveals that these two systems are like two sides of a coin. Overlapping designation of UCA and APR is the strictest control of land use, whereas sole designation of UCA permits urban-rural mixture.
4.5.3 Productive Green Land
4.5.4 Hidden Order in Planning System
4.6 Enhancing the Value of Urban-Rural Grey
4.6.1 Growing Vegetables as a Retiree Lifestyle
4.6.2 Food Provisioning from Hobby Gardens
4.6.3 Satoyama Woodland as Community Biomass Energy Source
Forest is also one agricultural land use. Tokyo suburbs used to be rural areas, thus existing forests in Tokyo’s present-day suburbs were historically maintained by the agricultural community. Such forest is called satoyama woodland. Satoyama is a word coined by combining village (sato) and mountain (yama). Satoyama woodland is the woodland that rural communities historically maintained for harvesting fuelwood or other organic materials to sustain their livelihood. Traditional management practices create habitats for diverse flora and fauna that can survive only under human disturbance. Satoyama woodland is a biodiversity-rich semi-natural ecosystem that benefits both human and nature (Takeuchi et al. 2012).
The biggest barrier in making biomass utilization feasible is the high cost of biomass transportation. Proximity of satoyama woodland and urban areas may tackle this barrier by minimizing the distance between satoyama woodland and biomass heat or electricity plants in urban areas. Related to this, it is estimated that the biomass obtaining costs (including transportation cost) in peri-urban Tokyo is 15% lower than those in mountainous areas (Terada et al. 2010).
After the tsunami-related accident of Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011, using renewable energy became more widespread and creating distributed local energy supply systems has become an essential need for shaping a resilient society in Japan. Satoyama woodland should not be thought of as simply urban greenery, but as a unique productive landscape that can link ecological restoration and a community energy system.
4.7 The Value of Grey
4.7.1 Natural Disasters and Layer Model Advantages
When planning Japanese cities the threat of natural disasters must never be ignored. Only within a recent couple of decades has Japan experienced four major earthquakes and a tsunami; Kobe in 1995, Niigata in 2001, Northeast Japan in 2011, and Kumamoto in 2016. Floods and typhoons also frequently ravage Japanese cities, not only earthquakes and accompanying tsunamis. The Comprehensive Risk Index developed by Munich Reinsurance Company (see References) includes all possible risks that cities in the world face, and rates each city. Most cities in Western Europe and North America are a very low number (e.g. Paris 25, London 30, and NYC 42). Compared to European and North American cities, however, Tokyo is an astronomically high 710. This index clearly indicates a fundamental difference in the scale of disaster risk between European and North American cities and those in Japan.
Cities need food. If a distinct boundary exists between urban land use and rural land use and thus the city becomes an entity without agricultural land uses, no food can be generated within its boundary and thus the city will become a place completely dependent on external food supplies. As long as transportation systems are operating normally, cities will avoid any major problems of completely depending on food supplied by rural areas and international markets. However, once a major natural disaster occurs, transportation systems will most likely be seriously damaged, and the external food and energy supply will also most likely be suddenly disrupted. If the city has been completely depending on external food and energy supply, then the loss of transportation systems may inevitably result in the loss of food and energy, and the city will suddenly be caught in a serious situation.
To be prepared for such unpredictable and fatal occurrences, the layer model provides a resilient solution to how land should be planned. Under ordinary conditions, preference can simply be given to the urban layer, and the influence of the rural layer can be minimized. However, when the transportation systems suddenly cease to function because of natural disasters and food supplies have been disrupted, cities shall be able to take advantage of the rural layer and generate its own food inside, or nearby, the city limits. Such a redundant system in food supply based on the layer model, which includes intra- and peri-urban food supplies, may seem inefficient but has the advantage of adaptability to unpredictable changes, and thus highly contributes to a city’s resilience. To maintain such a redundant food system, the rural layer should always be embedded in the area as “seeds” to enable immediate response to sudden demands on local food supplies. Japanese cities have realized an increasing probability of such a situation suddenly happening, and the layer model unintentionally maintained high potential to make cities resilient. The advantage of the layer model can be found in its adaptability to a given condition, especially to unpredictable changes such as those caused by natural disasters.
4.7.2 Value of Grey
According to the layer model, the boundary between urban and rural land uses is not as clear as that of a conventional dichotomous model. Also, the boundary should be regarded as in constant flux. The zone between constantly fluxing boundaries may be called a Grey Zone, where an extensive micro-scale mixture of urban and rural land uses is found. In the Grey Zone, the physical entity may change according to changing emphasis on the layers, but the system to control different layers should be there. The key of the layer model is embedded in its intangible system, not in the tangible entity.
Such a system with changing tangible entity controlled by an eternal intangible system can commonly be found in Japan’s cultural heritages. Ise Grand Shrine is an excellent example. The Ise Grand Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in Japan, which is well known for more than 1300 years for maintaining a system of rebuilding the shrine buildings every 20 years. Authenticity of the shrine has been embedded in its unique system which has survived over 1000 years, not in its physical entity.
“Grey” stands not for an uncontrolled, uncivilized, or undesirable condition. “Grey” is a keyword that represents an adaptable system where tangible entities may change but the authenticity is embedded in the intangible system itself, and such a system with “grey” character will undoubtedly provide resilience to cities. Usefulness of a planning concept with “grey” can be shared by many cities around the world that also frequently suffer from natural disasters.
Dichotomous landscape with a clear separation of urban and rural land uses is indeed simple, clear, and often beautiful. Such a concept is also efficient provided no sudden or major changes occur. A “grey” landscape with a micro-scale mixture of urban and rural land uses may look chaotic and disordered. However, grey landscape maintains high adaptability to unpredictable and sudden changes, and thus contributes to making cities resilient. “Value of grey” should be appreciated for its resilience and the potential that it holds for the sustainable future of our world.
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