Tokyo- Inner-City Revitalization

Among the prominent cities in the world, international status is no longer a matter of economic power per se, especially when it is purchased at the cost of tiny living spaces, long commutes, traffic congestion, a lack of common open space, high costs of living, and dilapidation in many urban areas. In spite of Tokyo\’s significant role in advancing Japan forward to become the second largest economy in the world, it no longer enjoys the international status, nor the local amenity, that it once had. According to several sources, the city\’s competitiveness ranking has dropped from number one in 1990, to number 18 in 1998, falling behind both Singapore and Hong Kong in the Asian sphere. New listings on the stock exchange, which were on a par with New York in 1992, are now one third as many, and the number of international conferences held in Tokyo has slipped 30 percent since 1993 and is now half as many as are held in Singapore. The residential floor area per dwelling unit, always low in Tokyo, is now only 55 square meters, on average, compared to a national standard of 86 square meters and similar standards in Manhattan, Singapore and Paris. Roadway infrastructure, sometimes a dubious measure of quality, is also low in Tokyo, at around 13 percent compared to 37 percent in Manhattan, and the area of public park per person, probably a better measure of environmental amenity, is very low in Tokyo, with 5.3 square meters, compared to London and New York with 27 square meters and 29 square meters, respectively. Behind these symptoms of decline, Tokyo\’s recent problems are: 1) a pattern of urban development with an over centralization and specialization of commercial uses in the inner city; 2) the negative effects of an overly speculative real estate boom – the so-called bubble economy that burst; 3) a lack of local municipal authority and self determination; and 4) no clear sense of an urban design direction or even tradition, especially again at the local level where it probably counts most. One clear measure of the centralizing commercial influence of central Tokyo is the massive daily influx of people that occurs from outside. Between 1975 and 2000, during which time Tokyo\’s population has remained relatively stable at 12 million inhabitants, there has been a 28 percent rise in daytime employment, 65 percent of which has come from outside, totaling on the order of 2.2 million workers. The overall population effects of this centralizing influence are even more dramatic, with a 74 percent increase, numbering 2.8 million people, coming daily from the outside. Despite substantial mass transit improvements, with ridership around 44 percent of daily trips, peak-hour congestion runs at 230 percent of capacity and there has been a 50 percent increase in private vehicular travel over the past 30 years, adding further to traffic congestion. The real estate boom, which began around 1985, fueled by pent-up demand for better living and working space, as well as an annual growth in local GDP that reached as high as 8 percent in 1989, prompted substantial increases in building construction activity, peaking at 72 percent above normal levels in 1989-90, and massive upward speculation in the buying and selling of existing residential and commercial property. Amid substantial overhangs in the supply of property, the net effect of this real estate boom was a precipitous downward spiral, which saw residential prices drop by 68 percent of their prior peak value and commercial prices by 82 percent, and which left property owners, many of them older people in the residential market, with high mortgage payments and little prospect of re-sale at competitive prices. In the commercial property sector, bankruptcies and foreclosures were quick in coming, adding substantially to Japan\’s mounting and debilitating domestic debt burden. Moreover, with a long planning tradition of highly centralized authority and regulatory standards that ar