Tokyo’s ‘New Order’ from a Local Perspective: Redevelopment of the Chuo-ku Waterfront

In the aftermath of the bursting of the \”bubble economy,\” which beset Tokyo and much of Japan during the past 15 years, the city is making concerted efforts to regain its competitive advantage, internationally, and to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods and commercial districts at a local level. By the late 1990s, Tokyo saw its international ranking as a business center plummet from number one to number 18, its share of conferences and conventions fall by 30 percent, its prominence as a site for tourism, leisure and cultural activities decline by a similar amount, and the dissatisfaction of many of its economically-strapped and service-deprived citizenry rise appreciably. In effect, the rather narrowly defined production-oriented trajectory of Tokyo\’s lengthy first round of post-war urban development had come to a less than satisfactory end. Moreover, among the consequences of this period were the needs for re-balanced metropolitan development; more amenable living and working environments; higher degrees of integration among urban functions, including infrastructure improvements; and better and more appropriately placed facilities for hosting both national and international events. Nowhere were these consequences more evident than within the 23 wards of central Tokyo, of which Chuo-ku, at the very center, is one, with a population of around 100,000 people and notable commercial districts like Ginza and Nihonbashi, historic areas like Tsukishima and Tsukiji, and reclaimed waterfront sites, now ripe for redevelopment, like Harumi and parts of Kachidoki.Among the efforts to revitalize inner-city Tokyo and to regain the city\’s international prominence are the recently designated \”Special Districts for Urgent Urban Revitalization,\” emanating from the Prime Minister\’s office through the Tokyo Metropolitan Government; the new \”2010 Vision Plan;\” the \”Landscape Law\” of 2004 and, even more recently, the announcement by Tokyo\’s Governor that the city will compete for the 2016 Olympic Games. Essentially, the designated \”Special Districts\” are legal and administrative overlay zones, supplanting local authority in an attempt to provide greater flexibility and capacity for economically-productive and amenable environments. The \”Landscape Law\” aims to better control the shape and appearance of urban development – the \”townscape\” as it is called – especially in relationship to sites of historical cultural importance. The \”2010 Vision Plan,\” while giving up on prior efforts of continued decentralization, aims to orient the city towards more balanced and strategically coherent redevelopment and urban growth; and the early thinking about the Olympic bid aims to confine all of the necessary facilities within a 10km radius of central Tokyo and to subsequently use these sites as catalysts for both renewal and new development. In effect a new kind of \”order,\” including planning and revitalization, is being brought to bear, on inner-city Tokyo, from various quarters. However, the likely outcome of these efforts remains to be thoroughly tested, especially in combination and from a local perspective. Moreover, the broader waterfront area of Chuo-ku, roughly from Ginza to the southeast, is an excellent location for such a test, or demonstration, as it is simultaneously affected by all the new initiatives. It at once lies within one of the seven designated \”Special Districts\” of the city. It has a conspicuous potential role within the \”2010 Vision Plan,\” including major planned infrastructure improvements. It has reasons to thoroughly employ the \”Landscape Law\” in conjunction with sites of historic and environmental significance, and it is slated to be the site of two potential Olympic facilities – the stadium and the media center.Therefore, the aim of the urban design and planning studio will be to generate, test and demonstrate an urban strategy, or strategies,that conform to the \”new order\” being brought to bear on ar