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IDJ ENGLISH – Urban Development Special

Think again what the SDGs suggest

Creating a city friendly to all, including the vulnerable, should be Japan’s highest wisdom


Mr. Katsuhide Nagayama, Representative Managing Director of ALMEC Corporation, has been engaged in various urban developments in Asia and around the world, including the urban development project in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, supported by Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA). In the post-Corona era, what should urban planning be like? Mr. Nagayama speaks out.


No dramatic paradigm shifts will be placed
Even with the spread of the COVID-19 Pandemic, there will be no dramatic paradigm shifts in the urban development undertaken by Japanese at home and abroad. After all, the influence of the COVID-19 virus is not so serious in Southeast Asian countries. Besides, the Japanese is not keen for learning any lesson from their mistakes and making use of them next time. Japan has experienced global pandemics such as the Spanish flu in the past that caused 390,000 deaths, but the way of urban development in Japan has not been changed significantly.

However, after experiencing the COVID-19 Pandemic, it can be expected that there will be some changes in the way of thinking and values for town planning. The key is to think again what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) suggest. In the SDGs, Goal 11 states “Building livable and sustainable cities and communities for all”, and the concepts of sustainable, inclusive and resilient living are among them. With this as a starting point, we should consider, along with developing countries, what we should do in terms of future urban development.


Hygienic safety becomes more important in developing countries
It is expected that the concept of “health and hygiene” and “prevention of epidemics” will be introduced as conditions for a safe and comfortable city. The first point is what to do with the urban space. There are proper densities in cities, and “100 people per hectare” is a rough standard for urban areas. In the case of Shinjuku, Tokyo, there are 300 to 400 people per hectare, but such “high density” settlements may create urban attractions of the city. Of course, in a pandemic, it is necessary to secure a “quarantine distance” such that the distance between people is 2 m. However, it is unfavorable from the standpoint of city planning to continue this trend even after the end of the COVID-19 Pandemic. More attention needs to be paid to a population density that guarantees a comfortable life.
In urban planning, it is a crucial task to create “open space” such as green parks and recreational space. While tele-working at home, many may find that there are various open spaces around their homes, but the size of the park per person is 30㎡ in Vancouver and 12㎡ in Paris, while Tokyo’s 23 wards is very narrow, 3㎡. In the future, there will be a growing tendency in urban planning to increase the number of open spaces, create more relaxing environment to make the cities more livable in Japan.

The second viewpoint is the accessibility of transportation. As one of the targets of Goal 11 of the SDGs, the move to make public services accessible to all, including women, children and people with disabilities, will be a more important theme. Many people were enforced to be inconvenienced in using public transportation under the official requirement at the state of emergency to protect from lessening epidemic risks. But the vulnerable people, such as the elderly, the sick and the handicapped, were unable to move around easily. We need to consider how to create an inclusive system so everyone can catch public transportation services. Although provision of curative services against infectious diseases belongs to professionals of medical and health, building of universal accessibility to public services for all people, including medical and health institutions, must be an urban planning task.

The third point is to develop “preventative environment” resilient against infectious diseases. In developing countries, it may be more important. For example, viruses that cause malaria and dengue fever are transmitted by mosquitoes, but because mosquitoes breed in the water accumulated in the garbage left in the city, the establishment of a waste treatment system is one of the measures to prevent such epidemics. It is also important from the perspective of governance regarding how local governments will deal with the maintenance and management of urban environmental infrastructure including sewage and drainage facilities.


Incorporating the perspective of local residents
In order to achieve urban development visions supported by new values, it is necessary to incorporate a bottom-up approach that absorbs the opinions of residents and local governments, including the weak, and reflects their needs in city planning and policies.
The “ Project for Sustainability Future City Initiatives in Thailand” (July 2015 to present) sponsored by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), aims to achieve local urban development using such a bottom-up approach. The project selected six model cities and initiated them to identify their own development goals/themes in future, taking into account their latent potentials and constraints in several areas such as tourism, education, and transportation, then formulate a future sustainable city plan. At that time, all local actors, such as residents, NGOs, and university professors, as well as local governments, discussed “what to do with their own town” together, and created a future action plan.

What I emphasized in this effort was to create a “legend” that the local people could proudly say to their next generation that they “thought of this vision and participated in their town’s development for the vision.” In the meantime, the next generation will develop a sense of “I want to cherish this town created by my parents.” I think that urban planning is the work of handing over to the next generation, and such a relay of social values from one generation to the next could make the city sustainable.

We also adopted this bottom-up approach for the formulation of the urban development master plan in Ulaanbaatar City. Nowadays, many cities are trying to take a participatory planning method with a recognition that a top-down approach cannot bear any sustainable urban plan strongly endorsed by local people. Interestingly, the Philippines is a pioneer in this approach and has much to learn. Under the Local Autonomy Law, the country has a system for urban development led by local governments. The activities of NGOs that deliver voices of residents to local governments are also active. The issue is that people are less aware of legal compliance, but the legal framework, itself, is well prepared, individual abilities are high, and the independence of local autonomy is functioning properly. There are many experiences and lessons to learn in this country.


What is truly “Smart”
Finally, I would like to talk about smart cities, which have become a hot topic in the field of urban development in recent years. It seems that the smart city advocated by the Japanese government means a city that utilizes and places Japan’s cutting-edge technologies, but the important thing to remember is the inclusion of the weak. Japan has been promoting the creation of an “inclusive” city where everyone, including persons with disabilities, can live comfortably by actively incorporating universal design into urban development.
“Higher quality infrastructure” sounds good, but I think Japan should cherish these warm parts as requisite values rather than hard facilities. By doing so, there will be a movement to further enhance its value, and we can send a message to cities in developing countries, “Why don’t you try it?”, thereby leading to a smart partnership with them. Perhaps we should have more discussions on the definition of what is truly smart.

International Development Journal  2020 July edition










都市計画には緑地公園といった「オープンスペース」という考え方がある。在宅勤務をする中で、自宅の周囲に多様なオープンスペースがあることに気付いた人も多いだろうが、規模は一人当たりの公園面積がバンクーバーで30㎡、パリで12㎡ ある一方、東京23区は3㎡と非常に狭い。今後、もっとオープンスペースを増やして、リラックスできる環境を作り、都市にゆとりを持たせようという傾向が強まってくるだろう。








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