L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

02 October 2006 Blog Home : October 2006 : Permalink

Blogs, Town Planning & Local News

The Marmot's Hole links to a NY Times article about Shomikitazawa, Tokyo which reports on the feeble but slowly growing movement to protest unsightly developments. I think the article is, in many ways, a classic of MSM drive-by reporting because, in my opinion, from an aesthetic point of view Shimokitazawa, as with much of the rest of greater Tokyo, is an eyesore that would be extremely hard to make look worse. Although when I say that I realize that I'm dealing with the Japanese government and pork funded construction companies, a group of people who have regularly managed to lower the tone of the most ugly neighbourhood further than expected even when taking this rule into account. From inappropriately twee and plasticcy fake wood railings to abuse of bathroom tiles to mock-mock tudor skyscrapers, not to mention bridges that make Alaskan senators look fiscally responsible, the combination of compulsory purchase, government money and developers and land owners out to make a quick buck has resulted in the Japanese suffering from crimes against human sensibility which ought to be banned by UN treaty.

However to step away from aesthetics debate, the Times article makes some excellent points about following the money as a way to identify how people support or oppose the development and hints at the power local government has in allowing or blocking these changes. Something that the Marmot's Hole points out would also apply to Korea where, it seems, similar forces seem determined to knock down as many historic buildings as possible in the name of progress.

One thing I would disagree with is the statement about covering rivers with highways and replacing tile roofed dwellings with concrete buildings. Tokyo is a massive earthquake waiting to happen and, as we know from the Kobe earthquake, the most deadly buildings in an earthquake are the little wooden tile roofed ones because first the roof collapses onto the occupants or passers by and then the building burns down taking the injured and trapped with it. Likewise covering the moats and rivers with highways has been a fairly good way to avoid knocking down masses of buildings and has also had the benefit of reducing the noise and polluiton impact. It isn't perfect and perhaps in an ideal world Tokyo in the late 1940s should have taken advantage of the general destruction to have done a major rationalization and built large boulevards as Paris did in the 19th century but its hard, IMO, to argue that if you are as anti-road and anti-car as the NYT writer appears to be.

The good news about Japan is that people are finally beginning to get serious about preservation of buildings, views etc. something that has tended to be rather haphazard and subject to monetary incentive in the past. There are on-going scandals about overlarge buildings near Okayama (IIRC) castle and Matsue, as well as vocal protests about the new Italian cultural centre in Tokyo - a truly vile red carbunkle. This is a subject that is barely touched upon in the article.

Critically the article also misses a point which is that the opposition to the Shimokitazawa scheme is being organized on line with a webpage (English), that includes a petition for people to sign and lots of information. Whether or not it will be successful it is, I have no doubt, a harbinger of things to come

Indeed here on the riviera the internet is being used by both sides in a rather contentious debate about Ikea's desire to build a store in "Mougins". The pro-Ikea campaign has this blog and the anti-Ikea group has this one. As with Tokyo a lot of the heat and fire can be predicted if you just "follow the money". In particular the sleazy mayor of Mougins is all in favour of the Ikea scheme because he gets all the tax revenue from the proposed commercial development and fails to suffer from many negative consequences becuase the development is placed at the very borders of Mougins. On the other hand the mayor's of Mouans Sartoux (where I live) and La Roquette are firmly against it because they get no tax revenue but do get almost all the anticipated increase in traffic. I am personally somewhat ambivalent because I do think the store would benefit the locality but on the other hand I'm fairly sure there will be some horrible traffic jams because the proposal seems to have failed to figure out how people leave the store and get back onto the highway to take them back wherever they come from. The debate has even spread across the English language riviera sites with a huge thread at angloinfo and mentions in other Anglophone places which is interesting because, most of the time, the Anglophone community is pretty quiet about these sorts of things.

All in all the internet seems to be doing a great job in allowing people to organize to protest things - its practically an army of davids against the goliaths of corporate/government interest. Someone should write a book about the phenomenon...

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin