Our cities must undertake the difficult task of overhauling their functions if they are to meet internal and external structural changes confronting Japan, such as the trend toward economic globalization, the shift to an information society, the declining birthrate and the growing number of senior citizens, and the transformation of the industrial structure. Restructuring is urgently needed to respond to these environmental transitions, making cities places where people can live a secure life and conduct dynamic economic activities.
Current urban policies, in a sense, are struggles to the urbanization of society that has accompanied urban sprawl. We must adopt new policies that will be able to realize the following five concepts of cities. Such new policies, which encourage sustainable economic and social development, will transform Japanese cities so that they can meet the needs of a new era.
Until now, cities have been built with functional divisions, with business and commerce concentrated downtown and residential areas located in the outer side. However, many young people prefer the superior convenience of an urban lifestyle while older members of society want to be able to obtain various services within walking distance. To permit these diverse sorts of lifestyle choices, downtown areas must encourage efficient, efficient use of land, developing vital urban centers where homes and workplaces are in proximity.
Cities must devise innovative ways which allow children, the elderly, people with disabilities, and tourists visiting from other countries to effortlessly blend in, without encountering impediments. Urban development must be based on universal designs, including, for example, signs displaying pictures that everyone can understand, and using more kneeling buses or buses with lifts-both of which are designed for easy use by wheelchair users, people with strollers, or the elderly.
Japanese cities are becoming less competitive as airports can no longer keep pace with the demands of an increasing number of international flights combined with the high costs of living and doing business. The business environment of Japan's cities is inferior to cities overseas, and they are now confronted with competition from cities internationally. Japan's cities should offer incentives that will not only induce people to want to live there, but will also be attractive to companies if they are to continue to maintain their vitality.
Cities should develop ecotourism and other programs, using suburban green zones as a tourist and educational resource, and attempt to integrate nature with urban zoning plans. In major metropolitan areas, cities also need to take steps to ensure smooth flowing traffic and to reduce CO2 emissions by improving public transit systems while simultaneously devising means of incorporating greenery into cities by developing parks and ring routes that integrate green belts.
The Kobe earthquake demonstrated the importance of formulating robust urban structural safeguards against disasters and the need to design city grids that can withstand disasters. In addition, people also want the city to maintain its attractiveness while undergoing renovation.
Properties in metropolitan areas must be used efficiently if the diverse needs of such areas are to be met. The average rate of buildings to lots in central Tokyo is 129.5 percent, only 52.5 percent of the legally approved level. Insufficient road development is one factor; for example, central Tokyo's road area to metropolitan jurisdiction area rate is a mere 15 percent, far behind New York City's 30 percent.
With this in mind, new road and zoning plans should be implemented to increase the rate of buildings to lots. The improvement of road and district will also contribute to community beautification by, among other things, relieving traffic congestion, improving urban disaster preparedness functions, and installing multi-use mains for various types of electrical wiring.
In major metropolitan areas there are still vacant or underused properties, such as empty lots that appeared in existing city zones following the bursting of the "bubble" and factory sites abandoned in conjunction with industrial restructuring. To achieve urban and industrial renewal, these lots must be used efficiently. The public and private sectors should cooperate in actively developing projects whose functions meet the needs of a new era, including day and nursing facilities to care for a society with fewer children and more senior citizens; trash incineration, power generation and recycling facilities that take environmental and energy conservation concerns into consideration; and intelligent buildings constructed to meet the needs of an information society.
It is necessary to combine commercial, cultural, educational, community interaction, and welfare functions that comprise a well-rounded lifestyle in order to stem population loss and the decline of downtown areas. In addition, it is necessary to implement dynamic urban planning while enhancing the residential functions of the city centers. To achieve this, flexible community development must be undertaken, actively employing district planning systems whereby communities can specify how they will use their own land. The introduction of fixed-period leases will also be indispensable in improving the quality of rental properties.
Administrative sectionalism in implementing laws must be eliminated and comprehensive measures developed for land use. The National Land Use Planning Law and the City Planning Law are currently under review. But to ensure the efficacy of the program to redevelop the capitol region and other broad-ranging plans, the links between urban planning and land use in the surrounding areas must be strengthened.
The drafting of urban planning proposals should be permitted as a means of improving methods of formulating urban plans. As economic and social structures change quickly, systems that allow local residents, nonprofit community development organizations, town management organs, companies and others to propose urban development plans and revisions should be established.
Moreover, there has been an extremely low rate of progress on land registers, which forms the basis for right conversion adjustments. Standardization of the indices that provide an idea of what a city should be like has also become an issue internationally, and we look forward to their early implementation.
Currently, there are Category 1 redevelopment projects underway which have been implemented by private, syndicated contractors. Most of these projects will take more than 30 years to complete. Excess government supervision of urban planning decisions, such as efforts to reach broad consensus with rightful persons, must be corrected, while plan revision procedures must be made more flexible and processes accelerated.
Bold urban renewal policies must be devised so that urban environments can be more speedily developed. While placing priority on areas which should receive environmental redevelopment as "strategic urban renewal zones," target deadlines should be specified. The public and private sectors promote joint and concentrated investments. For example, it is necessary to promote disaster preparedness in urban development by designating as target zones high-density wooden housing areas. In addition, with strong supervision by government and local authorities, private rights will have to be limited from the standpoint of public welfare and far-reaching incentives need to be devised. Furthermore, to encourage private sector investment, it will be necessary to reduce real estate acquisition taxes, abolish real property taxes that amount to dual taxation when paired with consumption taxes, and amend the SPC system.
The decline of the downtown areas in regional cities is a serious problem that can be described as a loss of their municipal identities. The government has enacted the Act Concerning Improvement and Vitalization in Urban Center and is carrying out tangible implementation around the country, but the following perspectives will be important in revitalizing regional cities.
The "doughnut effect" has become a serious issue for commercial districts in regional cities. These commercial districts serve as the core of their community, fulfilling consumers' purchasing desires while serving as locations whose bustling energy creates an atmosphere that refreshes the mind and body. Creating appealing dynamism, not only for tourists, but for local residents as well, is connected with the revival of residential areas. Effecting mixed tenancy, combining a diverse array of shopping facilities in a compact space with eating, drinking and amusement establishments that strongly attract consumers is vital to reinvigorating local commerce.
In addition, as awareness in environmental issues increases and in response to aspirations regarding sustainable communities, it is important to create communities whose radius allows tasks to be completed on foot. This is key to raising the appeal of regional cities and, as such, community development must be conducted from the perspective of the pedestrian.
In the U.K., the overriding principle is that pedestrians and public transport come first. And measures that have been adopted include the establishment of "transit malls" in downtown areas in which only public transportation is allowed. Japan also needs to quantitatively and qualitatively improve public transport access to city centers by providing suburban parking areas and community buses, establishing bus lanes, and employing light-rail transit.
From the standpoint of making life more convenient for older people, a one size fits all design approach for transportation resources should be promoted, including the adoption of step-free buses with low floors. Additionally, nursing care equipment loans should be given to people who require nursing care and "Shop Mobility", a system whereby volunteers accompany people who need assistance, established, with nonprofit organizations taking over the management of such operations.
A strong point of regional cities is their small size which allows governance in tune with local character. To take advantage of this strength, it is important that zoning and program events are coordinated by municipal management taking into consideration the area as a whole. This is an opportunity to bind people together who take pride that their community planning is actually decided by the entire community.
Seasoned town managers with extensive knowledge and experience are also required in town management. Germany, which has established specialized university courses to train town managers, might serve as a useful example. Finally, in the process of implementation, something similar to American "business improvement districts" might be a policy worth considering. These districts are specific areas where quasi-governmental organizations possess official, legal powers and undertake local sanitation, policing, industrial promotion, social programs, and levying fees on the community.