Town asks residents to hatch revival plans

by Yoshihiro Nakajima

Kyodo News

TOTTORI (Kyodo) A hundred residents of a small town in Tottori Prefecture have joined to draw up plans to revitalize their ailing community.

The “100-man committee” of Chizu has finalized 18 plans, including a budget, after holding a public hearing in December. Members are currently working with municipal authorities on how to reflect their voices in the local budget for the fiscal year starting April 1.

“Direct involvement in compiling the local budget is still very rare in Japan,” said Tamio Yoshida, a professor of urban management at Tokai University. “It is a new type of autonomy — to build a community by respecting the opinions of residents.”

Surrounded by mountains, Chizu once flourished as a forestry town. But that industry went into decline, and the local population is aging. Of the 8,500 residents, a third are 65 years old or older.

Seiichiro Teratani, 65, who became mayor last June, came up with the idea of forming the resident committee to ensure the town’s survival by incorporating innovative ideas from locals.

Residents over 18 years old or commuters to Chizu qualify as committee members, serving a one-year term. Around 140 applied for membership in August for the 100 seats. The successful applicants were assigned to participate in one of six subcommittees.

Most participants have no administrative experience, but that hasn’t been a problem. The only request made by the municipal government was to avoid giving negative opinions. “We would like to utilize ideas from town residents,” a town official said.

Because of lack of experience and precedent, the process of forming a concrete plan was challenging.

The education and culture subpanel came up with about 25 ideas. They ranged from nurturing the children’s sense of volunteerism through international contributions to giving them farming experience and serving their produce in school lunches.

To develop a concrete plan from the brainstorming, the subpanel wanted an idea that would benefit the whole community, and one that offered a dream.

The plan decided on was for local children to grow rice for export to developing countries.

For budgetary consideration, the panel asked the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives to learn about production costs while checking shipping expenses on the Internet. They eventually came up with a budget of ¥500,000.

The municipal assembly, which received the proposals, is also supportive of the 100-man committee. “There is some overlap with our job, but the assembly should accommodate the opinions of the residents,” Norio Nishikawa, chairman of the assembly, said.

Chizu officials said the town is seeking ¥180 million for projects drawn up by the 100-man committee as part of its fiscal 2009 budget program.

Similar attempts to reflect the community opinions in compiling budgets have surfaced elsewhere, including in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Eniwa, Hokkaido.