The rejuvenation of Tokyo

by Shinji Fukukawa

With April’s gubernatorial election in Tokyo just around the corner, major candidates have announced their decisions to run. This political event comes amid the world’s red-hot competition for intercity popularity.

While advanced-nation cities such as New York, London and Paris are enhancing their charms through fresh improvements in the fields of information, finance, culture and education, emerging-nation cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore are growing greatly because of their strengthening economies.

According to the world’s urban rankings for 2008 released by the Mori Memorial Foundation, Tokyo placed fourth, thanks to its competitive edge in such fields as economy and environment, after New York, London and Paris in that order and remains the highest-ranking city in Asia. But its status is in jeopardy.

In the international competitiveness ratings announced by the International Institute for Management Development, Japan had stayed in first place up to 1993 but dropped to 27th last year. Reflecting this trend, the number of foreign companies listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) fell from a peak of 127 in 1991 to only 12 recently while the TSE was overtaken by the Shanghai market, with its status dropping to fourth place.

The major factors responsible for this change include the flight of direct investment from Japan and the tendency of some foreign firms to move the core of their Asian operations from Tokyo to Hong Kong and Singapore.

Foreign individuals who visited Tokyo in 2008 totaled about 5.3 million. This number was considerably lower than Hong Kong’s 12 million, Singapore’s 10 million and New York’s 8.7 million. In terms of gross regional product, Tokyo is expected to be surpassed by Beijing and Shanghai within 10 years and by Singapore and Hong Kong within 20 years.

In retrospect, Tokyo has continued to play a central role in the economy, politics and government since the Edo Period. Having undergone the process of industrialization in the latter half of the 20th Century, its greater metropolitan area has become a megacity of 35 million people. Although measures have been taken over the years to disperse Tokyo’s population and functions and to avert their concentration in its urban core, most of the central work-related functions have converged on Tokyo and in the latter half of the 1990s, even its residential functions began to return to the center of the city.

In the process of overcoming the problems caused by the “lost 20 years” in the Japanese economy, Tokyo played a leading role driving the growth of Japan.

Tokyo is not only the center of economic vitality in Japan but also a town rich in cultural diversity. Traditional culture and new technology co-exist while Japanese and Western cultures fuse together in the city.

In Tokyo, people can appreciate excellent art museums and performances from around the world and enjoy top-class cuisines from various parts of the globe. Tokyo citizens are orderly and the town is clean and safe. Nonetheless, Tokyo’s rating is low because it lacks a comprehensive strategy for urban development.

In January 2011, the Committee on Urban Fascination in the nonprofit Association for Tokyo Urban Core Rejuvenation announced a 113-point proposition covering five relevant aspects with a view to strengthening Tokyo’s international competitive power.

The proposition calls for realizing a “vertical creative urban core” in Tokyo, based on five value-related concepts: “safety and security,” “health and medical care,” “intelligence and culture,” “environment and nature” and “industry and value.”

Setting aside further details of the proposition, I would like to call for the following four measures as the indispensable requirements for the rejuvenation of Tokyo:

Accelerate the vertical use of land and space in development projects. It is necessary to escape from the conventional state of horizontal congestion which has continuously affected Tokyo and to utilize midair space and underground space by making full use of top-level technology. It is essential to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for people’s living that is resistant to disasters while blessed with improved urban landscape.

Expedite measures aimed at regional greening. It is important to build a city with attention to the environment and nature. Energy savings and resource recycling should be promoted and adequate waterfront space including streams in the urban core should be created. Creation of a more compact metropolis should be pursued while building a greenery network in the center.

Strengthen the city’s potential for globalization. Tokyo should be developed as a major hub city where enterprises and individuals working on the world stage can assemble and operate in borderless circumstances. To develop Tokyo into a city capable of making people desire to visit, live, study or work here, it is indispensable to bring the tax system and regulations up to international standards and prepare sufficient facilities for high-quality accommodations and large-scale conventions.

Uplift the creativity of people and institutions concerned. Tokyo should make sufficient preparations to become a major center for creation of new industrial values, educational evolution, technological innovation and medical- care technology development by making full use of information technology.

To enhance its cultural accumulation, it is necessary for Tokyo to preserve its traditional culture and raise its capability to send out information about its culture, including art content and fashion. Tokyo must now transform itself into a city whose attractions and competitiveness truly befit a cosmopolitan city.

Without the revival of Tokyo, it will be difficult to restore Japan’s growth. I would like to hear serious discussions on how to revive Tokyo.

Shinji Fukukawa, former vice minister of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and president of Dentsu Research Institute, is now chairman of the Machine Industry Memorial Foundation.