The 21st century may be considered the era of cities, as opposed to the 20th century being the era of countries.

As the driving force of world economies shifted from manufacturing to services throughout the last century, New York, London and Tokyo became financial hubs and signified the concentration of economic power in these global cities.

“Thus, cities have become as powerful as countries,” said Hiroo Ichikawa, a professor of urban policy at Meiji University’s Graduate School of Political Science and Economics and dean of Meiji’s Professional Graduate School of Governance Studies. “Cities cannot survive without solving global issues.”

In a way to measure the power of cities, Ichikawa is deeply involved in the Global Power City Index, published yearly by The Mori Memorial Foundation.

The GPCI is the only comprehensive world city ranking that assesses global cities in as many as six aspects from five different viewpoints. The areas assessed are economy, research and development, cultural interaction, livability, environment and accessibility. The viewpoints take into account four global actors (manager, researcher, artist, visitor) and one local actor, the resident.

Since the first edition of the GPCI in 2008, Tokyo has almost always been in fourth place after New York, London and Paris. Ichikawa said Tokyo should not be happy with being No. 4.

Pointing out the fact that the Tokyo metropolitan area’s population is the world’s largest at 35 million, Tokyo being No. 4 is “clearly strange,” Ichikawa said. The corresponding figures of New York and London are 22 million and 16 million.

According to the 2012 version of the GCPI, Tokyo had the best scores in economy and environment but was seventh and eighth in cultural interaction and accessibility.

Regarding cultural interaction, the number of inbound tourists to Tokyo is about half that of London and Paris, Ichikawa said. The number of foreign students is also low in Tokyo, he added.

For accessibility, even though the train management system is excellent, low levels of air traffic to international airports and the long distance from Narita airport to central Tokyo dragged the ranking of Tokyo down, he said.

Another notable point is that the ranking of Tokyo from a manager’s viewpoint was seventh, even though Tokyo was No. 1 in the economy sector.

“This means company presidents think Tokyo has problems in the liquidity of human resources and ease of economic activity,” he said. From the first to sixth place are London, Singapore, Hong Kong, New York, Shanghai and Beijing.

There is a way for Tokyo to ascend to the top three spots, though it is unclear if everything will go well for Tokyo in the future to enhance urban innovation.

The Mori Memorial Foundation’s Institute for Urban Strategies, of which Ichikawa is an executive member, came up with four scenarios for Tokyo’s future in 2035 — the best-case, second best, third best and the worst.

“Five or 10 years from now may be easier to predict, but 25 years is too long,” Ichikawa said. “That’s why we created four different scenarios.”

Three elements determining the four different scenarios are whether Tokyo succeeds in 1) deregulation, 2) promotion of free competition and 3) paradigm shift. The worst-case scenario stems from unsuccessful deregulation, the second worst from successful deregulation but unsuccessful promotion of free competition. The second best scenario is based on successful promotion of free competition but unsuccessful paradigm shift and the best on successful paradigm shift.

When Ichikawa gave a lecture in Tokyo and asked the 250 audience members to predict the fate of Tokyo, the most frequent answer was the second best scenario, he said.

Tokyo’s strength, he said, lies in software rather than hardware. Buildings and other structures are not much different between Tokyo and other cities because architectural technology is not very different.

“But the way the hardware is operated can be different, and Tokyo is excellent at that,” he said.

For example, Tokyo has relatively few traffic jams because traffic lights have sensors to detect the number of cars on roads to control the pace of signal changes accordingly, he said.

In one of the seminars Ichikawa will participate in during the Innovative City Forum, to be organized by the Institute for Urban Strategies in Tokyo from Oct. 16 to 18, he will discuss a new assessment criterion, “Intangible Urban Value,” a new terminology under this tentative English name.

Intangible Urban Value is the value that can be measured by human feelings.

For example, if people lose their belongings in the subway, the likelihood of those found and coming back to the owners is very high in Tokyo, whereas people in other countries may have to give up, Ichikawa said.

Hospitality is also part of Intangible Urban Value. Ichikawa cited a survey conducted by the Japan National Tourism Organization that shows the percentage of tourists who have the impression upon arrival that the Japanese are kind is 29 percent, while this rises to 38 percent when they leave Japan. On the question whether services are good in Japan, the figure rises from 13 percent upon arrival to 18 percent upon departure.

Ichikawa also cited the preciseness and frequency of the train system and variety in high-quality food in Tokyo as examples of Intangible Urban Value.

Another development Ichikawa expects will make Tokyo more competitive is a large train depot near Shinagawa Station that reportedly may turn into a community filled with structures featuring cutting-edge technology. East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), declined comment on future development of the area.

According to Ichikawa, Shinagawa Station, south of Tokyo Station, is in the best location as a Tokyo hub because it has convenient access to Haneda airport. Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) is also planning for Shinagawa to be the terminal of the Linear-Express super-fast train that will connect with Nagoya in 2027.

Capital strikes gold with 2020 Olympics

Download the PDF of this Innovative City Forum


In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.