National

Plan to fell symbolic trees near Meiji University ahead of 2020 Games draws local flak

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Making the streets in the nation’s capital more accessible ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020 — particularly for those with disabilities — will come at a cost.

And for Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, that means 70 platanus trees are on the chopping block as part of a plan to expand sidewalks, prompting strong protests from local residents.

If Chiyoda Ward goes ahead with its plan, the trees lining Meidai Street surrounded by Meiji University and other university campuses will be cut down and replaced by magnolia trees.

“Officials should consider a way to protect the trees, not cut them down,” Masayuki Omori, a Meiji University professor on environmental economics, told a news conference in Shinjuku Ward on Tuesday.

Omori and two other Meiji University professors are members of a group campaigning to protect the trees. They launched a petition on Change.org, garnering some 6,200 signatures from Chiyoda Ward citizens.

On Tuesday, the group filed a petition with the ward and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government demanding that they revise the plan.

The group claimed decision makers failed to explain to local residents and business operators, as well as university staff and students, why the trees need to be cut down. It also stressed the historic role the trees have played over the years for the community, as some were planted four to six decades ago and have long served as symbols of Meiji University.

“We want to underscore that these trees are alive … and they help solve environmental issues by reducing carbon dioxide,” said group member Michiko Ai, a university lecturer who also campaigned last year to protect gingko trees in a neighboring area. Her efforts prompted Chiyoda Ward and metro government officials to preserve some of the 300 gingko and platanus trees in the area that were marked for removal.

However, Chiyoda Ward claims the current batch of trees need to be removed so the area can be made more accessible for people in wheelchairs.

“The sidewalks are really narrow and expanding them will enable people in wheelchairs to move past each other,” a ward official in charge of parks and roads development said in a phone interview.

The ward plans to widen the sidewalks on both sides of the road, which at present are 3.4 meters wide, by an additional 25 to 160 cm and eliminate the bump in the road. To do so, the trees dotting the stretch from JR Ochanomizu Station to the Surugadai intersection need to be cut down, the ward said.

The redevelopment plan first began to develop five years ago after local residents called on the municipality to make the streets more accessible and improve the area’s image, the official said. He added that the current plan also includes ways to reduce carbon dioxide and heat buildup.

Construction was supposed to start in August last year but was put on hold due to the controversy sparked by the plan to fell the nearby gingko trees. Preparations to resume the current work began last month.

“We’ve already decided to transplant as many trees as possible. … We aren’t planning to cut down all of them,” the Chiyoda Ward official said, adding the ward plans to replant at least four of the trees.

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