National | Regional Voices: Kyushu

Plan to cut down ginkgo trees in Fukuoka to improve wheelchair access sparks backlash

Nishinippon Shimbun

An ongoing redevelopment project in the city of Fukuoka has sparked outrage among some local residents and calls for the authorities to reconsider their decision to cut down fully grown ginkgo trees along Fukudai-dori avenue, one of the city’s main roads.

The Nishinippon Shimbun newspaper has received complaints from outraged residents who claim the local municipality’s plan to remove ginkgo trees near Nanakuma in Jonan Ward was pushed forward without their knowledge.

Not all Fukuoka residents oppose the plan, as some have reluctantly accepted it.

But the Nishinippon Shimbun’s reporting has found that city officials had only informed local residents in a few areas about the project.

The idea to cut down the ginkgo trees came about when the city was developing a plan to reduce the gap in height between sidewalks and the road to improve barrier-free accessibility for wheelchairs.

In fiscal 2015, municipal authorities discussed the plan with senior members of the local residents association and held an explanatory meeting for residents with properties located along the avenue.

A Fukuoka resident who attended one of the meetings recalled that a majority of residents from nearby condominiums and dwellings complained about the inconvenience of having the trees in the neighborhood. Many attendees claimed that on rainy days, the sidewalk becomes slippery as the trees shed their leaves, and that smelly ginkgo seeds stick to their shoes.

The avenue is known for the beauty of its autumn foliage, but residents and business owners from neighboring areas also complain about having to clean up the fallen leaves every year.

The city has decided to cut down all ginkgo trees along the avenue leading to Fukuoka University and replace them with evergreen dwarf Chinese hollies that, unlike ginkgo trees, don’t lose their leaves.

Road improvement work started at the Hoshikuma junction in fiscal 2016 in the eastward direction, and constructors are set to finish the project near the Nanakuma Yotsukado intersection by March 2021.

In the future, the Fukuoka Municipal Government also plans to revamp sidewalks along the stretch leading to Jonan Civic Center, a community center in Jonan Ward.

As part of the construction, the city plans to trim down a total of 107 ginkgo trees.

The officials had reportedly considered transplanting the ginkgo trees but only managed to transport 11 trees to Imazu Sports Park in Fukuoka’s Nishi Ward.

According to the National Institute for Land and Infrastructure Management, which is affiliated with the land ministry, there were 6.7 million roadside trees 3 meters or higher across Japan as of March 2017. Ginkgo trees were the largest category, accounting for 8 percent of the total.

Why are ginkgo trees so common? A NILIM researcher explained that they owe their popularity to their hardy nature, given that ginkgo trees can withstand severe weather conditions.

“They’re tough and don’t require any special care,” the researcher said. “They’re also quite resistant to diseases and are capable of putting out buds even after pruning.”

The boom in planting ginkgo trees began once they became known for their fire resistance after many ginkgo trees survived fires triggered by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.

Ginkgo trees were also planted in the city of Fukuoka, and as of March 2019 the city had about 55,000 roadside trees, of which 6,600, or 12 percent, were ginkgo.

Jonan Ward officials believe the trees along Fukudai-dori avenue were planted about 30 years ago when road maintenance work was conducted.

For local people, ginkgo trees have become part of the landscape and are often included in city-run urban development projects. According to the municipal government officials in charge of maintaining the city’s roadside trees, “Roadside trees have contributed to urban development.”

Over the course of decades, many people have become attached to the sight of ginkgo trees while traveling to work or school, or during daily shopping trips.

It appears, however, that many Fukuoka residents found out about the ongoing work during strolls around the neighborhood.

The explanatory sessions organized by city officials to inform residents about the redevelopment plans were only for people living in neighboring buildings. The readers who contacted the Nishinippon Shimbun about the situation did not attend those meetings and thus didn’t know about the project.

Some municipalities that consider cutting down roadside trees as part of urbanization project efforts make such decisions based on nationwide feedback and inform residents about such plans through signboards or newsletters.

Apparently, concerns voiced by readers who contacted Nishinippon Shimbun came out of appreciation for the local cityscape. Ginkgo in the Nanakuma neighborhood have long enjoyed popularity with many local residents, for whom the trees have become part of the local landscape.

This section features topics and issues from the Kyushu region covered by the Nishinippon Shimbun, the largest newspaper in Kyushu. The original article was published on Aug. 30.

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