One of the chapters of my PhD deals with urban governance in postwar Tokyo. I argue that the intermediate layer of government, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, was an effective arbiter of the “developmental city”. A Guardian article from 2015 caught my eye.
Titled “Who Runs our Cities”, the piece summarizes the research done by the LSE Cities’ Urban Age team. It compared urban governance structures around the world, starting from the simple premise of what proportion of a metropolitan population is represented by the city government.
In Tokyo, TMG only administers the Tokyo prefecture, which holds about a third of the population of the larger metropolitan area. So the statement that “Tokyo is the biggest city on earth” needs to be qualified somewhat, as my former students at TUJ are painfully aware of.
The question of representation is very important and links with that of taxation and devolution. Fiscal redistribution can be anathema in a decentralized system, whereas too much centralization in the national government may reduce in arbitrary and detached decision making that does not resonate on the ground.
Governance and the mere day-to-day coordination of increasingly large urban agglomerations becomes increasingly challenging. In Delhi, but also here in Bangkok, day-to-day ramifications include air pollution, and the failure of metropolitan governments to fight its source. It is either physically outside the city, or falls outside of the remit of the city government.
Many of these experiences are new in human history due to the sheer scale and complexity of what we are seeing in developing megacities. Add environmental degradation and climate change, and you face an enormous challenge in bringing governance structures “up to date” with the realities of the 21st century.
Postwar Tokyo may be a great case study in this respect, as I have said so frequently on this blog. While my academic papers are either under review or hopefully being submitted over the next year(s), I want to advance my thinking on the governance issues above. There are some consultancy reports from the 1960s that are particularly interesting in that regard.