Economic history has a long shelf-life when it comes to the data, but needs to be read in a changing context. Besides taking stock of my research, I want to interrogate myself what impact COVID-19 may have on a future monologue.
I have several articles in the pipeline that I want to synthesize and adapt for publication in a longer monologue at a later stage. So far:
Labor-intensive industrialization and urban space: Should come out with Social Science Japan Journal later this year. The argument is more or less summed up here.
Space egalitarianism: This paper is more or less finished but needs to be revised following the comments of a great anonymous reviewer. I am not sure I can address them to his/her full satisfaction, so I may have to seek another journal willing to take this on more or less as is. I am confident it is strong enough to stand on its own feet.
Institutional: I would like to get two papers out of this, one on urban planning (or the lack thereof, maybe more of a polemic, short essay) and one on fiscal decentralization, which is nearly fully drafted. Both would highlight the role the Tokyo Metropolitan Government played in Tokyo’s postwar economic development.
Building the bridge to the policy / contemporary section of the book, I am hoping to pen an article together with an expert on Tokyo’s local government on how cities can learn from one another. Our case study are the early consultancy reports written by Professor Robson of LSE, who went to Tokyo on the invitation of Governor Minobe in the late 1960s.
Today: My interest was always in finding out how Tokyo’s example may guide today’s megacities in the developing world. This was partly inspired by the work of Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava on Mumbai. And yet, the world has changed remarkably fast over the last few months, with COVID-19 shaking the foundations of modern urbanism.
We hope to explore some issues in the second edition of our Architectural Guide Yangon, but without much research, it is safe to assume the pandemic will change the way we think about density, slums, migration and infrastructure, among other issues. Some preliminary ideas how Tokyo’s past can remain a guide:
The overarching question is how we can reconcile the benefits of density with sufficient protection from pandemics. Despite high population density, Asian cities have been relatively less affected by COVID-19 than some European and North American urban centers, among others. Besides well-documented factors, can the urban fabric itself have something to do with this?
Labor-intensive industrialization: While the service sector relies on commuting, heaving public transport and (daytime) dense inner-city districts, Tokyo’s manufacturing sector was surprisingly decentralized and small-scale, reducing the need to commute in packed trains and share space in production lines.
Egalitarianism: Pandemics thrive on inequality it seems, judging from evidence around the world. Tokyo was a surprisingly egalitarian place not just by pure virtue of its socioeconomic structure, but also its urban form. Both were mutually reinforcing each other. Medium population density, a low degree of substandard housing (a relative concept, needless to say) and thus social stratification, etc., played a crucial role that I explore quantitatively in my work.
Institutions: This may require some more work, but Japan’s peculiar setup of governance may provide it with a decent configuration of decentralization vs. centralization to respond to pandemics. Is this reflected in the urban fabric, e.g. via the geographical spread of (basic) healthcare facilities and health centers – the first vanguard against infectious diseases?