Describing “Emergent Tokyo”

Drawing on my AAS presentation (already recorded, to be aired at the end of March 2021) I would like to write up another journal article on the “Tokyo model”. This would mean that all of my dissertation has been “used” and published in some form or another. For the sake of self-inspiration I will sketch out a skeleton of the article after the break. 

Joe McReynolds, who organized the AAS panel, wanted to hear the participants elaborate on their perspective on what makes the Japanese capital so successful. The contributions were varied and my input was on the historical continuities of the “Emergent Tokyo”, the small-scale neighborhoods that stand in defiance to the newly dominant neoliberal Tokyo of high-rise nodal development. “Emergent Tokyo” is borrowed from Jorge Almazan and Joe, whose forthcoming book carries this title.

My presentation was called: “Egalitarianism and generic neighborhood features: the postwar roots of the ‘Tokyo model'” and thus shall be the working title of my article. The difficulty will be to transcend the descriptive mode and field my relevant dissertation data in a meaningful way. I am not trying to write a comparative piece, but would still like to launch this in a general urban studies journal. Let’s see!

The background will set the scene: The “Tokyo Model” depended on an egalitarian city and egalitarian neighborhoods (which links to my forthcoming paper and will not require a long elaboration) and also facilitated equal living standards across the city.

It might be tricky to present a proper literature review, and perhaps this can be done toward the end. Another idea might be to plug it closely to Jorge’s and Joe’s book, which strives to describe some of Tokyo’s urban patterns, which it calls “emergent”, “that is, they are the combined result of numerous modifications and appropriations of space by small agents interacting within a broader socio-economic ecosystem.”

My contribution might elucidate the historical roots of the broader socio-economic ecosystem. It might inform the debate on these neighborhoods’ role in today’s city and whether they have (had) elements that are worth replicating elsewhere.

The core data will cover the following points: 1) Neighborhoods shared physical characteristics and 2) a set of similar commercial infrastructure.

  1. Neighborhoods had some “default” physical features that reproduced themselves as the city grew: They had an increasingly uniform medium population density. Buildings were predominantly low-rise and residential housing built of wood. The road network was uniform and expanded with the characteristic narrow-road typology as the city grew.
  2. The set of similar commercial infrastructure included sento, mom-and-pop retail shops and restaurants. Taken together they allowed households primarily at the lower end of the income distribution to economize on living space. Finally, neighborhoods also featured furniture makers and construction companies. They helped to make Tokyo’s neighborhoods metabolic and able to upgrade themselves in situ in the absence of large-scale developments and planning. Most importantly, these features reproduced themselves with a remarkably consistent density in the new and growing neighborhoods.

The discussion that follows from this data section will cover the following points:

Implications for today’s Tokyo:

I will open with a table comparing / juxtaposing some indicators from the postwar with the contemporary period (even a longer time series; featuring density, road width, building height and material), then move on to the discussion:

  • “Generic neighborhood features” have changed due to socio-economic, cultural and technological shifts; sento are disappearing, konbini have taken over, mass retail has gained importance
  • The city has become less egalitarian, less driven by manufacturing, less young; among other secular shifts
  • However, “Emergent Tokyo” has retained many of the elements described above, and yet sense and purpose of community shifted; gentrification (shitamachi)

Implications for developing cities:

Open with a table comparing / juxtaposing some available indicators from the postwar period with other developing cities (density, building height, sanitary features, manufacturing employment, etc.) then move on to discussion

  • Setting the scene: Minobe’s secretary quipped that “Tokyo back then had to grapple with problems of both New York and Calcutta”
  • Tokyo’s slum phenotype: density is not bad – link to Matias’s and Rahul’s work – in situ upgrading; user-generated city

The tables might be quite ambitious and thus be subject of separate blog posts to get the brain moving. Other than that it should mainly be about looking at my dissertation again and expanding some of the data tables by a few years. Not being in Tokyo and having no access to the TMG Library in Hiro’o might be a problem.

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