Notes on Tokyo


Tokyo is just one of the so many cities I have never set foot on. But they say that it is the biggest one, and it is the capital of a country which is relevant in more than one sense.

As seen from Spain, Japan is a very different country (and probably the same happens the other way round). But despite that, some things seem strikingly similar. A convulse history during the XXth century, with harsh conflicts and wars, and a fast urban growth, could as well describe Madrid or Barcelona as they could portray Tokyo. What is interesting is seeing that, as Okata and Murayama’s article “Tokyo’s Urban Growth, Urban Form and Sustainability” says, for most of the XXth century Tokyo grew largely without a Plan; or, to be more precise, along two plans, as many Spanish cities.

When I say two plans I do not mean explicit documents, but rather two levels of reality. Cerdá in Barcelona or Castro in Madrid designed in 1860 their grid extensions, that took a century to get completed; but this lapse of time was so long, in part, as this regular city, the ideal place for wealthy populations, develops in parallel to other area to which other people are forced to go living for a series of reasons (mainly poverty); these seemed first what a Brazilian favela would be today. The geometric contrast is clear, and persists today, despite the fact that they have become formal tissues with all the urban services.

As Okata and Murayama say, most of the growth of Tokyo during the XXth century happens along the railway corridors, occupying the rural land with scarce regulation. There seems not to be any kind of regular XIXth century urban bourgeois extension, and anyway, even if an urban core exists, this has faced the 1923 great quake and the war. There is a powerful geometry, but it is that of rivers, canals, rail and freeways, and that of a port that extends over the bay; here is the implicit plan of Tokyo.

Order in Tokyo seems to be based more on the possibility that everything relates in a reasonable way to its neighboring elements than to a quality that can be portrayed on a plan; neighborhood as opposed to design. In Madrid, Paris or Barcelona the design option was tested in the XIXth century, but the fact is that there has been no continuation to that idea of geometric regularity. If the city can no longer be understood by walking, and has no clear shape, or an uniform architecture, it has become an object in a different state, closer to sociology than to architecture; closer to the machine to live in than to architecture as an independent issue.

As Europeans cities, Tokyo (at a faster pace) approaches a new situation: the baby boom child are now  old people, and will die in some years, so the city can loose citizens. Can we learn from Tokio, which is ahead in that race?

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