The spatial structures of contemporary cities are extremely diverse both in Japan and overseas. Some cities are mono-centric, while others are poly-centric or diffused. How these spatial structures were formed has depended on the historical context of the cities and various other factors to a considerable degree. In particular, how cities faced and addressed a population increase and motorization seems to have exerted a significant impact on their spatial structures. The Tokyo metropolitan area experienced a large influx of population due to the country’s rapid economic growth before the widespread availability of automobiles. While the urbanized area has expanded to suburbs, a structure has been established to connect those suburbs to central Tokyo, the strong “hub,” by railway lines. However, the situation was different for cities that were devoid of any major hubs or convenient public transportation system. As automobiles enabled people to move more freely, not a few of such cities suffered from the atrophied public transportation system, low-densification and suburbanization, resulting in car-dependent urban structures.
Meanwhile, Japan currently faces an ultra-low birth rate and an aging and declining population, and it is sometimes pointed out that fewer people are using automobiles. A major challenge to many Japanese cities now is to shrink urban areas that have experienced unrestricted growth into more compact areas. However, it was not too long ago that Japan adopted a policy of creating “compact cities.” The government set out clearly such a policy for the first time in 2007 in the second report by the Panel on Infrastructure Development. It was not until 2014 that the planning system for implementing this policy was established in some way or another in the form of the Location Optimization Plan and the Local Public Transportation Network Plan. Professor Mamoru Taniguchi (the University of Tsukuba), the editor of this book, is one of the researchers who had been appealing for the creation of a compact-city policy since an early stage. Taniguchi conducted extensive research on the effectiveness and implementation measures of such a policy, thereby contributing significantly to the establishment of the above-mentioned planning system.
The book features seven cities and regions of Europe, North America, and Oceania, as well as explains the background against which they adopted the concept of compact cities and how they implemented the idea. For example, I wrote about the Berlin–Brandenburg metropolitan area in Germany, which experienced a drastic population decline in the outer suburbs (Chapter 4). It became difficult for these suburbs to maintain the functions and services essential for people’s lives, such as government services, health care, education, and retail services. Needless to say, the local government faced an extremely difficult challenge of offering basic services while operating under a budgetary constraint amid a population decline. Chapter 4 provides an overview of the efforts being made during this transitional period of shrinkage, and explains how this region plans to establish, with regard to its spatial plan, hubs that integrate various urban functions.
The book’s individual chapters are more than superficial case studies. They briefly explain planning systems that enable those countries and cities to carry out compact-city policies, and provide suggestions for Japan in light of these cases. Making urban structures which have been formed over the years more compact has by no means been a straightforward process. The book not only presents target spatial images but also provides key points to consider in achieving the target. Therefore, the book offers many useful tips for both practitioners and academics.
(Written by TAKAMI Kiyoshi, Associate Professor, School of Engineering / 2020)