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The Re-Making of Tokyo : lessons for Asian Megacities

Phase one: 1590 to 1970. The involvement of both public and private sectors have changed urban landscape in positive yet challenging ways.


Tokyo La_Febbra

Reviewed by Greg Clark

Over many years, both the public and private sectors have played key roles in promoting urban regeneration in Tokyo.  Their involvement has dramatically changed the urban landscape both in positive and challenging ways. This is an important story for the development of the current crop of Asian mega-cities.

Creation and Growth of Tokyo

Tokyo, formerly known as “Edo,” has been developed as capital city since 1590.  The city was designed locating the castle in the center, accommodating its downtown in a circle around it.  This unique centric structure of the city is still maintained in the modern period.  During the Edo period, the design of the city was organic yet uniform applying wooden structures for buildings covered by black tiled roof.  Although wooden structure was suitable for the humid environment in Japan, it was susceptible to fire.  Major fires have destroyed huge portion of Tokyo many times, however, Edo has been regenerated repeatedly, maintaining its historical form. This historical form of the city was kept until the modernization introduced after the end of the Edo period in 1867.

Map of Edo in 1660   Source: Mid-Tokyo Maps, Mori Building

Urban Development in Tokyo after WW2

Since the democratization of Japan after the WW2, the private sector obtained much more power enabling to change the urban landscape. The government led the new plan to regenerate the city applying new infrastructure such as major boulevards. However, only a few have been realized due to the complex ownership of the land. Land ownership has become stronger under liberalization policy so that free standing housing and building made the city chaotic compared to the ancient Edo period with uniformed cityscape.  It can be seen that the negative aspects of unplanned private investment has destroyed the urban design of Tokyo.

Typical Chaotic Cityscape in Tokyo

Failure of the National Capital Region Urban Planning

Rapid economic growth also brought negative impacts on the urban landscape of Tokyo.  In 1958, the government created a plan to introduce sustainable urban growth of the national capital area referring to the Greater London Plan.  They tried to introduce the Green Belt surrounding the city center.  However, the policy was not properly implemented due to the opposition of the land owners in areas which were designated for the Green Belt.  Those areas were consequently developed as urban areas were not.  In the end the government gave up applying the Green Belt and removed the policy upon the revision of the national capital area master plan in 1968.

National Capital Region Master Plan (1958 left and 1968 right) Black zone is the planned Green Belt Source: National Land Agency

Impact of the Rapid Redevelopment with the Tokyo Olympic Games 1964

The Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 triggered a new urban evolution of Tokyo. Under the nation-wide campaign to promote Tokyo as an international city, many of the surgical operations of the city have been executed in a short term.  Futuristic metropolitan highway and the bullet train system attracted people and Tokyo became recognized as the leading city in Asia. At the same time, concerns about the impact of natural disasters, especially earthquakes and fires, encouraged the regeneration of the inner core of Tokyo. Occupation of the new “Gravestone” style buildings made the district safer but not always aesthetically successful.  Tokyo’s urban design was already depreciated relative to the cities in the western countries.

Before (1962) and After (1964) the Tokyo Olympic Games 1964   Source: Mid-Tokyo Maps, Mori Building


IMAGE: La_Febbra



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