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Still City Project

The Still City Project investigates how we can move beyond the driving forces of our modern industrialized world; infinite economic growth, technologic progress and population growth. The project is a search for the 'Still City': an urban culture that is based on dynamics that are inclusive and sustainable. The ambition of the project is to find and make the images and stories we need to construct a post-growth urban society. — read more

The Still City Project

Power to the People

Still City Tokyo

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Increasingly we can only imagine Japan as science ficion

"Population decline and extreme population aging will profoundly alter the realm of the possible for Japan—and will have major reverberations for the nation’s social life, economic performance, and foreign relations. Gradually but relentlessly, Japan is evolving into a type of society whose contours and workings have only been contemplated in science fiction."

The Wilson Quarterly - Spring 2012

Why Tokyo? — Many of the worlds metropoles have recently started to exhibit strains in the paradigm of economic and demographic growth. Perhaps the very epitome of a post-growth city is Tokyo, Japan, where urbanity has almost reached its physical limits, and economic and demographic growth, oscillate around zero. As such, Tokyo offers clues to what a Still City might be

Tokyo Subway control room (date unknown).

Urban Development: Approaching the Urban Maximum — Tokyo is the most populous city in the world, and arguably the largest. With Tokyo, the modern metropolis seems to have reached its sprawl-size maximum. The average commute time, with public transport, in Tokyo is approximately two hours and the urban expanse is delimited by natural boundaries, the mountains in the North and the Ocean in the South.

House in Koenji, Tokyo 2012

Urban Planning: No Plan — Tokyo is a young metropolis. One can argue that it did not exist a hundred and fifty years ago. Its modern urban texture is not directly interwoven with the remnants of humble origins or an even more glorious past. There are few architectural reminders that can evoke historical sentimentalism, but they are scattered and disconnected and resist a historical reading of how the city grew. Basically, Tokyo has no plan. Strong private ownership and the sheer impossibility to expropriate plots characterize Tokyo’s planning endeavor more as a continuous negotiation with the forces at play, than the careful execution of a master-plan.

Demographics: Aging — Like other postindustrial countries Japan faces falling birth rates, almost no net immigration (unique to Japan), and one of the highest life expectancies in the world. In 2007 21,2% of Japan’s population was 65 years or older. In Tokyo 18,9% is 65 years or older. This makes Tokyo one of the greyest metropolises in the world. Japan has seen alarmingly low birthrates the last decades, which is also translating into the political dimensions of demographics: Young people are outnumbered by older voters, and are concentrated in cities, where ballots carry less weight, proportionally, than in the sparsely populated countryside.

Demographics: Migration — The projected population of Japan in 2100 will be close to Japan’s population in 1880 (approximately 30 million, compared to the present 130 million) if Japan wouldn’t change their policy on immigration and naturalization ‚which is unlikely since Japanese culture has in immense resistance to ‘otherness’.

Demographics: Urban-Rural — Tokyo is a slightly different story, as much of Japan’s population has started to migrate to the city swelling the city to 36 million inhabitants, which is projected to stay more or less stable over the coming decennia. While many rural area’s depopulate, there is also a minor trend of young professionals returning to their hometowns for the pragmatic reasons of finding work or setting up businesses of their own, and the emergence of ‘art-villages’ induced by either by artists moving to the countryside, or curators trying to revitalize the relation to the countryside through biennales-like events, for example Echigo-Tsumari. Perhaps these are signs of new kinds of dynamic between the countryside and the city.

Production: Towards a Steady-State Economy? — Japan as a whole has seen a low economic growth rate for more than two decades. It is the world’s third largest economy, technologically highly advanced, but because of complex problems it has all but economically flat lined. Japan’s economy seems to be in perpetual stagnation. Japan could be the first economy that comes increasingly closer to a Steady-State Economy, an economic model that doesn’t focus on the perpetual increase of GDP.

Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan bows to Japanese national flag as he leaves at a news conference announcing his resignation at his official residence in Tokyo. (August, 2011)

Politics: Political Stagnation — In the last four years Japan has seen more than five different Prime Ministers take and leave office. Politically the country has been gridlocked. Politicians do not seems to have an answer to the many social and economic challenges the country faces. Decisions are postponed or are phrased so broadly that no action is possible. The alternative has been that decisions are made by technocrats removed from the realities of the everyday. Tokyo doesn’t have a shared imagination or discourse on where ‘the city’ should go, what its aspirations are, what it’s identity is. Narratives that relate communities and individuals to the city are fragmented and lack common ground. Resulting in a lack of action, a lack of new narratives wether political or cultural.

Politics: Generational Divide — At the same time there is political movement on the streets, although Japanese media are hardily reporting it. Almost everyday there are protests against the restarting of nuclear plants, with this the Japanese are breaking the taboo on protest that has existed since the 70s. Hajime Matsumoto - protest organizer and founding member of the political artistic collective ‘Amateur Revolt’ (Shirouto no Ran):”What is most important is that people must get into the habit of voicing their complaints. We’ve got to stop acquiescing with passive democracy and regain true, participatory democracy. And my belief is that taking to the streets is one effective means.” There is a growing generational divide in Japan. Many of the young refuse to follow the rationale, the careers and ambitions of the old status quo. For instance the relatively young Taiwanese-Japanese female politician Renhō, made a controversial remark in the Diet (Japan’s parliament) on Japan’s ambitions: “What’s wrong with being number 2 of the world?”

Shibuya Gyaru, 2011

Creative: Subcultures and Crafts — Though economic and political stagnation pervades, creativity has not been stalled. When one looks at the subcultural vibrancy of areas such as Harajuku, Shimokitasawa, Koenji or even along the Inokashira train-line one wonders to what extent Tokyo or Japan has truly flat lined. The cultural and artistic output is immense. The aesthetic aptitude in Japan is minimal and perfectionist, a sense of form and material that strikes a balances between the abstractions of modernism and the essentialism of craft. To reverse the trend of de-industrialization that Japan was experiencing after the end of the Japanese financial bubble in the 1990s the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office set up a ‘monozukuri kondankai (consultative council on monozukuri)’ and enacted the Basic Law for Promoting Monozukuri Foundation Technology. The word ‘monozukuri’ is only 15 years old or so, but refers to an updated notion of craftsmanship, where it is combined with a very Japanese notion of design, science and manufacturing, where the aim is refinement, continuous improvement and not being wasteful.

Nature: Disaster and Collective Response — After the tragic events following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, Japanese culture was forced to reconsider its relation with nature. The consequences of this are plans for an anime-esque New Tokyo out of range of radioactivity and the rationing of electricity. Large companies are replacing their lighting with LED lighting (like the Tokyo Metro, Lawson and 7eleven). Many individuals are voluntarily shutting down their air-condition as to not put the energy-grid under too much stress now that Japan has to with significantly less power due to the shut down of almost all Nuclear Power Plants. Part of the motivation is that the change of seasons should be experiences again instead of cancelled out through technology. The Japanese are revisiting their relation with nature.

Participants hold a traditional Koinobori carp-shaped banner during a march welcoming the shut down of the nation’s last nuclear reactor in Tokyo on Saturday. (May, 2012)

Resources: Reconsidering Dependency — In addition to this, the tsunami caused a number of nuclear accidents that forced Japan to rethink its energy infrastructure – including the correlation energy production has with the need to curb climate change. Japan has little in terms of energy resources, and yet is one of the world’s largest energy consumers. Post-311, this condition took center stage, as energy became scarcer, necessitating a new relation to energy, through technology and production keeping in mind safety economic and political interests. As of July 1st Japan has fixed a feed-in tariff for solar energy for the next 20 year. An incentive after the German model that would create a market of 9.6 billion dollars for the coming two decades.

Technology: Solutions for Society — Tokyo is one of the most technological advanced cities in the world. More than in any other developed country technological advancement is very much interwoven with local culture. Notions of technology and machinery are not so much seen as a threat to humanity or nature, but more as a continuation, an extension of man as well as nature. Technology, the social and the biological are all part of the same continuum, the same societal metabolism. Researchers are testing robots to take care of the elderly, men date virtual girlfriends and mechanical pets entertain children and adults alike. The Japanese seem to have no fear of letting technology solve some of society’s problems. The uncanny valley seems to be something the Japanese are not so afraid of.

Income: The Middle Class and its Discontents — It has been argued that Japan’s middle class is ninety percent of the population. Making it one of the most matured countries in the world, according to the paradigms of Modernity. This would seem to imply a stable and healthy social condition, but at the same time it getting harder and harder for the younger generation to join this middle class. They have to work very hard for low wages and in the current economic climate increasingly under temp contracts that are never seem to become permanent. The middle class seems to be reserved for the status quo.

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