Atlantic Cities

Blank-Slate City Rebuilding in Japan

Blank-Slate City Rebuilding in Japan
Issei Kato / Reuters

Recovery is slowly progressing in Japan, where large swaths of coastal areas are still grappling with the destruction wrought by a massive tsunami in March. It’s estimated that 217 square miles of land were flooded, more than 125,000 buildings have been badly damaged or destroyed, and more than 320,000 people had to be evacuated from coastal homes. As the country tries to recover, government officials are increasingly considering whether towns should be redeveloped right in their destructive paths. A new plan is trying to make it easier for cities to move themselves out of harm’s way.

It’s an effort aimed at developing tsunami-resistant communities that would enable cities to buy up large blocks of land for redevelopment. The plan is part of a new bill proposed by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. As Nikkei reports, the new blocks of land would be sited in areas deemed safe from tsunami damage, and planned to essentially replace damaged parts of town.

After building roads, parks and other public facilities on the parcels, the municipalities could sell or lease the remaining sites to private-sector businesses for constructing factories, stores and other buildings.

This is large-scale city moving at a very fast rate. As opposed to the typically slow pace of implementing municipal plans, this bill would allow local governments to quickly buy up and designate land for the redevelopment of their cities.

Much of this rebuilding and redevelopment will not be where it was before. It’s likely that the civic centers of many cities will move to new places, a process that can be emotionally and historically traumatic. If the bill is approved, local governments will also have more power to decide what areas should be kept off limits to building in order to avoid tsunami damage. This increased power over the choice of city locations should be interesting to watch, and will create some potentially great opportunities for innovative design. But there’s also a danger that this type of blank-slate city building will create communities that, though resistant to tsunamis, will be devoid of the character that makes people want to call them home.

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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