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Post disaster reconstruction in Japan and the role of planning

26 June 2014 Author:

The RTPI second Planning Horizons paper was published this week at the RTPI Planning Convention. The paper, Future-Proofing Society, shows that planning for resilience needs to be redefined for the twenty-first century. As Gayle Wootton outlines in her recent blog post, resilience initiatives sometimes work within a definition of ‘resilience’ as the ability of individuals, communities and businesses to deal with the stresses and shocks that they experience, for example as post-disaster reactions to events, but also in a more proactive sense.

Sadly, there is probably no better recent example of the importance of resilience and planning, at least in a developed world nation, than Japan. Three years after the Great Tohoku Earthquake of March 2011, planners in Japan are still facing practical problems and unprecedented challenges, with over 62 municipalities affected in six different prefectures, along hundred of kilometres of coastline. The latest edition of Planning Theory and Practice, published this month by Taylor and Francis, features six thought provoking essays from a group of distinguished academics, practitioners and commentators on the theme of post disaster reconstruction in Japan. In the case of the Tohoku this disaster was a ‘triple disaster’ of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

Sadly, there is probably no better recent example of the importance of resilience and planning, at least in a developed world nation, than Japan. Three years after the Great Tohoku Earthquake of March 2011, planners in Japan are still facing practical problems and unprecedented challenges...

As outlined by lead authors Kayo Murakami and David Murakami Wood in the Interface section of the journal, the planning context in Japan is not just planning for disaster recovery; most modern techniques and mechanisms in Japanese urban planning actually derive from post-disaster legislation. This came in three waves: the Imperial Capital Revival Plan (in 1923) after the Great Kanto Earthquake; Post-War Revival City Planning (in 1945); and machizukuri (community development), used in the form of residential-based community groups after the Kobe Earthquake in 1995. The Interface examines what has been happening, and what could still happen, in the aftermath of the triple disaster, and consider whether a fourth wave of Japanese planning is under way and how place governance is being reconfigured. Is it a case of individual initiatives without communication between neighbouring areas, or is there any effective coordination at the regional level that could generate more positive outcomes in the longer term?

Hiroshi Tomita argues that there is a need to advance the development and implementation of new planning instruments for undesignated areas in planning such as fishing villages. As Japanese law states that damaged or ruined public facilities have to be rebuilt as before, rebuilding infrastructure with government subsidies creates the illusion of recovery and prevents open consideration of the social, economic and environmental sustainability of these fishing villages.

Satoshi Miyake in his essay on the relocation methods for residential areas states that planning experts, governments and residents must fully consider the long-term implications and viability of different options. Community and a sense of belonging help victims and evacuees cope with the process of recovery, however current recovery measures do little to assist people with these needs, given that existing planning tools are based on the belief in ongoing population and economic growth.

Rieko Shiraki and Kayo Murakami looking at the displaced town Namie in the Fukushima prefecture show that recovery machizukuri has helped the community develop plans for their future even while dispersed into temporary, partial communities. Information gathered from scattered residents enabled a number of community-based intermediary bodies with expertise and skills in the host areas to respond to evacuees’ demands before public aid was available. Efficient collaboration was created between public sector and civil society when the local authority became a hub in gathering and disseminating information. Nevertheless, it is difficult to implement these projects without backup from the local host municipalities, which suggests that an area management system beyond machizukuri needs to be established.

Koji Itonaga considers the issues of decontamination, evacuation, resettlement and return with which many communities around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are confronted. He argues that affected local governments should actively push the policy agenda forward for a new regional plan to include provisions for dealing with a nuclear disaster and its severe long-term implications.

Christian Dimmer takes a broader view of the implications of the reconstruction effort for place governance and place-making in the long-term. The word toshikeikaku (‘city planning’) connotes a highly centralised, top-down, civil engineering- and expert-driven activity, where participation is generally limited to information or consultation, by contrast with machizukuri. Dimmer argues that government recovery policies should concentrate less on rebuilding physical infrastructure and more on fostering local community networks and social capital. A whole generation of practitioners and students of different disciplines are now being trained through disaster recovery and have first-hand experience engaging in participatory place-making practice in rural communities. However they are struggling against an inflexible, still-centralised planning system.

These essays can be downloaded for free from the Planning Theory and Practice website.

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