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Restructuring for the future, not rebuilding the past

will galloway Sep 19 '11 0

Planning partner in our office, Christian Dimmer recently published an article in the Japan Times about how to address the reconstruction efforts in Tohoku that is definitely worth reading. 

Dear Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda,

Over 560 sq. km of northeast Japan was inundated by the tsunami that followed the massive March 11 earthquake, leaving over 20,000 dead or missing and devastating farmland, ports and nearly the whole regional fishing economy. The subsequent shutdown of most nuclear power plants, part of Japan’s highly centralized power generation system, caused an unprecedented energy crisis with severe repercussions for the national and even parts of the global economy.

The aftershocks have sent tremors far beyond the areas directly hit by the natural disaster. But the widely accepted notion of a “triple disaster” of the earthquake, ensuing tsunami and nuclear crisis is a misconception, obscuring the fact that the afflicted areas had already been suffering from deep structural problems for decades.

A comparison of the current crisis to the Great Hanshin Earthquake throws the demographics of these problems into stark relief. The 1995 quake primarily struck Kobe, a single densely populated city of 1.5 million inhabitants where 13.5 percent of residents were aged 65 or older; the Great East Japan Earthquake hit hundreds of kilometers of coastline in mostly rural regions with a population of nearly 7 million, 22 percent of whom were older than 65.

By March 11, 2011, many younger people had already left Tohoku to study or work in Tokyo, creating a demographic imbalance where the share of elderly had risen above the national average, eroding the region’s economic base. Accordingly, agriculture, fisheries and forestry face succession issues and a shortage of labor, with the result that the country’s food self-sufficiency is on the wane while carbon dioxide emissions from increasing food imports are aggravating global warming. Large-scale shopping malls, mushrooming in rural Japan, have sapped the last energies of retail districts in existing town centers. These are manifestations of the lingering attraction of energy-intensive, car-centered lifestyles, whose resulting urban development patterns have left the old and immobile isolated in dilapidated, atrophying downtowns.

A comprehensive, long-term strategy is needed to help solve these and other demographic, social, environmental and economic problems that were already in place prior to March 11.

check out the full story here



 
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