Community development – through revitalization of rural areas or revival of waning communities – generally comes to mind in Japan when we consider the topic of commu-nities and localities. However, addressing issues faced by communities and localities is not a matter of bringing back the vibrant good old days or reestablishing stronger ties. Alt-hough administrative and tax systems have enabled greater individual independence in society, weaker interpersonal ties have revealed the difficulty of this. Under the circum-stances, we ponder the nature of ideal ties with others – not too close, not too distant – and an ideal rural sparseness. Although this kind of discussion suggests that ideas for community building described here will deal with intangibles, both “soft” and “hard” ap-proaches in design must be considered in order to breathe new life into the spheres of community activity.
This premise forms the basis for summarizing this year’s entries from the two perspectives of communities and localities. The concept of a community seems fairly straightforward, but locality probably requires a little clarification. In this context, localities are simply lo-cal areas, such as areas of production.
To begin with a look at community-minded design: many excellent entries consist of meet-ing places, which no doubt responds to the perception that local ties are fraying. One such entry called OTera Cafe shows the potential of a temple – used after hours as a café – in bringing together community members of all faiths. In the Wakatake no mori serviced retirement community, one senses the shape that local hubs of social activity may take in Japan’s impending era of extended longevity. Elsewhere, at the repurposed and renovated site of a former fish market, neighbors and tourists alike mingle in the Totoza community center, where they can appreciate the area’s fishing heritage.
Renovation seems like a good opportunity to bring communities together. In the trend away from tightly knit communities, it may be essential not to sever the bond between res-idents’ memories and existing buildings, but instead to bring people together through the-se resources. Many neighbors collaborated to renovate a traditional thatched house in ru-ral Akita, but the fact that it hosts out-of-town visitors shows that villages are finding it difficult to maintain their social venues without external support. This raises the intri-guing prospect of expanding communities beyond their traditional boundaries.
From the viewpoint of localities, many outstanding entries promote local production for local consumption. These respond to current regional issues such as local production and consumption of food and energy, as well as local economic renewal. Pursuit of this sustain-ability in energy is seen at a smart community in Miyama, and in agriculture, at an urban farm in Kyoto, both of which remind many people About its importance.
Encouraging people to “keep it local” habitually from an early age is a goal of two entries targeting students, with one supporting locally sourced Japanese cuisine in school lunches and another giving students an opportunity to assemble their own desk and chair from local materials, which they keep and take home after graduating. These children may well grow up with somewhat different values than those of their parents or grandparents.
Ensuring the sustainability of communities themselves remains a key issue. Even if a new community is formed with an ideal combination of tangible and intangible infrastructure, its core members will inevitably grow older. There is also a risk of stress from ties that bind too tightly, if these core members form inflexible ties of obligation. So too is there a distinct possibility that community coherence will be lost the moment that, for whatever reason, core members leave. Communities must therefore adjust to changing de-mographics, and they must change with the times. These well-designed social and academic programs, held at many venues where people meet, respond to community and locality issues and show the importance of adapting to internal and external changes to ensuring sustainability.