2016Nine essential GDA perspectives on design trends
Kaori Ito
Director’s Message

Caring for current infrastructure as the poplation declines

2016.12.31Social InfrastructureLocal

As suburban cities in Japan shrink, inevitably, less will be invested in public infrastructure. Cities must ensure that these assets last, and core functions must be maintained while updating the design to suit the times and local needs.

In this respect, Kesennuma/Ofunato BRT using existing infrastructure by railway lines damaged in the Tohoku disaster not only reintroduced public transportation quickly, at each stage in recovery, but also gave people more choices. BRT systems have been deployed around the world, notably in Asia and South America. Often, they are associated with cities where long-term transport plans cannot keep up with rapid growth, or cities that cannot afford subway systems. In contrast, Kesennuma/ Ofunato BRT systems can be viewed not as serving emerging cities but as showing deployment possibilities for cities past their peak population. Rather than facing a choice of either struggling to maintain railway systems or abandoning public transportation and relying on personal vehicles, cities can learn from this flexible transport system that offers a variety of modes to suit local and regional needs.

In a different context, the New Oyama Cable Car also extends and enhances existing infrastructure. New chassis construction was not feasible, but the operator admirably updated other train car and system elements.

Opening up infrastructure to cities

Zoning in modern urban planning has sought to distill and differentiate according to use, but most urban renewal around the world in the last two or three decades has been mixed-use. This stands in contrast to the singular purpose of many elements of urban infrastructure, perhaps because the technologies used are specialized and splintered. Apartment complexes house people, for example, while parks provide recreation, and railways, transportation. But signs of change are also evident here.

Both Hoshinotani Danchi and Tennoji Park Entrance Area"TEN-SHIBA" show how the normally closed, single-purpose zones of company housing and private parks can be diversified and opened up to support vibrant city life as new infrastructure. Similarly, although the spaces created by Community Station Higashikoganei lie under an elevated railway built to alleviate traffic, they diversify and open this area to the city.

When renewal of existing spaces and systems is reviewed not under the rationale of the original, external infrastructure providers but under that of people who actually come into contact with the infrastructure, this can also enhance regions in new ways. In spatial development, public infrastructure can incorporate - either directly or indirectly - functions sought by the city. In system development, public and private sector entities can collaborate or divide the labor in various ways from planning through management.

Though coincidental, it is interesting that each of these projects was initiated by railway operators or their group companies. It must be relevant that railway operators in Japan show a distinct regard for the public interest.

Infrastructure as an opportunity to savor local flavor

A few instances of taking local perspectives when reconsidering public infrastructure are seen in comprehensive design in railway brand rebuilding, which has increased recently. Notable examples include SAGAMI RAILWAY 9000 Series Redesign Project and 323 Series and Osaka Loop Line Renovation Project. These broad redesign projects go beyond train design to encompass station and uniform design, visual identity, and brand colors. Even relationships with communities along the route are considered in design. In another case, Odakyu Adopts CUD for Signage to Provide Clear Information for All Users follow universal design principles in the use of color. Updating how information is conveyed at stations and elsewhere has made the system more convenient for everyone.

Areas along railway lines in metropolitan Japan can be viewed as distinct regional units, both because trains are so widely used and because these lines greatly determine where people live and spend time. Around the world, nothing quite compares to this phenomenon. Metropolitan railway operators have worked to improve service in traffic volume, speed, and coverage. To offer expanded public infrastructure that is not only practical but also makes people fond of the area and even serves as a platform for local identity, it seems only natural that planners are returning to the stance of considering local perspectives.

The coming years will no doubt see more design that helps maintain and update existing infrastructure while enhancing it in new and varied ways. Needs may also emerge for well-designed downsizing and repurposing of public infrastructure. Clear precedents for converting abandoned elevated railways into parks have been set at Le Viaduc des Arts in Paris or the High Line in New York, but we look forward to seeing how Japanese infrastructure will be maintained, updated, and even downsized and repurposed through good design.

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