Although I was born and raised in Tokyo, I found myself drawn to rural Minamiuonuma, Niigata, where I have lived for the past 13 years. To those in the country, whether here or anywhere across Japan, "design" feels urban - hardly integral to their own lives.Most people in the country view design as something extra, something that does not interest them. Even design-driven revitalization is seen as being little more than a means of luring people from the city into the country.
I myself see design as a problem-solving process. What kinds of design will future generations need? I sense that it will provide answers and ideas for determining how to approach our missions in society. And what are our social missions? From a rural perspective, the greatest causes for concern are issues intertwined with improvements to social infrastructure and the local economy, issues that are rooted in depopulation and lower revenue. Cities are probably most concerned About disasters. Depopulation in particular poses many problems. Some rural areas must face this as a certainty, while for cities it remains a possibility. However, affluent urban areas have lower birthrates, and from the standpoint of labor, this poses a conundrum. Thus, rural residents are not the only ones who must wrestle with ensuring that their community remains vibrant.
Several developments and advances have been making waves: Uber, Airbnb, and other signs of the sharing economy, and the innovation of drones and AI, as can be seen in Siri. Instead of using these advances to make cities even more convenient - some would claim they are already too convenient - or diminish others, we should use them to help bridge the urban-rural divide. They should serve as user-friendly tools for those growing more socially vulnerable in rural areas.
Uber certainly seems viable in areas where taxis are unreliable. Surely self-driving vehicles have potential in graying communities. And drones must hold promise where shopping is inconvenient.People now seem to have a greater appreciation for social relevance, both in advances such as these and in design as a problem-solving process.
Viewed from this perspective, Good Design Award entries that might not seem overtly "designed" become much more intriguing.For example, although some might view Kesennuma/Ofunato BRT as only one step in restoring transportation in the Tohoku region, these systems offer ample insight on how to preserve and transform some of the many unprofitable local railway lines into vital arteries of public transportation. Graying areas with a low birthrate might also learn from the award-winning architecture of the Public Housing In Tamaura-Nishi B-1 Area. Decks in this complex are flush against homes, shared with neighbors, and linked to barrier-free pedestrian roads - a novel arrangement that brings people together. Rural towns looking to revitalize shuttered shopping districts may find some inspiration in The activity of Bunshitu in Tokamachi, Niigata. In fact, in addition to efforts recognized in this year's award program, the area has received an infusion of community-building design projects exploring new ties between the public and private sector. Even original ideas as simple as UDERBE MUSIC FESTIVAL can revitalize communities outside major cities.
Many communities would probably find the approach taken at Hoshinotani Danchi particularly relevant and compelling. This suburban housing complex in Zama, Kanagawa, is located in an area that is certainly not rural, yet not metropolitan either. Nevertheless, depopulation remains a pressing concern, as is effective use of older residential units. Thanks to comprehensive efforts by the developer - not just renovating an older complex to create a new community - tenants are willing to pay even higher rent than at new local properties.
Residents at a suburban housing complex elsewhere in Kanagawa also have something new to appreciate: a private cafeteria called TOKO KITCHEN. Interestingly, this enterprise is run by a private-sector real estate company. Also worthy of note, Community Station Higashikoganei represents creative neighborhood development that takes advantage of unused land under elevated train tracks. The fact that nationwide chains are expanding as aggressively as ever, hoping to fill every available space in building complexes, by train stations, and in suburbs from Okinawa to Hokkaido, is not necessarily desirable from the standpoint of passing down culture and local flavor. In contrast, this development shows how thoughtful planning can attract small local businesses and build communities in new ways.
And finally, YT3 series herald a new era for farmers in Japan. For those in agriculture, no means of mobility are more familiar or important than tractors and trucks. Although tractors must be practical, safe, and comfortable, such features are not enough to make people fond of them. Pride of ownership is also important. Besides performing well, these tractors will brighten the routines of those who use them.
Cities certainly have no monopoly on good design, which is also not the exclusive preserve of aesthetes. In taking on a variety of regional social issues, we should know that good design in Japan this year holds as much promise as technological advances. It is also brimming with potential to make regional and rural economies more vital and dynamic.