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City planning by the local residents: Reporting a practical example

Secretary General Shinpei Taniguchi

What kind of city?

The Aneyakoji neighbourhood is a ten minutes' walk from Sanjô bridge, the terminal point of the famous Tokaido route connecting Edo (present-day Tokyo) with Kyoto in the past. Taking Aneyakoji Street as a backbone, the neighbourhood is delimited by Oike Street, Kyoto's "Symbol Road", in the north; the elegant Sanjo Street with its many early Western-style buildings in the south; Teramachi Street with its interesting shopping arcade in the east; and one of Kyoto's major traffic axes, Karasuma Street, in the west, lined by office buildings. The neighbourhood extends about 700 meters in east-west direction and about 200 meters in north-south direction.

Aneyakoji Valley

While it is in walking distance of the four major subway lines, it retains a quiet living environment in the evenings, and its traditional inns and shops with wooden signs graced with the calligraphy of the likes of Rosanjin Kitaoji or Tessai Tomioka give it a sophisticated cultural feel. Wishing to pass on the culture, lifestyle and business ethic inherited from their ancestors as well as possible, the authors have been engaged in activities for shaping the cityscape. Compared to the surrounding areas, mid- and low-rise buildings dominate the area, thus forming what has been called the "Aneyakoji Valley", an invaluable asset.

In 2001, the limit of 31 meters still preserved an orderly skyline
Three high-rise condominiums as the trigger of citizen activities

In 1995, the first plan to build a large-sized manshon (i.e. high-rise condominium) funded by outside capital reached the area. As the planned site had included a small park in the past and was therefore perceived as a public space, the neighbors successfully demanded a reconsideration of the plan, resulting in a building that was better adapted to the neighbourhood and its scale. Soon after, however, a second manshon plan came to a site right across the street. As the architect's draft did not respect the traditional layout of Kyoto neighbourhoods (with the space from street corner to street corner as the smallest units, combined into elementary school districts on the next level), Aneyakoji residents suggested to split the building in two. But try as they might, the architect – despite being a member of Kyoto City's Townscape Advisory Board and a university professor – did not respond to their request for an explanatory meeting, and construction was quickly pushed forward instead. The third and most enormous manshon came to face Oike Street. With its unprecedented width of 86 meters and height of 45 meters, it blocks the beautiful view of the mountain ranges that surround Kyoto on three sides.

As all of these ventures were financed by real-estate developers from outside Kyoto in a "build, sell and run" fashion, it seemed that they were literally eating up Kyoto's spatial resources. The readiness with which Kyoto City authorities accepted the violation of Oike Street's long-standing 31-meter height limit made the residents feel powerless.

Planning initiatives from the citizens' side
1) Making new neighbourhood rules: Re-imagining local autonomy

In response to the manshon crises, Aneyakoji neighbourhood residents have turned to a constructive approach: self-set neighbourhood rules (choshikimoku) have been a framework for local life from the Edo period (1603-1868) onwards, and the Iyama family residence preserves them. Neighbourhood residents therefore decided that it would be worth learning from the wisdom of their ancestors, and after holding study meetings with professor Naoki Tani from Osaka City University and others for more than a year, they adopted the "Heisei-period Aneyakoji Neighbourhood Rules" in April 2000. Currently, these are being displayed on traditional wooden signboards in three different locations. Self-set rules based on them are also contained in the "Aneyakoji Neighbourhood Building Covenant", a binding treaty in which landowners of a large area of adjacent lots have agreed on limitations and regulations on the basis of mutuality.

Since adoption, this covenant has been joined by 80 households and corporation for a total of 88 separate plots of land. This is a national record both for the number of participants and the included surface area. The treaty prohibits convenience stores and single-room apartment buildings in which the owner does not reside. Up to this point, it has never been violated. In response to this initiative, Kyoto City backed the covenant by a more permanent "Aneyakoji Neighbourhood District Plan", appointed residents as the "Local Townscape Council" which must be consulted over all new building and renovation plans, and included the area in the "Kyomachiya Ordinance" for the preservation of the traditional town houses of Kyoto. We think this can be seen as a way to pass on the wisdom of our ancestors and re-imagine it in a modern context.

2)"Townscape Environmental Improvement Programme"

Following up on these results and with the goal to realise the vision of a townscape in harmony with traditional buildings and to increase the area's allure and vibrancy, Kyoto City brought its first "Townscape Environmental Improvement Programme" to the area and kept it going for a period of ten years. With house owners, Kyoto City and the national government each contributing one third of the costs, altogether 26 houses had their facades renovated and upgraded until March 2014, building on the discussions of architects, designers, building firms, earthquake specialists, scholars and university students. In the following, the Aneyakoji Neighbourhood Association has proposed buildings for Kyoto City's "Beautiful Buildings That the Citizens Wish to Preserve" programme, with 31 of them being appointed. Since three of these were also designated "registered cultural properties" (toroku bunkazai) on the national level, we have produced a "Neighbourhood Walking Map" in several languages that explains our town-planning activities (http://aneyakouji.jp/vr/walkmap.html).

Moreover, for its contribution to local life by organising exchanges between local residents and foreign tourists and by translating neighbourhood materials, "Guest House Yululu" received an award by Kyoto City, as the only hostel alongside the most renowned guest establishments of the city. Though these activities and by maintaining friendly and trusting relations even with small-sized hostels, we manage to maintain a pleasant neighbourhood environment.

3)The Local Townscape Council and Its Networking with Other Areas

Before the district plan became a binding regulation, we adopted a "Future Planning Vision" that defined the three goals of our neighbourhood as

  1. preserving quiet and relaxed living environment,
  2. passing on residential, economic and cultural assets in a cooperative way, and
  3. sharing concerns and worries in common to realise a safe environment.

Kyoto's mayor officially recognized our group as "Local Townscape Council" and our plan as "Local Townscape Plan".

Official recognition as "Local Townscape Council" has been extended to altogether twelve areas. With these, we hold regular network meetings, establishing ourselves as important organisations for town-planning activities. Through consultation meetings with owners and investors before these start their building and commercial activities, we try to gain their understanding for the goals of local town-planning. We aim at preserving a quality environment (such as by regulating closing hours for bars and restaurants) and a beautiful townscape (such as by finding ways for employees to park their bicycles in a non-obstructive way or by implementing the prohibition of movable signboards and banners in front of businesses). In the five years since March 2015, the Aneyakoji Townscape Council has held consultation meetings over a total of 77 new buildings, renovations and shop signs (http://www.aneyakouji.jp/welcome/result/index.html).

4)Area management using the Jizobon and other festivals

In Kyoto, Jizobon is a festival with a long history and an opportunity for neighbourhoods to come together and enjoy the summer. Everyday relationships are the backbone of local life but when residents grow old and their numbers dwindle, contacts between them tend to become fewer and thinner. As this applies particularly to long-term residents, it is indispensable to integrate new residents such as those living in manshon into planning activities. Calling on everyone in the immediate neighbourhood and both the old and the new elementary school districts, we have been organising the "Aneyakoji Light-Up Festival" for twenty-five years now, involving more than a thousand people from among local residents, Kyoto Oike Middle School, Nakagyo Moegi Kindergarten and local businesses, with the support of the city government.

There is also a monthly information and coordination meeting that attracts researchers and students from outside, funded by donations we solicit from local businesses and supporters.

Tasks for sustainable resident-centered city planning

1)Unifying the skyline of Oike street as a crucial task for Kyoto

Seen from inside the “Aneyakoji Valley”, a huge wall in form of a gigantic building running from west to east blocks the view of the mountains north of Kyoto. It stands on Oike street where 75 years ago during the war, landowners on Aneyakoji street sacrificed their lots for the purpose of widening that street to 50 meters, thus creating a firebreak. Other than with the similarly sized Gojo street and Horikawa street, Oike street ends at the Kamogawa river in the east, meaning that trucks and through traffic tend to avoid it. It is thus an avenue that is friendly to people and the environment.

In 2001, the limit of 31 meters still preserved an orderly skyline.

As it faces Kyoto Town Hall and the Gion festival float parade also passes over it, Oike street should be developed in a similar way as Champs-Elysees in Paris and Fifth Avenue in New York, becoming the face of Kyoto. For this purpose, a unified building height is crucial. Here, Kyoto City should not forget its commitment to keeping the height of the skyline at 31 meters. Recently, relaxing this limit has been discussed in Kyoto city planning circles. The vice mayor has publicly promised to keep the limit in 2019 ( https://www.kyoto-minpo.net/archives/2019/02/16/post-22901.php), however, and for an urban planning that has the Kyoto of 50 or 100 years ahead in mind, this is an essential requirement.

2)Reforming the tax system to promote continued residential use

25 years ago, Kyoto City was riddled with manshon construction spots, and Kyoto City welcomed large-scale condominiums as a means to return people to the city centre. But on closer inspection, it was in 1950 when the nearby Kaichi Elementary School in Shimogyo ward had most pupils. At that time, there was not a single manshon around. Ever since, however, pupil numbers dwindled, and the school had to be closed down in 1991. Can manshon really boost population figures?

Land prices in Nakagyo ward (where the Aneyakoji neighbourhood is located) grew only moderately from the 1960s to the 1980s, and the surge from the 1990s on is exceptional. The land tax burden has risen accordingly and makes it difficult to continue residing in the city centre, threatening the sustainability of neighbourhood life. Recent real estate speculation and the hotel construction rush drive up land prices even further. In the new Reiwa Era that just started in 2019, we call for rethinking a stable tax policy and for passing on a historically, culturally and educationally rich Kyoto that that will keep attracting the world as an environment where work and life continue to be combined in heart of the city.

* This article is a full text of the story published in a part of "Kyoto's urban culture policy and community development ─ Coexistence of tradition and innovation" (Minervashobo ISBN9784623087686).

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