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A History of Foresighted Planning
Greater Nagoya Balances Functions and Nature


A view of Nagoya from the TV Tower observatory. The rectangular patch of greenery is part of Hisaya O-dori, a 100-meter-wide avenue that was a centerpiece of the city's postwar reconstruction project.
The history of Nagoya dates back to 1610, when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu built a majestic castle here for his clan. The present-day capital of Aichi Prefecture has since gone through a number of transformations before emerging as one of the nation's leading megalopolises. Today, the greater Nagoya area confronts a new challenge to fashion an urban community fully attuned to environmental conservation needs.

Premodern ideal

A model recovery

Shifting focus of urban planning



Premodern ideal

When building a new castle community in Nagoya, planners divided surrounding neighborhoods into neat rectangular blocks. This was based on the gridiron pattern of such ancient capitals as Heijokyo (present-day Nara) built in 710 and Heiankyo (now Kyoto) established in 794, and draws heavily from Chinese city-design concepts. Nagoya was thus a leading-edge attempt to bring the planning notions of two former capitals up to date. It was also a way of faithfully reproducing an ancient Chinese ideal on Japanese soil.

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Wide and easy-to-understand roads, like this boulevard near Nagoya Station with five lanes in each direction, is a symbol of the city's highly functional urban design.
Capitals in China were built according to a philosophy called shijin so'o, or "four gods in proper places." The four deities were symbolized by imaginary creatures that acted as guardians of the four compass points: seiryu (blue dragon) in the east, byakko (white tiger) in the west, suzaku (peacock-like bird) in the south, and genbu (snake twined around a turtle) in the north. Each of these guardians symbolized a landscape feature: The dragon was the god of water; the tiger that of traffic and communication; the peacock represented the sun shining over a body of water; and the turtle-snake was a mountain deity.

"In recent years, there has been an increasing tendency to apply the concept of 'environmental ethics' to urban planning," comments Akira Naito, Aichi Sangyo University president and professor of engineering. "Having the four natural elements in their proper places was a prerequisite for building an ideal city. By this ancient formula, based on extensive observation, Nagoya was perfectly balancedÑthere was the Yada River to the east, major thoroughfares like the Tokaido and Tosando to the west, Ise Bay to the south, and the Nagoya plateau to the north."

Ieyasu initiated the search for a castle site because he believed his fortress at Kiyosu, northwest of Nagoya, to be poorly located in strategic terms. An ideal alternative was sought, and Nagoya--a largely unpopulated field at the time--was chosen.

Nagoya satisfied another shijin so'o requirement for the area south of the castle to slope down toward the sea. It was built with state-of-the-art technology and quickly grew into one of the country's leading cities. By 1647, it had expanded to 8.57 square kilometers, equivalent to such world-class cities of the day as London and Paris. Although Nagoya was decimated by air raids during World War II, its urban planning legacy survived to guide the city to a dynamic renewal.

A model recovery

Nagoya was the center of military aircraft production during World War II and thus became the target of heavy air bombardment in the war's closing days. A quarter of the city was reduced to ashes, and much of Nagoya Castle, which had served as the city's symbol, was destroyed. Just as Nagoya was initially built "out of nowhere," once again, city planners faced the challenge of rebuilding the city from scratch.

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A park within Hisaya O-dori's median strip offers city dwellers a place to relax.
Foresight again prevailed, and Nagoya emerged with a highly functional and efficient urban infrastructure, such as two 100-meter-wide avenues and nine 50-meter streets built at right angles. This reconstruction effort, needless to say, was grounded on the original gridiron framework established in the seventeenth century, and its success came to be emulated by other municipalities.

The wide thoroughfares were lauded for anticipating the coming of the auto age. The two 100-meter avenues were designed from the outset to not only handle a high volume of traffic but also to provide an open expanse where people could evacuate to in case of a natural disaster or use as parks and squares when traffic is closed off. "Nagoya was a model city for its recovery efforts as well as for its modern city functions," comments Chubu University professor Keiji Sato. "It symbolized an attempt by the city's developers to create an ideal modern city based on ideas imported from Western Europe."

Most first-time visitors to Nagoya are impressed by the city's wide and easy-to-understand streets. Central Nagoya is indeed highly functional, and rarely does one get lost. These wide lanes and Nagoya Castle, rebuilt in 1959, are two leading monuments of the city's foresighted postwar reconstruction program.

Shifting focus of urban planning

Nagoya is equipped to provide a full range of urban functions today, but it will need to evolve still further to answer the needs of the coming age. "We foresee our urban planning role as shifting from building physical facilities to managing them effectively," claims Naoaki Takayama of the City Planning Division at city hall. "We've been preoccupied with enhancing urban functions and convenience so far, but henceforth we'll have to give greater thought to how neighborhoods look and what we can do conserve the natural environment. These considerations will be the key to making Nagoya a more appealing place to live and work."

Enhancing the city's appeal will involve "creating an aesthetically pleasing cityscape and preserving those sections of the city where greenery remains," Takayama explains. The municipal government has already launched a campaign to increase the city's greenery and promote recycling and has begun paving its streets with water-permeable material. Such attempts to attain greater harmony with nature are seen not just in Nagoya, moreover, but also in practically every Aichi municipality.

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A new tourist attraction in Seto, a traditional center of pottery production, is the Kamagaki no Komichi (Ceramic Wall Lane) with walls built of disused ceramic pieces.
The bedroom community of Toyoake southeast of Nagoya, for instance, has until now focused its development efforts on building physical infrastructure, such as homes, roads, and hospitals. "But we anticipate giving greater attention to the intangibles from now on," says Katsumi Yoshikawa of the Toyoake City Office's Planning Section. "Of particular importance will be measures to conserve the city's natural assets." Toyoake, where two-thirds of residents work in Nagoya, became the first city to create a park conforming to the provisions of the Urban Green Space Conservation Law—calling for privately owned expanses of greenery to be leased to municipal governments—and to set up a Flowers and Greenery Section in its City Planning Division. Toyoake is just as active, if not more so, than Nagoya in the environmental conservation field.

The city of Seto, which will be the venue of the 2005 World Exposition, meanwhile, has chosen to base its community building activities on a "sense of gratitude to the bounty of nature," explains Yasushi Kato of the Seto City Office Planning Section. Seto has been a center of ceramic production for centuries, and residents are fully aware of the fact that its fine-quality clay and other natural blessings have been responsible for the growth of local industries. "This awareness is behind our efforts now to give back what we can to nature," Kato adds. With EXPO 2005 seven years away, a number of projects are underway to create Seto anew by taking full advantage of its rich natural setting and historical heritage.

Today's urban planners must take environmental considerations into greater account with the deepening of such environmental problems as global warming. Problems cannot be solved simply with slogans calling for greater conservation or coexistence with nature. More important, cautions architect Kengo Kuma, is initiating a process whereby results that are within reach can be achieved. The EXPO 2005 Site Planning Project Team leader adds that the biggest obstacle to a closer link between the natural environment and urban settings is "the inflexibility of bureaucratic organization. Administrative functions are now carried out by departments with vertically demarcated specialities, such as civil engineering, construction, and environmental affairs," Kuma comments, "and there's no one looking at the entire picture. If we're serious about creating eco-friendly cities, we will need to adopt a cross-departmental approach with greater input from private citizens. Historically speaking, festivals and other large-scale events have been effective in getting people to accept new realities and paradigms. In that sense, the 2005 World Exposition could provide an ideal forum for experts and private individuals to start thinking more seriously about the nature they see nearby."

The theme of EXPO 2005 is "Beyond Development: Rediscovering Nature's Wisdom." This may be an abstract concept, but it is also a seminal one that could spawn many innovative approaches to urban planning in the coming century.

(Masaki Yamada)