Post-tsunami 'eco' vision for Japan's restart
As post-tsunami rebuilding gets under way, government seeks to create a model of 'green' planning.
All along the once picturesque coast of northeastern Japan, the devastation wrought by the tsunami in March has also made way for a new step forward: the opportunity to rebuild using the latest sustainable technologies that would reduce dependency on coal and nuclear energy.Skip to next paragraph
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Under strong public pressure to rely less on nuclear power after the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, officials at every level of government say such development is a top priority.
"We will make the reconstructed area a model for the rest of Japan. We will do everything we can to promote 'smart cities' and build a sustainable, low-carbon society in the region," wrote Takeshi Maeda, the minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, in a recent editorial.
IN PICTURES: Japan earthquake recovery
Draft reconstruction plans and brainstorming include ideas such as recycling disaster debris to make tsunami barriers or artificial hills, installing solar panels on new homes, farming seaweed to make biofuel, and designing compact, walkable communities.
"If we're trying to make existing towns greener, we have to deal with so many existing factors. But if we think about the entire infrastructure from the start, it's easier to incorporate these concepts," says Yasushi Okura, of the technology support division at the Environment Department in Miyagi Prefecture.
While a range of strategies to reduce the damage from future tsunamis has emerged, green planning, however, faces a number of obstacles: shortages of funds, time, coordination, and public participation.
In the steel-producing and fishing town of Kamaishi on the coast of Iwate Prefecture, the drafted plan stresses safety, preservation of local culture, and conservation of the natural environment. Instead of rebuilding heavy concrete embankments along the river, for example, it calls for a curving earthen barrier that serves double duty as a nature park. The plan does not touch on energy, which will be discussed later by a separate committee.
Kamaishi's reconstruction committee has an unusually diverse membership, including well-known architect Toyo Ito, a disaster engineering expert; town officials; and representatives from local businesses and parent-teacher organizations.
"We are emphasizing public participation. A lot of other towns are emphasizing speed," says Arata Endo, the Kogakuin University urban planner who heads the committee. Whether their innovative ideas are realized will depend on the size of the yet-to-be-negotiated third installment of the national supplementary disaster budget, he says.
Several hours south in the city of Ishinomaki, in Miyagi Prefecture, a volunteer association of more than 200 architects called ArchiAid is trying to ensure that those living in remote fishing hamlets are involved in the planning process.