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Degrowing urban japan: From vacant lots to biocultural cityscapes


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Japan frequently features as a prime example of (involuntary) degrowth. With severe depopulation of about 15% projected for the next 25 years, degrowth seems inevitable rather than utopian, frantic attempts by the Japanese government to boost growth notwithstanding. This trend is strongest in rural areas, but large cities such as Osaka, Kyoto or Sapporo are also expected to shrink by more than 10%. Yet in transitioning to sustainable, non-growth-based lifestyles, rural and coastal Japanese communities are reviving traditional models of landscape stewardship (satoyama and satoumi) that have no urban counterparts.
In this paper, I attempt to envision how such a counterpart for Japanese cities could look like. For this purpose, I draw upon characteristics of the traditional rural models such as biocultural diversity to combine them with key degrowth concepts and recent advances in urban green infrastructure. In particular, I examine what role the vacant lots and other informal green spaces of shrinking cities might play in realizing what Peter Matanle has termed the ‘depopulation dividend’. The aim is an urban landscape stewardship model (satomachi, derived from the Japanese characters for “arable land, home land” and “town, suburb”) that supports both human and non-human livelihood with a high quality of life as well as a functional, diverse ecosystem.

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Degrowing urban japan: From vacant lots to biocultural cityscapes

  1. 1. Degrowing urban Japan
 From vacant lots to biocultural cityscapes Christoph Rupprecht Steven McGreevy Feel free to live-tweet: #degrowjapan
  2. 2. Overview 1. Japan: depopulation and the imaginary 2. The depopulation dividend 3. What to do with the cities? 4. Imaginaries of landscape stewardship 5. Biocultural cityscapes: care, dépense, wellbeing 6. More-than-human decolonizes of the imaginary 2 / 12 Wellcome Images / cc-by
  3. 3. Depopulation & the imaginary 0 25 50 75 100 Year 1980 1989 1998 2007 2014 Prioritizing spiritual wealth: 63% Prioritizing material wealth: 31% Jon McDonald, Wikicommons Cabinet Office survey, 2014 • Despite dematerialization of values, imaginary limited? • Depopulation seen as purely negative, “extinction” threat 3 / 12
  4. 4. Depopulation dividend? • Concept developed by Peter Matanle Proposed potential benefits 1. Environmental (e.g., footprint, CO2, habitat) 2. Economic (e.g., employment, food security) 3. Wellbeing (e.g., housing prices, inheriting infrastructure, higher gov. investment per capita) • How to connect this to daily life? 4 / 12
  5. 5. What to do with cities? • Japan is over 80% urban • Major cities projected to shrink 10-20% in 25 years • What do residents want? 5 IPSS, 2014 0 500,000 1,000,000 1,500,000 2,000,000 2010 2020 2030 2040 Sapporo Kyoto Kitakyushu Nagano / 12
  6. 6. When cities shrink… • Representative online survey (12/2016, n = 1,000) • Four major shrinking Japanese cities: Sapporo, Kyoto, Nagano, Kitakyushu 6 / 12
  7. 7. Preferred management goal for informal green space 7 / 12
  8. 8. Imaginaries of landscape stewardship 8 / 12
  9. 9. Toward biocultural cityscapes • Embrace urban biological, cultural, linguistic diversity • Landscape stewardship: autonomy, commons, 
 care & dépense • Urban greening & human wellbeing are highly linked • Green infrastructure as transition device? Green infrastructure as commons (Sapporo) 9 / 12
  10. 10. From here… …to where? Central questions: 
 what goals, what processes?
 Biocultural cityscapes as 
 playgrounds of the imaginary: not… a bounded place but 
 a zone in which … 
 pathways are entangled 
 (Ingold 2008) 10 / 12
  11. 11. Decolonizers of the imaginary? Collective 
 imaginary Non-humans More-than-human 
 geographies & planning River as entity 
 with human rights Convivial cities multi-species perspectives Past generations Spiritual beings & concepts Future generations Future design Future generations ombudsmen Haudenosaunee ‘unborn of the future Nation’ Intergenerational justice Youth suffrage Traditional ecological 
 knowledge & practices Maori kaitiaki (guardians) & 
 kaitiakitanga (practice) Narratives of natural disasters Shinto kami: place-based deities w/ agency & interests Abrahamic religions’ depictions of
 heaven/paradise as garden Loma ‘ancestral habitus’ 11 / 12 Science fiction Buddhist interdependence of life,
 awareness of suffering, empathy Animal rights
  12. 12. Thank you! Twitter: @focx @feast_project Web:
  13. 13. References Chakraborty, Abhik, and Shamik Chakraborty. “Satoyama: A Landscape Conservation Discourse of Romantic Nostalgia and Reflexive Modernity in ‘Post Growth’ Japan’.” Japan Studies Association Journal 11, (May 18, 2016): 46–64. D’Alisa, Giacomo, Federico Demaria, and Giorgos Kallis. Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era. Routledge, 2014. Fraser, James, Victoria Frausin, and Andrew Jarvis. “An Intergenerational Transmission of Sustainability?: Ancestral Habitus and Food Production in a Traditional Agro-Ecosystem of the Upper Guinea Forest, West Africa.” Global Environmental Change 31 (March 2015): 226–38. IPSS, Household Projections by Prefecture in Japan : 2010-2035, 2014.
 Ingold, Tim. “Bindings against Boundaries: Entanglements of Life in an Open World.” Environment and Planning A 40, no. 8 (2008): 1796–1810. doi:10.1068/a40156.
 Japan Cabinet Office survey, 2014.
 Kallis, Giorgos, and Hug March. “Imaginaries of Hope: The Utopianism of Degrowth.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 105, no. 2 (March 4, 2015): 360–68. doi:10.1080/00045608.2014.973803. Matanle, Peter. “Towards an Asia-Pacific ‘Depopulation Dividend’ in the 21st Century: Regional Growth and Shrinkage in Japan and New Zealand” Asia-Pacific Journal 15, no. 6 (2017).
 McDonald, J. Japan Population by Age 1920-2010 with Projection to 2060. Wikicommons. Morimoto, Yukihiro. “What Is Satoyama? Points for Discussion on Its Future Direction.” Landscape and Ecological Engineering 7, no. 2 (July 2011): 163–71. doi:10.1007/s11355-010-0120-5. Pretty, Jules, et al. The SAGE Handbook of Environment and Society. SAGE, 2007. Rupprecht, Christoph D D, and Jason A Byrne. “Informal Urban Green-Space: Comparison of Quantity and Characteristics in Brisbane, Australia and Sapporo, Japan.” PLoS ONE 9, no. 6 (2014): e99784. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0099784. “Biocultural Diversity.” Wikipedia, February 8, 2017. “Religion | Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology.” Accessed April 7, 2017.