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.
Degrowing urban japan: From vacant lots to biocultural cityscapes
Degrowing urban Japan
From vacant lots to biocultural cityscapes
Feel free to live-tweet: #degrowjapan
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
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Wellcome Images / cc-by
Depopulation & the imaginary
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
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• 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?
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What to do with cities?
• Japan is over 80% urban
• Major cities projected to
shrink 10-20% in 25 years
• What do residents want?
2010 2020 2030 2040
When cities shrink…
• Representative online survey (12/2016, n = 1,000)
• Four major shrinking Japanese cities: Sapporo, Kyoto, Nagano, Kitakyushu
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Preferred management goal for informal green space
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Toward biocultural cityscapes
• Embrace urban biological,
cultural, linguistic diversity
• Landscape stewardship:
care & dépense
• Urban greening & human
wellbeing are highly linked
• Green infrastructure as
Green infrastructure as commons (Sapporo)
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From here… …to where?
what goals, what processes?
Biocultural cityscapes as
playgrounds of the imaginary:
not… a bounded place but
a zone in which …
pathways are entangled
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Decolonizers of the imaginary?
geographies & planning
River as entity
with human rights
generations Future design
Future generations ombudsmen
Haudenosaunee ‘unborn of the future Nation’
Intergenerational justice Youth suffrage
knowledge & practices
Maori kaitiaki (guardians) &
Narratives of natural disasters
Shinto kami: place-based deities
w/ agency & interests
Abrahamic religions’ depictions of
heaven/paradise as garden
Loma ‘ancestral habitus’
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Buddhist interdependence of life,
awareness of suffering, empathy
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