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Degrowing urban Japan

From vacant lots to biocultural cityscapes
Christoph Rupprecht
Steven McGreevy
Feel free to live-tweet: #degrowjapan
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
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
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
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
When cities shrink…
• Representative online survey (12/2016, n = 1,000)
• Four major shrinking Japanese cities: Sapporo, Kyoto, Nagano, Kitakyushu
6 / 12
Preferred management goal for informal green space
7 / 12
Imaginaries of landscape stewardship
8 / 12
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
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
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
feastproject.org
Thank you!
Twitter: @focx
@feast_project
Web:
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.

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Degrowing urban japan: From vacant lots to biocultural cityscapes

  • 1. Degrowing urban Japan
 From vacant lots to biocultural cityscapes Christoph Rupprecht Steven McGreevy Feel free to live-tweet: #degrowjapan
  • 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. 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. 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. 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. When cities shrink… • Representative online survey (12/2016, n = 1,000) • Four major shrinking Japanese cities: Sapporo, Kyoto, Nagano, Kitakyushu 6 / 12
  • 7. Preferred management goal for informal green space 7 / 12
  • 8. Imaginaries of landscape stewardship 8 / 12
  • 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. 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. 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
  • 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.