Note — Apr 26, 2020

Tokyo as Slowdown City

Seen in → No.123

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Continuing his Slowdown Papers with another batch of articles, in this one Dan Hill looks at the urban fabric of Tokyo, its “polka dot” quality of having multiple centers, each at a liveable scale. Considers the book Slowdown by Danny Dorling (2020), the Saarinen Principle, Stewart Brand’s pace layers, and the city rebuilding itself instead of expanding outward. (Think of this alongside the Andreessen “building” article just below as well as the value of maintenance and care above.)

Heavily linked to more of Hill’s pieces as well as various books and projects. Definitely click through for the many many great pictures of Tokyo, illustrating his comments.

This is my favourite piece in the issue and will need some time to “ferment,” I think there are many important insights for the future of cities starting to emerge in the series.

Tokyo. Arguably the world’s biggest megacity, and to many visitors utterly bewildering in its scale and dynamism, Tokyo is a constantly churning urban experiment, with its own particular metabolism enabling it to constantly change and thrive. Yet the city precisely exemplifies the Slowdown, and revels in the small and the quiet. […]

The streets this leaves Tokyo with are small, tidy, but full of life. In local neighbourhoods, they are no more than four metres wide or so, but due to their openness, they are packed with life, but at the scale of plant pots, signs, window displays, seats, small trees, vending machines, bikes. […]

Tokyo in particular, and Japan more widely, can be seen in many ways to be at the forefront of slowdown. Japan has changed and will continue to change rapidly, but it is an example of the end to change in things that no longer need to grow — in the number of people, the number of buildings, and in overall consumption. […]

If we built on these themes idea of open, distributed, decentralised, networked, diversity over density, with purposeful redundancy, all pivoting around the social and natural life of small urban spaces, we would likely find a far more resilient pattern for city life and urban growth. […]

The virus shows us the error of our ways, with a most terrible ferocity, but also points to other possibilities, almost like an intervention with an alcoholic, showing us the value of slowing down.