LESSONS LEARNED FROM JAPAN–THE PROMOTION OF INTEGRATED, SUSTAINABLE AND LIVEABLE CITIES/COMMUNITIES

Centrally planned communities, “new towns,” have been around in Japan since the 60s. However unlike the 60s many of these “new towns” are increasingly becoming more integrated, age-friendly. They are increasingly also built with the goal of ensuring sustainability and with helping communities successfully manage the rising social challenges, in mind.

An example of one such community is Yukarigaoka. Yukarigaoka was extensively planned back in the 1970s by Yamaman, a private company. It is located in the north-central Chiba city of Sakura. However unlike some other “new towns” that were also built around the 1970s (for example, Tama New Town, which is composed of mostly elderly persons), Yukarigaoka is specifically designed to allow for the elderly to live close to their families and friends in their communities with the hope that such integration will foster opportunities for younger generations to benefit from the old and vice versa (Yukarigaoka has a balanced population aged structure, which means that it provides a living environment for residents at all stages of life).

To date, Yukarigaoka has a total land area of 245 ha. and a population of 17,000. The distance to the nearest train station is no longer than 10 minutes by foot. Doctor’s offices and child care centres are also easily accessible and close to public transport. Electric bus transportation is available for the elderly in residential areas, so the aged have direct access to residential areas and can stop where they want to. Also, Yamaman directly intervenes to help maintain the relatively balanced population structure between the young and the old. Yamaman handles the sale of both new and older housing units in Yukarigaoka so that that the transition to new accommodation can occur seamlessly within the community and the value of property does not change too much.

Kashiwa-no-ha is a new “new town” that builds on this model. It is developed with a view to the future: to pioneer solutions for social challenges. The town has a planned population of 30,000 and is situated between Tokyo and Tsukuba. Similar to Yukarigaoka, Kashiwa-no-ha is a public-private academia partnership that aims to develop a city of health and longevity, a smart city, and a new industry-creating city. The city promotes ageing-in-place, wellness and health promotion in a community setting, and allows for middle-aged residents to benefit from mutual assistance within the community. Age-friendly services provided in communities include the provision of transportation, buildings, libraries, and shopping centres, among other support structures that are specifically catered to meet elderly and youth needs.

Large investments and multiple investors are increasingly common for the development of integrated communities that can address social challenges, such as environmental sustainability and population ageing. That these communities can be sustainable and can grow are important.

Enabling the elderly to successfully age-in-place and for the youth to have connection to the old, goes down to the design of a community in Japan: of creating the appropriate physical and social environments to ensure that the appropriate interconnections exist at the local level: between the service user, informal carer and professional; between various aspects of the healthcare system and across all relevant sectors, even though such coordination may not exist at the national level. Promoting inclusiveness of elderly ensures community sustainability and growth over time. It also enables the elderly to stay in the same communities as their families as they continue to age.

With one of the highest proportions of elderly in the world, Japan undoubtedly has more structures, funding mechanisms and institutions in place to support the aged. The importance of tackling the aged society is recognised at the national level in Japan (even though local communities have their own successful initiatives targeting aged people in highly rural areas). The Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare is the agency responsible for policy making and administration of the workforce, national pension system, national healthcare system, national nursing care insurance system, etc. While most initiatives related to ageing and planning involve and have been initiated by the national government, who has the authority to secure budget and distribute it to each local government, national/state/local governments also pay. The ventures are also open to other partners. Thus, while the Japanese Government seems to take on a large burden of caring for the aged, so do the other stakeholders in Japanese society.

The benefit of multi-stakeholder engagement to create these integrated communities is that the burden of the elderly is shared among a wide variety of stakeholders. Another advantage is that elderly needs can be provided more downstream at the community level, assuming that enough support structures are present in the community and home setting to enable that to occur. This ensures that all people in society can continue to remain productive, socially engaged and age-in-place in urban settings. It also helps ensure that the communities that are built or redesigned can successfully grow to address the rising social challenges facing Japanese society in the years ahead.

Source:
Field diary: Yukarigaoka by catforehead
Notes from AAIF Conference in Singapore, April 2012
Notes from unpublished research brief.

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