Traditional shopping streets in Tokyo: Physical and social dimensions of creative place making by the elderly

Traditional shopping streets in Tokyo: Physical and social dimensions of creative place making by the elderly

By Dr. Kien To & Dr. Keng Hua Chong

This paper seeks to investigate and analyze creative urban place making and the civic negotiations behind those spatial arrangements in specific urban constrained contexts in Asia toward elder-friendly city model. Specifically, it aims to explore the morphology of street and back lane network, spaces in-between buildings, public and semi-public places, as well as the stakeholders and their participation in place-making initiatives. The paper first discusses the global aging as well as elder-friendly and age-friendly urban environments, in which a new trend of creative, small-scale place making emerges, particularly in compact and high-density urban contexts. Then, it focuses on a particular street form as a case study: traditional Japanese shopping street (shotengai or 商店街 in Japanese). Basically a shotengai is a street with a concentration of shops and restaurants, usually located near a train station. Besides commercial function, shotengai plays many other important roles in the community such as welfare and security, carries rich local characteristics and traditions, and features ‘community business’ model.

Our study aims to find out (1) how low-rise and spatially compact shotengai remained over centuries in the middle of the largescale, modern, high-dense and high-rise city of Tokyo; and (2) how creative place making takes shape by individual or collective residents in constrained urban contexts. To answer these questions, two shotengai in Tokyo are surveyed: Sugamo and Togoshiginza. The physical survey with observation data shows that the two shotengai have organic street and lane patterns, creative uses in compact spaces such as small gaps between buildings (originally for fire protection as regulated throughout Japan), barrier-free street design, pedestrian zones during designated hours, human scale cozy street scapes, and the ‘symbiotic’ relationship between the front and the rear blocks, etc. Particularly, Sugamo showcases sacred places as primary public and community places, while  Togoshiginza features the ‘street-for-all’ concept, informal roadside dining places and labyrinth-like back lane morphology. The social survey reveals the significance and values of the two shotengai, social networks and interactions among residents, stakeholder participation and negotiation in place-making processes, etc. From these case studies, the paper shows that elderly are creative in their ‘contextualized’ place making, and suggests that Asian cities can derive their own ways to become compact, culturally sensitive and socially sustainable cities (For more details, please click here).