Tama New Town: Suburban Planning

3 June 2013
Author: Lingyao Lai – City and Regional Planning

Having just woken up after our weekend of geisha in Kyoto and the imperial palace in Nara, we went to Machida today– a suburb of Tokyo. In Kanji, the characters are “町田”, which mean an agricultural area that is full of plants and crops.

As a stranger here, I would like to compare the situations of Tokyo with New York City. Just like northeastern New Jersey contains many ‘bedroom communities’, so the Tama area just outside Tokyo is also a primarily residential area whose residents commute into Tokyo on a daily basis. Right now, Tokyo draws more and more people who are pursuing their careers, since the highly efficient public train systems connect suburban people with employment opportunities.

There are pros and cons to living in modern mega cities like Tokyo, NYC, Shanghai, etc., which always provide more and better opportunities, better facilities/services, and higher salaries. The main con is the unaffordable housing. It becomes a trend–people works in the center of mega cities but choose the adjacent places to raise their families. To me, the suburbs of New Jersey seem just like the Tama area of Tokyo. An interesting idea called “one hour urban circle” came out several years ago. In modern cities, people can make a living within this urban circle by using fast and highly efficient transportation (train, auto, bus). It is reasonable that people could enjoy shopping or do business within the one-hour distance. They will be happy and enjoy their lives even in such busy and high pressure cities. From Machida city to Shinjuku takes 42 minutes by train for a distance of 33 km (20.5 miles). People commute everyday between Tokyo and the Tama area.


Context map – Machida City. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.

Today, our field research included a 40-year old community named Kisoyamazaki, a new redevelopment community, and an agricultural district (Onoji) that belongs to an urbanization control zone.


Urban planning structure of Japan and case study. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.

Kisoyamazaki is an old town that developed in the 1960s. At that time, it was built for the working class; 40 years later, it became has become an elderly-dominated ‘sleeping town’ (bedroom community). The situation is that people prefer to choose a town that has better public services, better schools for children and better disaster shelter facilities. Some old towns face aging population issues: young people moved away; there are fewer job opportunities for young people; there are poor housing conditions that lack disaster protection and elderly-friendly facilities. If the population continues to decrease, the situation may worsen in the future.


Trend of Aging in Tokyo. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.

The ‘dependency ratio’ is an age-population ratio of those typically not in the labor force (the dependent part) and those typically in the labor force (the productive part). This ratio is used to measure the pressure on the productive population. A higher age-dependency ratio means that the government needs more money for the residents’ welfare. Currently, the aging population issue cannot be ignored.

As a planning approach to try and solve these issues, redevelopment might be a good idea. For instance, the redevelopment of Tama New Town by Brillia is now a model redevelopment in the Tama area. While Tama New Town was also built in 1960s, today it faces the same issues as Kisoyamazaki. The Brillia redevelopment project was designed for about 1200 units which is double the number of units in the previous design. High quality housing units, convenient facilities, sturdy structures for disaster protection and spacious and comfortable apartments were designed for the existing residents and intended to attract young people. 95% of existing residents agreed to move into the new buildings, the project also attracted 65% new and young residents.

Regarding community and redevelopment: Kisoyamazaki has a stable social network as residents have emotional attachment there. They have social activities — community garden planting, the harvest festival, outdoor exercises and community-care service. This is a welcoming community that encourages people to enjoy life. A community organization takes part in the management of the community which demonstrates the depth of public participation here. The issues here are just like the general situation in Japan—the issue of the aging population.


Residents volunteering to maintain the community green space. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.


Residential building condition in Kisoyamazaki. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.


Community garden run by residents. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.

Brillia’s Tama New Town project is an interesting example of redevelopment as a tool for revitalization. The new designed buildings  keep some architectural language from the previous design and also provide new apartments, new facilities, and a good physical environment to satisfy residents. The redevelopment also draws more young and working class people here, and gives the community a vibrant atmosphere. In my view, however, while redevelopment may improve the physical environment, it may also cause gentrification.


Tama new town project model. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.


The urbanization control area in Tama is called ‘Onoji’ (which means ‘wild road’ in Japanese); it is a unique way to protect agricultural land use and how people use agriculture land. Here, regulations do not allow people to construct buildings – instead, it is a kind of open space for both local residents and also those from beyond the Tama area. It is also an agricultural school where people can be trained as farmers.


Red line depicting boundary between Urbanization zone and Urbanization control zone. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.

While temples and shrines are unique open spaces in Japan, this Onoji area also has an open space function — residents from remote places come here to enjoy nature, have picnics in the wild field, and experience the fun of cultivation. The only concern is environmental protection since more and more people are coming here but there is no waste management in this area. The abandoned trash and garbage pollute the environment.


The environment of Onoji urbanization control zone district. Lingyao Lai, 3 June 2013.


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