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Culture and Education

The Landscape Debate over the Yokohama Wedding Center:
Who Will Protect Japan's Scenery?

Morio Uzuki
Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University
Architect, Urban Designer

Right now, a big debate is brewing in Minato Mirai 21, Yokohama over the fate of its cityscape. A huge wedding center is scheduled to be built directly across the harbor from the promenade that runs from Sakuragicho Station to the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. A pastiche of European architectural styles from various periods, the theme park-like wedding center could very well be the first of its kind in Japan. The plan for the wedding center was submitted to the Urban Beautification Council, an advisory body to the mayor of Yokohama, for its consideration in January 2012. The council members were very critical of the plan, and, as a result, it was rejected, making it the first such case in the city government's nearly forty years of involvement in urban design. The business operator, however, is actually going to try to begin construction on the wedding center next month. As the chairman of the Beautification Council, I would like to draw attention to the recent sequence of events and problematic issues that have arisen.

The rendering for the wedding center submitted to the Urban Beautification Council in March 2012 with two of the originally-planned chapel towers removed.

I have heard that the plan was initiated several years ago. Land that had previously been used for used car dealerships and parking lots was chosen as the site for the future wedding center, which would be managed by a major menswear maker. After buying a portion of the land and leasing the rest of it, the business operator moved forward with the construction plan. In its entirety, the planned site would measure 1.6 hectares-roughly 1.2 times the size of Tokyo Dome-an extraordinary size for a wedding center. The fact that three thousand square meters-about twenty percent of the site-is actually city-owned land (city roads) is a crucial factor in the case. If the city refuses to lease out the land, the wedding center cannot be built as planned.

Typically, a private-sector project like this must go through a process of coordination with each city department called prior consultation. Since the site is located in the most scenic area of Yokohama, however, the business operator has had to work through the Urban Development Bureau's Urban Design Division, which is responsible for the landscape of the city, and the Port and Harbor Bureau, which oversees development of the Minato Mirai area. The prior consultation process seems to have taken a fairly long time, and the business operator, of course, complied with everything written in the laws and regulations, but many differences of opinion arose over the interpretation of the landscape guidelines. For example, the two sides unfortunately could not find common ground due to different perceptions of history and an incompatibility between the guidelines and the business strategies of the company. Generally, revisions are negotiated during the prior consultation stage, and the plan is submitted to the Urban Beautification Council for consideration at the stage when the application for the documents has been officially accepted, so the Council rarely gets involved in such an intense debate. In other words, as long as the objectives of the city government and the Urban Beautification Council are aligned, the plans are almost always approved by the Council. Indeed, this has been the case for the last forty years. This isn't to say that the Council has been the yes-man of the city; rather, it is the result, I believe, of the considerable effort the city government has put into the process of preliminary coordination.

The situation was completely different this time, however. Even though the city government and the business operator had spent a considerable amount of time going through the prior consultation process, the two parties were unable to arrive at an agreement. Despite this fact, the business operator went ahead with the application for the documents. As a result, the proposed plan was submitted to the Urban Beautification Council for consideration and rejected because it was completely out of line with the desired direction for urban design in the area.

Following this decision, the city government continued to negotiate revisions to the plan with the business operator. In April 2012, however, the business operator requested that they break off the landscape negotiations, and so the series of these negotiations ended in "failure." This was a great disappointment for the city government and the Council, but not, perhaps, a cause of great concern for the business operator, as it could hypothetically still apply for the building certification despite the failure of the landscape negotiations.

This time, however, Yokohama City would have consider whether, given the special circumstances of the situation, it should lease city-owned land to a business operator who had broken off the landscape negotiations and whose proposal had been rejected by the Urban Beautification Council, an advisory body to the mayor.

On June 26, 2012, the mayor of Yokohama gave the following response to petitions from the city's residents: "We will determine how city-owned land is to be used in a comprehensive manner, taking into account the landscape of the city, as well as the creation of new activity and job opportunities, which is an important factor in urban development, and how the plan in question would contribute to the community." Following this line of thinking, then, even if the landscape negotiations ended in failure, there was still a chance the city-owned land would be leased.

In light of these developments, I have the following thoughts to offer at this time.

1) Seven years have passed since the Landscape Act was passed in Japan. In March 2012, there were 531 municipalities serving as landscape administrative bodies handling landscape regulations and landscape planning. Even in the foremost of these municipalities, Yokohama city, there are cases where the city cannot obtain the cooperation of the business operator. The fundamental reason for this failure is that landscape negotiations have no legal force with respect to city planning or building certification. This reflects the limitations of Japan's Landscape Act, and I think we need to work toward integrating it with the City Planning Act.

2) At the same time, however, there will always be limits to what laws can do. The public is the only force that can say no to a project that is legal but not appropriate. A full-fledged civic movement can transcend the limits of the law and formal procedures and push revisions to a project that is inappropriate for the local area or prevent it from going forward. There are many examples of this principle at work throughout the world. I hope we will see a rise in these civic movements.

3) As things stand now, it will be difficult for the mayor to lease out the city-owned land to the business operator. The business operator, however, cannot wait any longer. Under these circumstances, someone must create an environment where both parties can reach a "creative compromise." If I were put in charge of the task, I would propose that the city government and the business operator jointly hold an open design competition. Cities and companies should co-sponsor competitions not just for public buildings, but also for private-sector projects located on sites that are highly public in nature. An open competition would also allow city residents to have access to information and participate. A competition might delay the project for another year, but it could resolve the stalemate, and, in any case, a certain amount of time will probably be required for both the city government and business operator to regain the trust of Yokohama's citizens.

Morio Uzuki
Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University
Architect, Urban Designer

[Date of Birth]
May 6, 1953

[Brief Biography]
After receiving both his Bachelor's Degree and Master's Degree from the Department of Architecture, Waseda University, he studied abroad as a doctoral student at the Graduate Academy, University of Stuttgart in Germany. After working in the Hannover-Stuttgart Urban Planning Department and then at the Urban Design Atelier headed by Professor Trieve, Professor Uzuki returned to Japan, where he worked as a senior researcher at the Setagaya Ward Urban Design Division and the director of the Setagaya Community Design Center. From April 1995 onward, he has worked as a professor at Waseda University and the director of the University's Institute for Participatory Design. Ph.D. in Engineering and qualified as a first-class architect.

[Major Projects, Activities and Publications]
●Professors Uzuki's areas of research include user participation in architectural design, citizen participation in community development, urban design, landscape design of parks and roads, urban planning and urban policies in Germany, and citizen proposals and NPO activities.
●He has held such important positions as chairman of the Yokohama City Urban Beautification Council, chairman of the Yokohama City Community Development Promotion Committee, chairman of the Chigasaki City Landscape Design Council, steering committee chairman of the Kochi City Community Development Trust Fund, chairman of the Meguro Ward Jiyugaoka TMO Town Management Conference, committee member of the Shibuya Ward City Planning Council and councilor at the Japan NPO Center.
●Professor Uzuki's major (co-authored) publications include the following: Run, Community Development Engine, Run [Hashire, machizukuri enjin], The Science of Community Development [Machizukuri no kagaku], Urban Planning for a New Era 2: Civil Society and Community Development [Shinjidai no toshi keikaku 2, shimin shakai to machizukuri], Citizen Participation in National Design: The Richness Created by Diverse Points of View [Shimin sanka no kokudo dezain, yutakasa ha tayona kachikan kara], Municipal Policies for a Global Age [Chikyu jidai no jichitai seisaku], Visual Introduction to Architecture 10: Architecture and Cities [Bijyuaruban kenchiku nyumon 10, kenchiku to toshi], Participatory Design of Public Facilities [Sanka ni yoru kokyo shisetsu no dezain], Mini-Munich: Another City [Mini-Myunhen, Mo hitotsu no toshi], Group Homes with Courtyards for Elderly People with Dementia [Ninchisho koreisha, Nakaniwa no aru gurupu homu], Urban Development Strategies and Project Management: The Challenges Presented by Minato Mirai 21, Yokohama [Toshizukuri senryaku to purojekuto manejimento, Yokohama Minato Mirai 21 no chosen], Cities Created by Children: The Spread of the Mini-Munich Play Town Idea [Kodomo ga machi wo tsukuru, asobi no toshi Mini-Myunhen kara no hirogari] and Shared Roads: Germany's Vibrant Community-Building Strategies [Shea suru doro, Doitsu no katsuryoku aru chiiki zukuri senryaku].