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Is "the New Public Sector" Possible?

Shigeru Sato
Professor, Department of Architecture, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University

While gloomy topics have been prevailing since last fall, there were also some events bearing a sign of optimism. One example is "toshikoshi haken-mura," a camp for providing food and beds to unemployed temporary workers around the New Year's Day. Carefully observing, we can find some cases where citizens first address what is essentially supposed to be solved by the government, then the mass media reports it, the government responds to it, and various movements are provoked by it. From the perspective of urban planning and town development, which are my specialties, enhanced possibility of citizens' initiative like this creates various other possibilities.

For example, suppose that a local group of middle-aged and elderly people want to set up a place to live together. They discuss with specialists what they feel and want and how they will live in the future. Then they turn it into a design of their communal house. They also draw up various schemes, such as one that the house will be managed as a collaborative project among individuals supported by cooperative organizations or companies. Plans inspired by people's hope such as above have started throughout the country as a project that is launched by citizens themselves working with specialists, NPOs and various other organizations.

In a certain case, a landowner participating in a project provides a piece of land and potential occupants contribute money. The project is institutionalized as a limited liability partnership (LLP) or a limited liability company (LLC) managed through internal self-governance. In another case, a parent group and other people who assist employment of the disabled launch a project in corporation with key players of the community to convert a large house into a complex facility in which they live together to facilitate their own activity.

Amid this trend, roles played by "social enterprises" are attracting more and more attention. Following the emergence of NPOs and NGOs as well as the redefinition of the cooperative society and the third-sector project, Grameen Bank and other social enterprises --- once called "informal economy" and merely considered interesting but trivial --- are now the center of attention in EU and other regions as substantial socioeconomic players different from the government and the private sector (joint-stock companies).

Possibility of civic town development projects

I have recently edited a series of feature articles titled "The Civic Town Development Project [Machi-zukuri Shimin Jigyo Ron]" for the January 2009 issue of Kikan Machi-zukuri, a quarterly journal of town development. This discusses with reference to various cases that traditional urban and community development led by a public project has limitations; instead, "the new public sector" under the initiative of the private sector should play a central role; and progressive efforts for it imply concrete methodologies and institutional frameworks as well as a social system to be achieved. This also explains possible conceptual transformation of "private" from one only meaning something personal to one indicating responsibility for the public interest. The civic town development project is a concept for meeting needs of the emerging era with a framework where the private sector is a new actor responsible for the public interest with the assistance of the public sector, instead of the dichotomy between public and private projects. This is supported by citizens' motivation to autonomously find, establish and manage what better fits their own feeling.

This movement was triggered by the fact that activities of student and civic volunteers and the Council for Town Restoration and Development drove the restoration process from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. Then the possibility of non-profit civic activities has been socially recognized, NPOs have been institutionalized, civic organizations have been continuing independent activities for social contribution, and all of them have been linked with economic activities to arouse a big wave.

Finish the time under construction

The Cabinet Office announced that the probability of an earthquake occurring directly below Tokyo within 30 years is 70%. Other earthquakes are also highly likely to hit densely populated areas in Tokai and southeastern coastal regions in the near future. It is said that the restoration from these disasters should be supported by "public help," "self help" and "cooperative help." The cooperative help here means mutual aid in the local community. This idea tells us that we should restore our life by mutual aid within the community as well as "self help" --- do it yourself whenever possible --- without entirely relying on "public help" from the public sector including the local and national governments. However, this "cooperative" part is at the brink of collapse so that we can never expect mutual support among neighbors or within the local community. This is the reason why "the new public sector" should emerge.

"The new public sector" is an entity that is different from the existing public sector including the government but undertakes the mission of social contribution and is responsible for the public sphere. Unlike profit-seeking organizations such as a joint-stock company exclusively controlled by its shareholders, it is primarily managed by citizens who are relatively trusted in the community. Its funds are raised by their collaborators themselves, and the management conditions are disclosed to the public. Contributors --- sympathized with its principle --- trust and commit themselves to its management entity as identified contributors instead of anonymous ones.

A democratic and sustainable urban space where a wide variety of people recognize feelings and uniqueness of each other cannot be realized without support from such a social mechanism.

More than a century has passed since the time which great novelist Oogai Mori expressed as "Under Construction" at the beginning of 20th century. Looking out over an indefinitely extending urban landscape, we find it full of stocks which have to be rebuilt, such as a swarm of decrepit wooden buildings, contrary to the keywords of today: "stability and maturity." And the densely populated area will be hit by a great earthquake. If neither simple public investment nor purely private projects can effectively respond to it, a method to bridge them should be developed and an entity which continues improving the urban and local space should be established. From this viewpoint, the recent society is certainly moving toward this direction. The resolution of contemporary major social issues including global environmental issues, welfare of elderly or disabled people, and urban revitalization totally depends on the success of civic projects through this new public sector.

Shigeru Sato
Professor, Department of Architecture, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University

Prof. Sato graduated from Department of Architecture, School of Science and Engineering, Waseda University in 1973 and received a Ph.D. in Engineering in 1982. He has served as Professor since 1990 after acting as Research Assistant, Assistant Professor, and Associate Professor at Waseda University. He is also the head of Waseda Institute of Urban and Regional Studies and Visiting Professor at The Open University of Japan.
Prof. Sato's major publications include Science of Regional Collaboration [Chiiki Kyodo no Kagaku] (Seibundo, 2005, as an author and editor); How to Develop an Urban Design: An Illustration [Zusetsu Toshi Dezain no Susumekata] (Maruzen, 2006, co-authored); The Era of Town Development for Restoration [Fukko Machi-zukuri no Jidai] (Zokei Sosho, Kenchiku Sekkei Shiryo Kenkyusha, 2007); and "Revitalization of the Core Urban Area and the Civic Town Development Project [Chushin Shigaichi no Saisei to Machi-zukuri Shimin Jigyo]" (Kikan Machi-zukuri, January 2009, Gakugei Shuppansha).