Tsukuba City prides itself on its modern urban design, its 88 parks and green areas, and its research facilities that attract researchers from all over Japan and, indeed, the world. Dotted around the city, residential areas include those where the city's sizeable civil-servant population lives in elegantly landscaped government housing (koumuin juutaku) designed by town planners over 30 years ago. Taken together, these features make Tsukuba a unique Japanese city and give it what the city's PR people like to call "Tsukuba Style." The opening last summer of the Tsukuba Express line brought with it great fanfare and optimism for the city's further economic and cultural development. As glitzy new shops and high-rise mansion blocks go up, the city's rapidly changing skyline tells us that that optimism was not misplaced—things are going as they should, the train line is a good thing for the city.
But could the blessing that is TX also be a curse? Could the train that carries people to and from the city to enjoy its "Tsukuba Style" also be what ultimately destroys that "style"? Regretfully, in the case of the government housing areas, that may already be happening. In the last few months, the Tsukuba local government has begun selling off its land and housing assets. (The timing around the opening of TX is odd but no doubt, purely coincidental.) Government housing areas in areas such as Matsushiro 1-chome, Matsushiro 5-chome, and Namiki 3-chome have already been sold to private developers. In the case of our own area, Matsushiro 5-chome, the koumuin juutaku was sold to a developer last April and work started in June. Since then, the lives of the residents here have been turned upside down.
To prepare for building its 115 new houses, the developer has flattened the area by demolishing the 65 government houses as well as any and all greenery with which those houses were landscaped. The record shows that over 6200 trees and bushes were destroyed. These included grand old magnolias, ume trees, and sakura trees that had been here since even before the building of the government housing. While some might argue that the old houses needed to go, few could justify the extent of such destruction of greenery. And destruction is the name for it; the trees were not cut down or uprooted for recycling—they were bulldozed down to the ground along with the houses and trucked off to who knows where they take that kind of wreckage.
The current phase of the development is the construction of new roads for the area as the developer rearranges the layout of public roads—supposedly in the name of "safety," but more like in the name of maximizing its own selling space and therefore, its profits. Rearranging roads would be tolerable if properly done, but we cannot say that is the case here. The new layout is patently unsafe as a previously direct road to the main southern thoroughfare will now be closed and turned into housing space, and cars will have to make their way instead through a maze of sharp T-junctions to get to that main thoroughfare. So, at the end of all this, even the maps of Tsukuba will need to be redrawn.
Right at the start of this development, a citizens' action group of residents from this area was formed (sumiyoi matsushiro 5-chou-me wo mamoru kai). As we have indicated, both the developer and the local government completely ignored the group's pleas to save at least some of the trees for use in the new development. It was the planned closing of the through-road, however, which really fired up the citizens, so much so that the group submitted a petition of signatures from nearly every home in the area to the mayor and the issue finally went to the local government for debate in December of last year. Unbelievably, that petition was turned down by a committee vote of 4 to 2 on the grounds that the new layout was the "safer" option. Mayor Ichihara later approved the vote.
Besides Matsushiro residents, Namiki and Higashi residents have also set up action groups. Each group is fighting to preserve its area from being turned into just another cramped, concretized, faceless town typical of the usual towns of Japan. In essence, the fight is about preserving the "Tsukuba Style" of the streets where we live. Here in Matsushiro 5-chou-me, we have already lost that fight. The character of this area has been largely destroyed. To prove to its citizens that "Tsukuba Style" is not just a hollow, fancy slogan, the Tsukuba local government owes it to them to show its sincerity and work responsibly to ensure that this kind of rampant development without regard to the character of surrounding neighborhoods does not go on. If not, the "Tsukuba Style" of this city's residential areas is in real danger of being irretrievably lost.
For more details on each group's activities, go their web sites:
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