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The New Town Phenomenon

Author: Tim Boyle, Issue: May 2004, Topic: Accommodations

A major problem faced by the postwar megacities of Japan has been the lack of affordable housing for the hordes of "salarymen" working in downtown Tokyo and their families. The Urban Development Corporation was founded by the Japanese government in 1955 under the name of "Japan Housing Corporation" to address this problem. The original JHC then expanded its portfolio in 1981 as the "Housing and Urban Development Corporation", which was later consolidated into the present structure under the name "Urban Development Corporation" in 1999. The Japanese name, "Toshi Kiban Seibi Kodan" literally means "Public Corporation (kodan) for the Maintenance (seibi) of the Foundations (kiban) of Cities (toshi)", and so its mandate covers more than just public housing. All aspects of the use of urban land are included in its activities, including international cooperation by providing assistance to other countries. Still, the development and maintenance of public housing is its most important role, and as of March 2000, UDC maintained about 740,000 units housing almost 2,000,000 people.

In preparation for the opening of the Tsukuba Express train line in 2005, UDC formed a citizen's taskforce to meet several times over its 2-year lifespan to learn about the various projects related to the overall development of the Tsukuba area and to give input to UDC as they refine their plans. As editor of the Alien Times, I was asked to serve on this taskforce, along with a variety of people representing a number of interests. We had our third meeting on April 23, which included a tour of the "New Town" being developed around Hitachino Ushiku Station and the nearby "Ryugasaki New Town".

The development around the new Hitachino Ushiku Station has been designated "Hitobito (people) New Town" and is designed to become home for some 39,000 "hitobito" upon completion. Similar populations are projected for the 2 sections of Ryugasaki Newtown, with the older "Hokuryudai" section having about 38,000 people and the still developing (but largely developed) "Ryugaoka" section projected to have a population of about 32,000.

Hitobito New Town is still in its early stages of development, but already numerous houses are popping up along the neatly laid out streets. Several stores have already opened and schools and other such public facilities will soon follow.

"New Towns" have been built all over the Kanto area, particularly in areas that are close to train lines feeding into Tokyo. In a few cases, new train lines have been built specifically to handle the commuters who would be coming from the new towns. There are a few "New Town" developments outside of Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka, but the majority are bed-towns of Tokyo-Yokohama, with the main criteria being that they must be less than 2 hours commuting time from central Tokyo.

The "New Town" phenomenon has resulted in a number of anomalies, such as an unnatural age distribution and the issues that raises. As a new "New Town" opens, young families flock to the relatively cheap housing opportunities it offers. Thus, there tends to be a concentration of children of roughly the same age. But as these children grow up, the number of school-age children sharply decreases so that the local schools end up with empty classrooms and sometimes even have to be closed for lack of children. While people that buy their own "my home" are free to sell to someone else and move elsewhere, not many do. And thus after 30 years or so, a "New Town" that started out as young families tends to become an "Old Town" of aging elders. One wonders if and when a "New Town" will be renamed to reflect its reality. Another interesting tidbit of information that was shared at the recent meeting is that trains on the present Joban Line are being upgraded to reduce commuting time to Tokyo. As the Tsukuba Express will only take 45 minutes from Tsukuba to Akihabara in Tokyo, the 70-80 minute ride from Tsuchiura to Ueno looks a bit slow by comparison. The new trains to be introduced next year can safely reach speeds of 130 km/hr, and will cut more than 10 minutes off the commute.

"New Towns" to the Northeast of Tokyo. The double line leading from the middle of the left-hand side towards the upper right is the Joban Expressway, with Tsukuba at top center. The dashed line paralleling the Joban Expressway up to the center of Tsukuba is the new Tsukuba Express train line due to open next year. The solid line winding its way from lower left to upper right is the Joban Train Line, with its feeder branches. The dashed line winding across the top of the map is the new expressway to Narita now under construction. It is due to open in 2007 (give or take 10 years?). The section of that highway leading west from Tsukuba to connect with the Tohoku and Kan'etsu Expressways (as the "Ken'o Expressway") will be many years in the future. Already, the short section to the west of Tokyo designed to finish the connection between the Kan'etsu and Chuo Expressways is being held up in court (reminiscent of the Narita Airport fiasco), and similar delays are expected along other sections as well. The shaded areas of the map represent "New Town" development areas, including "Chiba New Town" at the bottom of the map.

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