- a collection of notes and reflections on urban living from the perspective of a family of five in Tokyo. My epiphany was many years ago, but being hit by a motorbike and seeing my life flash before my eyes caused a sudden change that slowly made me reflect on whether American style auto-centric urban transportation of the Roosevelt era really is a capital G "Good Idea" for civilized modern cities in the 21st Century. This blog explores the good and the bad in urban planning and design, here and elsewhere. The goal is simple - not "death to all cars," just more walkable communities, quiet tree-lined streets, good public transport, traffic calming, Velib style bicycle sharing and a bit of common sense. The bolg is mostly theraputic, so I don't go wanting to throttle every dangerous driver I come across, but partly also out of a real desire to see positive change. This blog explores how it can be done, the people who do it, and how, in many small ways, this very old idea may at last have found its zeitgeist. Comments and suggestions welcome.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Project for Public Spaces

Project for Public Spaces, an organization of professionals in urban planning, environmental design, architecture and other fields has come out with their January bulletin, which covers some of the latest activities in New York and elsewhere. Once again we find praise for what is being done in Paris these last few years.

This is perhaps the most well organized and professional group I have seen working with communities, business and government to promote urban development for livable cities. Among other things, they have a fascinating section on Streets as Places.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Bike Sharing Blog

I thought I would briefly introduce a nice blog I found called "The Bike Sharing Blog", which provides lots of information about successful bike sharing programs like Velib in Paris, and not so successful projects like that in Brussels, and examines the reasons why. They also had this neat little video clip about the Velib system in Paris.

Bikes Belong presents: Velib from Bikes Belong Coalition on Vimeo.

Enough said. Take a look for yourself. Add it to your feed reader.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Dorozoku

Terrie's Take, an email periodical by Terrie Loyd, founder of the Japan Inc Magazine, widely read among the foreign community in Tokyo, has an interesting article HERE about the tussle between the LDP and DJP over gasoline taxes in Japan. Terrie notes that the DJP is attempting to ride on the ever growing public cry against pork-barrel road building "doro-zoku" in the LDP and other parties and force tokutei zaidan gasoline tax revenues (a special gasoline tax currently ear-marked primarily for road building) to be used for other needs of society.

The first push seems to have been thwarted, however and the politicians have decided, for whatever reason, that tokutei zaidan gasoline tax revenues, will continue to be used only for these purposes. [if someone has more detail on how this came about I would be interested to hear]

So instead, DJP is using its power to stop the tokutei zaidan gasoline tax law from being renewed. However, it seems likely that DJP stalling techniques may instead simply force the tax to be dropped completely, which would bring the price of gasoline down in short order
, effectively subsidising road users at the expense of road builders.

Hmmmm. Now, you tell me which is worse, subsidising gasoline consumers, or subsidising road builders? They sound pretty damn similar to me. And in fact it is worse than this, because a large portion of the special tax on gasoline (the "tokutei zaidan") is in fact going towards paying down debts on past road building, as opposed to funding new porkbarrel roadworks.

The result would be simply a loss of legitimate revenue for the public purse (that a portion continues to be mis-allocated to wasteful projects is another issue) and the net impact a shot in the arm for a dying and desperate auto industry and oil consumers. I am quite pleased to see that the media is generally opposed to such a rediculous outcome in this day and age.

The auto industry may be dying a slow and painful death, but it is nothing compared to what will happen if we let this disease continue unchecked and metastasize into China and India...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cheap Oil all over again?

Before the USA slides into its economic funk and the price of oil slides all the way back again, I really do hope that the people of China and India realize that the problem with allowing cars to overrun cities goes well beyond problems of carbon dioxide pollution - and base their city infrastructures on other transportation modes. But then again, it is as much a problem with the first world investors in these industries in China and India - bringing the same problems to these countries.

The discussion should be more about:
Huge cost in road deaths
Huge cost in road injuries
Loss of space for people
Noise and nuisance
Lack of human interaction and social fabric
All the other environmental costs other than CO2 (tyres, oil, plastics)
Environmental cost of producing these vehicles and the materials that go into them - not just running them

Anything else ? I am sure there are more reasons why cars just don't work as the primary transport system for cities ...

The Obesity Epidemic

There is a seriously interesting interview here all about the obesity epidemic, and what some researchers are convinced is causing it. Quite a bit of food for thought (pun intended). I thought I would posting here because the obesity epidemic in the Western world is so closely linked to our automobile dependency. The interview goes into some detail about exactly how and why exercise is the single most effective (perhaps only?) remedy for obesity, and perhaps even more interestingly, why fructose may be far more dangerous than we thought, and how the food industry may be literally poisoning us by putting fructose into everything.

It is well worth a read - or even better, have a listen to the interview -it is quite a gem. Norman Swan is a very accomplished radio interviewer and in this one he really meets his match. You can get audio archives of the Health Report online via iTunes etc.

Transcript of the interview:

Again and again, visitors to stay with me in Japan remark at how much exercise they get in Tokyo - all completely inadvertently just by walking, catching trains, and going up and down stairs. By the end of the day, my sedentary visitors are usually quite worn out. It is no surprise, they remark, that Japanese people tend to be trimmer than Westerners. Well, that is half the story. My Japanese friends also remark when they go overseas at how sweet the food is in the West. Sugar, according to our Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology, University of California San Francisco, is almost half fructose, and therein lies the other half of the answer. The Japanese people may eat a lot of white rice, but they tend to avoid sweet foods, and the sweets they do create tend to be far less sweet than Western tastes would demand.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


The Nikkei Shinbun reports today that new car sales for 2007 were at a 25 year low. The International Herald Tribune reports that it is at a 35 year low. The discrepancy is because the IHT includes only vehicles over 660cc (Kei-jidosha). In other words, not only are car sales at a 25-year low, the only type of vehicle that is actually selling is the functional mini-van, and according to the Japan Times, even sales of mini cars are shrinking. This is a clear message that cars are definitely not cool these days in Japan.

The Nikkei report goes on to state a number of other interesting statistics and anecdotes. One very telling statistic is that 32.1% of all males under 29 yrs in Japan now do not own a car. This is a significant increase on the 24.1% figure for the period 1993-2005. In other words, the percentage of young men in Japan who choose to NOT own a car has risen from a quarter to a third and young men - these former stalwarts of the car buying and car-loving demographic are deserting automobiles in droves. All that automobile advertising on television (and everywhere else you turn) is washing over them like so much expensive water off a ducks back.

The report, by Nikkei editor Hitomi Ishinabe, also mentions that automobile related magazines are not moving off shelves like they used to. In fact, it seems these magazines are actually having trouble finding editors and writers for what used to be regarded by former generations of young men as one of the coolest jobs on the planet. The magazines find they have to employ older men to write articles targeted at other old men just to keep selling.

I haven't heard such good news in a long time. Now if this isn't a sign to the younger generation I don't know what is - let's start making your voices heard in public transport policy!! Enough road building and road widening! Wider footpaths! More bicycle parking! A Velib system for our cities! More car free streets!

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Scourge of Nationalism

Why do people talk of the rise of "Nationalism"? It intrigues me. I suspect that sometimes nationalist sentiments grow when people in one country instinctively are a bit disgusted by things being done in another country, but don't want to name the beast because similar problems are happening in their own back yard.

I sincerely hope that either Western civilization can provide a better example for developing countries to emulate (i.e. the hospitals and schools without the over-consumption, wastefulness, automobile culture and obesity), or that developing countries and the BRICs can be a bit more discerning about what segments of Western economies they choose import.

Thwarting bad elements in a society, whether it is organized crime, drugs, police corruption or "just" commercial interests wishing to exploit an economic externality at the cost of society as a whole, is I suspect a lot like fighting dental plaque: you can brush, and floss and gargle mouthwash, but as sure as the sun will rise, you will have a whole ecosystem of bacteria right back there on your teeth by next morning, all doing their bit to bring down your teeth all over again. I suspect you thwart it in the same way also - by keeping up the fight. And just like you can't get nice teeth back after plaque has had its way, once the culture of the automobile has wreaked its havoc on a country, you will never get your rolling countryside and farmland back from the sprawl either.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Inspirational Call to Arms by Sydney Lord Mayor

If only Japan had leaders with this kind of vision and courage. THIS ARTICLE in the Sydney Morning Herald (one of Australia's major Newspapers) by Clover Moore, the Lord Mayor of Sydney and State member for Sydney, is really quite impressive coming from someone so high up in government.

Many people talk highly of Tokyo's Mayor. To his credit, he has supported a Tokyo bid for the 2016 Olympics as a "Green Olympics" and Tokyo is probably one of the few cities that could hold true to a moniker like that. If he does, it will be quite a reversal from the previous Tokyo Olympics, which was used as an excuse for busting through the network of cancerous motorways that dissect the city to this day - including a disgusting bypass through Nihonbashi in the cultural heart of Tokyo. As I have said before, it would be wonderful if this Olympics could be the impetus for these disgusting eyesores to be removed and the original canals restored to their former glory as was done in Seoul not long ago.

If Tokyo had a mayor like Clover Moore I imagine we could REALLY achieve something. We already have decent public transport, lots of bicycles, good density. In many ways, Tokyo is already quite environmentally friendly. The average household has several bicycles and a quick look outside shows that they tend to use them. All we need is decent policy at the top to keep it that way, rather than slide towards the US model as has happened since the 1980's. It is high time we said "Enough!" to all the wasteful road building, road widening, tunnel and bridge building, and most of all to the sprawl - something that even Japan Rail, since its privatization, has gained a taste for after discovering how lucrative it can be.

There was debate in parliament late last year in Japan on whether or not gasoline tax should be used exclusively for road building - "Bah! Humbug" was the general response, thank goodness, but it does show the lengths that the auto/roads/oil lobby will go to in order to promote their cause (more cars on the road). What we should be debating instead is how to spend this money on better transit, and how to implement tougher rules to kerb sprawl, which is really becoming a major environmental and social disaster throughout Japan these days.

Let's bring the international Towards Carfree Cities IX conference to Asia

This out from the Carfree Network:


If you are interested in hosting Towards Carfree Cities IX, the
procedure for applying to host the conference is simple. We are
requesting that a 2-4 page hosting proposal be sent to the
carfree_network discussion list by December 31, 2007, containing:
a. who you are; what organisation(s) are you with
b. what resources, skills and time are being offered (fundraising,
programme work, outreach, office space, etc.)
c. what groups would be partners; what other useful contacts you have
d. why the conference should be held in your city
e. what you would like to occur at the conference (overall concept and
any programme details)

Before applying, please consult our Conference Organising Manual
(, and contact Randall Ghent,
World Carfree Network's conference coordinator, at rghent - at -

To all those with good connections in govt and academic circles - let's see if we can't host this conference here in Japan.