Japanese city reborn from poisoned pariah to model

By Wan Lixin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, December 10, 2013
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During the first seven months this year, the number of visitors to Japan totalled nearly 6 million, including 676,200 from the Chinese mainland, 1,268,200 from Taiwan, and 1,564,200 from South Korea.

The city needs to make itself more tourist-friendly.

Cynthia Delgado Balana from the Philippine Daily Inquirer cited the language barrier, saying that when she arrived it was difficult to explain the location of her hotel to the taxi driver, since few locals speak another language.

Urban mobility

But that deficiency is more than made up by locals’ readiness to help, according to some panelists.

Arun Katiyar from India said that locals are so eager to give a helping hand, that sometimes language does not matter. He said he was jogging along the street and was invited by the locals to help with pounding rice into mochi. Although he remained in the dark about what mochi is after the 15-minute pounding, he was overwhelmed by the warmth of the people.

Like other panelists, Katiyar had a high opinion of local transport.

Visitors from Shanghai would find that there are empty seats on subways and buses and passengers do not fight for them, and there are no advertising screens constantly shouting about KFC’s breakfast menu.

Unfortunately, the experience from Fukuoka does not necessarily apply elsewhere.

For one thing, with a population of 1.5 million, Fukuoka is still of manageable size, while many metropolises in Asia have long passed the limits to which a city can reasonably expand.

According to Shanghai’s blueprint for 1999-2020, the city’s infrastructure development had been based on the projection that the population would reach 20 million in the year 2020. The number of permanent residents reached 23 million by 2010.

Sprawling cities are putting ever higher demands on public transport, healthcare, and education, and take a heavy toll on the environment.

Another priority for urban planners, according to the panelists, is to drastically discourage the use of private cars, and encourage other options of mobility.

Making streets more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists would alleviate the burden on public transport.

Katiyar, an avid cyclist, hoped there will be dedicated bike lanes.

While some Asian cities are effectively discouraging the use of bicycles, some cities in the West are waking up to the value of cycling as a healthy way of life that relieves stress, reduces the medical burden, and cut emissions.

For instance, in Tel-Aviv, Israel, the city government has built 120 km of bike lanes, which protect riders from motorized traffic. It also reduces traffic jams.

Another option to reduce pressure on transport is to create more pedestrian-friendly roads, so that people can walk pleasantly around for short trips and don’t have to wait too long at intersections. Planting trees helps protect pedestrians from cars and sunlight and makes the areas more attractive.

Unfortunately, making walking more comfortable, or less intimidating, is not a priority in many Asian cities because officials have great incentives to build or widen roads and erect elevated highways: infrastructure projects can be hugely profitable.

Discussions of these public policy issues naturally led to the role of the media.

Panelists agreed that media should play a larger role in educating the public about embracing environmentally friendly means of transport, and in persuading officials to give priority to the long-term welfare of the people while formulating public policies.

In a world inundated with information, the media has a unique role to inform the public, and help people interpret, make sense of, and correctly respond to information that is sometimes disorganized, unclear and misleading.

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