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March 01, 2003

Off to the airport.

Gawd. I miss tokyo. I'm on the Keisei Skyliner going from Ueno to Narita airport. And as I thought last night as I was coming in, I can't imagine that I've ever seen so packed a city ever. You can reach out from the window of your apartment and touch the house next to you. You can look through your neighbour's window, and right through their house, and watch the TV in the living room of the house beside it. Yet people live here, thrive. It is not a ghetto or a jungle... but a massive uneasy alliance of humans... endlessly alive and varied. Well, not so varied. And some might say not so alive, but amazing none the less. The thing that gets me, as someone who has thought a bit about community and bioregionality and the environment is that Tokyo really seems to have no plan. No urban development plan with any consistence. All the houses out my window are less than 4-5 meters from the track. Windows are right open to the trains. And the houses and apartments give way to commercial and industrial facilities without a moment's warning, only to immediately give way to a temple or more houses the train station I'm at now... is actually 5 or more stories in the air, hovering over apartment buildings below and there are 6 tracks of rail overlapping. Does tokyo work because of this lack of planning? Think about it. The cities with big problems in the west... NYC, Chicago... whatever designed. And administered, with places for residence and places for commerce and places for industry. The organization of locations of human activity seems to collect and consolidate human activity. according to some rational empirical sense of order. And what in life is really so ordered? Nothing I know. Life and experience is chaotic. Dynamic... and yes, of course fecund. Could a tokyo exist as it does because of the inherent chaos of its urban structure. A structure that no amount of social engineering and concrete, and trains can ever really segment into an ordered whole. In the past, I had compared Tokyo to a cancer, because of its grown and uncontrolled nature. But perhaps it is the ordered cities that give rise to cancers, because they cannot engage successfully with the chaos of human experience. And then perhaps Tokyo is more like the swamp. The swamp is in my mind an ultimately good location. One of many growing things in a messy struggle for self expression. Versus the well ordered planted field which has lost everything but the vaguest genetic memory of it's organic and biological origins. I'm not trying to be profound... just looking at the world out my window, and trying to figure out why it is that I find so much appealing in this dense maelstrom of cluttered buildings, and endlessly confused streets, bifurcated by these railways of seeming order, which are themselves, seen from a sufficient distance to be just a metatangle of transportation. I feel immediately more in touch with tokyo through its physical being than I did with Hakodate because of this intricate web of incommensurable spider structures all striving for the same rays of light and life. And I'm still not trying to be profound... just looking for words to conceptualize what I feel, as the train I'm on is passing under a contrcuction site, and travelling along side it... and the construction is to build another level of trains above tracks above the one's we're on now. In Toronto, we have the gardner expressway. It is the noose around our city. The black mark that keeps us from our rightful place on the water front. Is it really the 4 lanes of transportation 4 stories in the air? Tokyo has more elevated transportation that Toronto probably has streets. And remember that Tokyo probably has the population of Canada crammed into the greater toronto area. I don't think that it is the expressway that is a problem. But that it is not 2 stories in the air, as it needs to be to allow transport trucks to go under it, but 4 or 5 stories. Not that it is 50 meters wide, but that there are 50 meters on either side in which nothing is allowed to grow. It is not the pathway, but the space that it is, zoned from being a path to being a monolythic impediment. So, do you remove the imedement or do you remove the pathway. Couldn't you leave the pathway in tact? and surround it with life? yes, it would be cosmetic, but I'm wondering if the problem is itself not just cosmetic. If you covered the gardner expressway with ivy and had it dripping with green, and surrounded it with buildings, enclosed green houses, malls, movie theatres or just growing stuff that might suck up the toxins that it produced. Night clubs and bars would be great. No worries about auto exhaust or noise with the music and second hand smoke. I do think that homes would not be a good idea, because they'd quickly become a ghetto.. .but what am I saying, the south side of the gardner is already awash with condos that remind em a bit of what is ubiquitous in Tokyo. So, what are we left with at the end of my musings? Perhaps a couple of things. One is a deep and abiding questioning about the notion of urban planning, and the ""a place for everything and everything in its place"" mentality. Not that I've ever seen planning accomplish much good in this regard. Well... what's left. I think that I'm not advocating a free for all of capitalist expansion for the market. The market is what prefers order, wanting only variances to increase profit. I think that rather than putting industry afar away that allowing industry to co-habitate with homes, but focus on industry that is no more polluting per unit area than the houses are. The same goes for agriculture and commercial locations. I wouldn't mind living next to MacDonalds, if macdonalds produced no more garbage, smell, waste, noise than any of the houses around it did. It is not the industry that is a problem, but the fact that when we segregate or ghettoize a facet of our lives, we allow that facet usually to have a greater negative impact on our lives than we would if it was next to us... the Nimby mentality, no doubt. but if everything is ""in your back yard so to speak, then in a sense you have to confront your pollution. Confront your noise. Confront your garbage. I'm not going to apply this to tokyo, except to say that they have at least confronted some of this, successfully or not and I somehow have left ueno forty minutes ago, and am now pretty far from tokyo, perhaps 10 minutes from narita, in a world that is newer, and seemingly more ordered. I think Alan called it something like shopping mall country, or parking lot country. Or someone did. I guess when you have the car, and economies of scale, the structures are forced back onto even a non system. The political economy of the car culture requires that it have primary affordance... hmmm... No wonder we can't ban cars from Toronto. THey drive our culture, so to unuse them would be to divest ourselves of our own culture. And how can anyone be expected to do that? And as I watch the drainage pipe for a train terminus empty into the ditch next to a dozen acres of rice fields, you'll get my sense that I'm not ever ever positioning Tokyo or Japan as having some essentialized solution or quazi-aboriginal closer touch which the way things should be, but that every time I experience it, Tokyo sheds light on every other social experience I have with cities and urban spaces. Ah... my flight awaits."

Posted by jason at March 1, 2003 12:16 AM