Contemporary urban design and planning discourse have a conspicuous dearth of work oriented towards otherwise healthy urban conditions characterized by population contraction. What scholarship does exist on “shrinkage” is primarily oriented towards those landscapes that result from population losses tied to failing economic conditions. But what happens when an economy is (relatively) healthy, not to mention technologically advanced, yet its population is beginning a process of radical contraction?
As a result of an aging society, exceptionally low birth rates and limiting immigration policies, the population of the Tokyo metropolitan area peaked nearly a decade ago, and is forecast to continue to fall by over 1/3 over the next 50 years. Such a future reality provides a wholly unique context to reflect on from an urban design perspective—the impending peripheral atrophy of the mega-city.
The Fall 2017 Tokyo Landscape Futures studio led by Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Christopher Marcinkoski considered this emerging condition as the point of departure for undertaking a series of design experiments and speculations related to the future of Tokyo’s urban periphery. Notably, the studio did not set out to “solve” the impending urbanistic “crisis” facing this landscape. Rather, it was organized as a rigorous meditation on the mega-city urban landscape in a post-growth condition.
Tokyo is an exceptional context in which to reflect on this reality given the myriad cultural sources of design inspiration available to students’ work. From the implications of cutting-edge robotics and automation driving the Japanese economy; to the appropriation of mainstream cultural imagery like manga and anime; to the provocations of contemporary Japanese art and music; to the hyper-refined ancient cultivation practices of Japanese gardens and landscapes—the studio mined these sources as a means to imagining and visualizing future urban landscapes that can inspire and influence, provoke and pioneer, without the burdens of providing a solution or singular answer.