Posted January 9, 2020
  • Shinjuku ward, Tokyo, Japan

Creative Footprint Goes to Tokyo

The Creative Footprint Project recently convened in Tokyo to present its year-long inventory of that city’s nightlife arts and creative space. Michael Fichman, a researcher at PennPraxis who contributed to the project, describes the team's findings.

This past November, as I settled in for Thanksgiving in Philadelphia, my partners from the Creative Footprint Project (CFP) arrived in Tokyo. They were there to convene musicians, creatives, DJs, and event promoters alongside policy makers, planners, 2020 Olympics officials, tourism ministers, and real estate professionals. This was CFP’s Night Camp - a workshop created by former Amsterdam Night Mayor Mirik Milan, Berlin Clubcommission spokesman Lutz Leichsenring and supported by my team at PennPraxis. We were in Tokyo to present our year-long community-sourced inventory of the city’s nightlife arts space and to discuss the future of creative space in the city. This was my second year as the planning, data, and policy consultant to the CFP, and with the Olympics looming, Tokyo was the biggest and most rewarding challenge yet.

Our analysis, conducted in partnership with the Mori Memorial Foundation, described the geography of Tokyo’s creative spaces, characterized their programming, and related their location to the city’s demographics and economic geography. We found Tokyo’s venues to be concentrated in a handful of clusters, characterized by rich cultural communities, and chock-full of unique spaces. The city’s venues are generally smaller and younger than those in other CFP cities - with tiny venues tucked into alleys or mixed-use enclaves. However, the city’s political and cultural conditions for encouraging and fostering nightlife leave a lot to be desired, and almost three quarters of venues are in areas where land prices are appreciating most quickly.

The purpose of the Night Camp event was to convene stakeholders to discuss some of the issues that Mori and our team identified:

1) Mass-scale development is threatening grassroots cultural communities
2) A lack of night-time transportation is inhibiting access to creative space (despite phenomenal day-time service)
3) Tokyo lacks connectivity between the cultural economy and the tourism and development industries
4) Tokyo’s urban scale creates risks that venues and residences can come into conflict
5) The city’s policy and governance “framework” for dealing with nightlife is poor relative to peer cities

Among our recommendations were:

1) Development of a philosophy of “night time governance” that includes policies for tourism, culture and urban development
2) Demonstration of late-night train service during the Olympics, 
3) Experimentation with cross-sector collaboration and commercial preservation policies to try to support at-risk venues. 
4) Use a night-time lens to further Tokyo’s aspirations to meet the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Other recommendations specific to the tourism industry and Tokyo’s cultural districts are still being developed - a full report will be published later this year. The event got national press attention - the Olympics and the readiness of Japan’s tourism industry are the subjects of intense interest.

Most policy makers, planners, and citizens think little about the night except through the lens of nuisance and public policy tends towards prohibition.

Tokyo is the third city to receive a full CFP study. In 2017, the team inventoried Berlin’s music venues and in 2018, I joined the project as we convened dozens of industry and community experts to build a detailed database of over 500 venues in New York City. The CFP is a unique study designed to inventory and describe a city’s creative space for live entertainment. We relate this inventory to “framework conditions” under which a city is promoting or discouraging creative space. 

Measurement is done by community members. This allows the creative community to measure what we know is important, not what would appear in an economic impact study. For example, we measure the frequency of local and experimental programming. This information is of enormous value for cultural communities trying to make their voice heard. As I told CityLab after the publication of our New York report, “for a community to successfully engage with the government, it needs to have its dimensions and values translated into some language that the government can understand and act upon.” Our NYC report was a critical piece of intelligence for the New York City Office Of Media and Entertainment’s new Nightlife Office, formed concurrently with the study’s undertaking.

My role is the development and implementation of a geospatial, economic, and demographic analysis component to the project. This analytical component creates insights about the relationships between creative spaces and transportation networks, real estate trends, and population dynamics. In 2019, PennPraxis Design Fellow John Michael Lasalle assisted in this project and designed a multi-city, multilingual geo-spatial data system drawing from census and geo-data across three continents.

Before I came to work at PennPraxis and teach at the Weitzman School, I spent years as a music professional - a DJ and music producer, label owner and event promoter. In 2016 I founded 24HrPHL, a Philadelphia civic engagement and informational resource project working on issues like venue preservation, licensing, DIY art spaces, public safety, and harm reduction. Through this work, I met Mirik, Lutz and other like-minded people across the globe.

I mention my personal experience because working in this area requires a special kind of lens on the city. Night time is treated differently from daytime. Night is traditionally associated with shady dealings and vice. Most policy makers, planners, and citizens think little about the night except through the lens of nuisance and public policy tends towards prohibition. However, night time is where a lot of a city’s art, culture, and community are created and celebrated. Understanding how and why nightlife arts and culture operate is key to seeing the angles.

This civic culture of “no” has had the effect of restricting creativity by prohibiting a lot of creative activities in various spaces and driving art and music and whole communities underground. While many have heard of New York’s recently repealed “no dancing” Cabaret Law (famously invoked in the raid on the Stonewall Inn), Japan had the Fuieho Code until 2014, which prohibited dancing and late night alcohol sales and was capriciously enforced. These laws, combined with zoning and policing designed to tamp down night life serves to effectively prohibit it in most circumstances.

In the age of the “urban renaissance,” our new generation has begun to advocate for a new approach to night time. My colleague Mirik, for example, is the first of the wave of over three dozen “Night Mayors,” public or non-profit officials who play a specific policy or advocacy role in the night time economy. Frequently, these officers mediate disputes, facilitate stakeholder dialogue and act as a bridge between artists and venue operators and the licensing authorities, police and other government players. New policies and approaches to governance are beginning to trickle up to city governments worldwide - though mostly in Europe.

Our nightlife practice at PennPraxis is continuing to evolve and we have several projects on the horizon. Our support for 24HrPHL has created a Philadelphia venue licensing guide and a community survey due for publication this spring. We’ll be presenting our work at the American Planning Association conference in Houston this April and beginning work on the next round of CFP cities.