AUG 21, 2017
One such initiative involves empowering citizens to create small green spaces all over the city. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government offers workshops that teach residents how to create green rooftops, wall surfaces, railroad areas, and parking lots, and offers tax incentives for such efforts. In addition, the 2003 Ordinance on the Promotion of Stylish Townscape Creation established a program in which Tokyo residents work with professional designers to plant and tend to greenery next to their property, spurring many to line the roads outside their homes with potted plants. “On these side streets,” says McCay, “it can feel like you’re walking through a park.”
In addition, these small roads have little traffic, which allows for a profusion of such greenery—and for pedestrians to dominate. McCay notes that Tokyo has managed to keep its cars and buses mostly to its main streets, so that just a block or two off the principal thoroughfares are tranquil, leafy areas conducive to walking, running errands in small shops, and social interaction. The layout is similar to Barcelona’s superblocks, but emerged more organically, largely as a result of the ubiquity and efficiency of Tokyo’s public transport, which is also mainly accessible via the busiest roads. Residents walk to and from bus and subway stops and eschew cars; the city’s automobile ownership rate is only .46 per household—similar to New York City.
The Japanese government also encourages its urban residents to partake in shinrin yoku, which literally means “taking in the forest atmosphere.” According to the report, this practice is“an opportunity for city dwellers to spend leisurely time in the forest without any distractions.” Tokyo has five official shinrin yoku trails west of the city that are easily accessible by train. Some companies include visits to them in their employee health plan.
McCay also found room for improvement. As Tokyo’s denizens spend a lot of time inside—in offices, but also shopping malls—the report encourages efforts to bring more greenery and light to these spaces. “Interviewees spoke about the need to maintain office workers’ circadian rhythms through exposure to light,” says McCay. “These questions are increasingly being posed in Tokyo as workplace stress is often in the news.”
McCay’s center is now looking into other cities’ track records, and the next will be Hong Kong. The center is also driving similar research for cities including Wroclaw, Poland; Montreal; and Morristown, New Jersey, and invites other researchers to contribute studies of their own cities.
“This is the first step in a process in which cities around the world learn from each other about urban design and mental health,” says McCay. “Even if societies think differently about mental health, the challenges are the same and the people are the same. We can all teach each other.”