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During the Sengoku-era (1467-1615) or the Warring States Period, Futaba was under the Soma clan which was sandwiched between the much powerful Date and Satake clans in the north and the south respectively. Inspite of this, the Soma clan was one of the longest surviving clans which is attributed largely to the fact that it actively took steps in diplomacy or otherwise to maintain its independence in the region. However, with the advent of the Meiji-era (1868-1912), Futaba largely submitted itself to national service as it hosted a training site for World War II pilots and produced coal and nuclear power to light the city of Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto region. The mediaeval history of Futaba therefore acts as an example of how being active and proactive can ensure independence, progress and sustainability over generations.
Ishinomaki Lab was founded in 2011 in Ishinomaki, Japan as a simple public workshop for the local community so that people can engage with DIY and become independent on their own. It soon engaged itself in the work of renovating shops and creating spaces where people can think and plan a new Ishinomaki. Soon, the US furniture company Herman Miller joined the project and provided these workshops for locals at the end of which locals can take the produced furniture for free. These DIY workshops still run today. What started as a simple DIY workshop eventually went on to become the world’s first DIY label with the now-iconic Ishinomaki Stool added to the permanent collection of Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. The founders even travelled to the Philippines in 2016 to provide these furniture-making workshops in the typhoon-hit island of Bohol.
A successful example of how democratic urban planning could work would be in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001. Although owned by the Port Authority, the Governor and Mayor decided to set up ‘Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’ (LMDC) whose aim was to make the planning process transparent so that everyone could participate in the decision-making. This was also meant to be a democratic answer to terrorism. The LMDC hosted the ‘Listening to the City’ event where 5,000 participants expressed their opinion about the 6 plans presented by LMDC. All the 6 plans received negative reactions and LMDC cancelled all of them to restart the design study. This time, LMDC included 5 selected architects to design alternatives based on public input. Architect Daniel Libeskind was successfully able to capture the public emotion through his design and it went on to become a successful example of democratic urban planning.
As early as 1970, the anti-pollution movement in Mano in Kobe, Japan gained attention of outsiders and a ‘Machizukuri School’ provided occasional lectures and workshops by academicians and planners on the issues related to the movement. Many of the long-term attenders became supporters and even published research on Mano. Kobe took this case as one of the pillars when it passed the first ‘Machizukuri’ ordinance in 1980 to officially support such local planning processes. In fact, it also provided small subsidies to local ‘Machizukuri’ councils to pay for consultants.
This participatory planning system came to Mano’s help during the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake. Even though it had a population of 5,500 in 1994 which was higher than 750 in the neighbouring Mikura, only 19 people lost their lives compared to 27 in Mikura. Further, only 25% of the housing units were destroyed in Mano with fire damage accounting for less than 2% as compared to Mikura where 70% of the area was destroyed and burnt. By 2005, Mano had a 78% recovery in population as compared to 53% in Mikura. It is important to note here that Mikura had an inactive community development practice in the past as compared to the long-term community development in Mano.
Post-2011, the government proposed several choices for safety measures to the people. While various surveys pointed out that the majority of the tsunami-affected people preferred relocation to higher grounds, the Ministry of Land and Transportation issued the Basic Recovery Principle in July 2011 which centred around construction of seawalls instead. This was then followed by the decision of the Central Council for Disaster Prevention in September 2011 which authorised construction of seawalls 15 m in height to cover the entire coastal lines of tsunami-inundated areas throughout East Japan.
A similar top-down approach was also seen in Kobe in the aftermath of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. The city government only allowed for 2 weeks of public input in the planning process which required people to inspect the plans at city government offices and then comment in writing. Furthermore, people were still living in emergency accommodation or they had left Kobe altogether at that time. The people protested and only after that some major changes were introduced to make the planning process more accommodative. However, even if they had a choice, they didn’t have the veto power.