Conservation and Preservation in Planning Processes: Kyoto's Experiences

Urbanization and economic growth, as seen in the previous cases, has created a number of problems to urban areas in Japan. Kyoto has not been an exception. Out-migration from the core of the city to its suburbs has led to a collapse of the community. The struggle between private developers and residents has been destroying the landscape of traditional Kyoto. This has led to an increase of land and housing prizes, and the number of vacant housing units have also been increasing.

In order to address these and related problems, a group of academics and private consultants collaborated with the City Government in 1988, and took the initiative to set up a study group to solve the problems. Called the "Kyoto Collective Housing Study Group" the group made a number of studies, research and surveys to arrive at the conclusion that one of the viable solutions was the setting up of collective housing units that preserved the flavour/character of traditional shophouses. The group set about its task by collecting proposals from citizens, discussing them in symposiums, and compiling suggestions and opinions in the form of guidelines (in contrast to 'restrictions' imposed by usual city laws).

The group essentially brought together private developers, the community and the local government as a triangle, (with the group itself functioning as advocates/mediators) in proposing the character of the new type of housing. It emphasized the unity of 'work+play+life' in these houses; human scale was to be maintained in height and volume; harmony of classic and modern styles; application to the peculiar road system in Kyoto; unity with surrounding areas; and creating good communities.

The group gathered more than 46 proposals from university researchers, professionals and citizens. In order to visualize the concept, an experimental sample/prototype was built. Several such experiments in layout and design were made. A series of Symposia were held throughout Kyoto to propagate and explain the design concepts, and guidebooks were written. Basic plans were developed in accordance with the guidelines for public housing; and companies that share/support the concept were invited from private developers to build houses.

Some of the unique features of this approach was that the usual design regulation was abandoned in favour of 'guidelines' which outlines desirable goals. It thus gives freedom to the developer in design and actual implementation. Communication also played a key role, in promoting participation from citizens - open competition, pamphlets, symposia etc. emphasizing the need for mutual learning processes to be incorporated. Experimental prototypes enabled the citizens to visualize the design and check its feasibility against personal wishes and goals. Another factor that assisted its acceptance was the fact that the proposal was an initiative of academics, who were considered 'neutral', without vested interests.

Reconciliation between economic pressures and conservation/preservation pressures is critical in developing of design guidelines - from restrictive laws to desirable action. Effective communication also remains an important ingredient if the desirable result is to be achieved.

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