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Yokohama: A showcase of sustainable city management

JAPAN'S Yokohama, the host city for the 50th Asian Development Bank (ADB) annual meeting, was all geared up for the May 4-7 milestone event when a group of media representatives arrived there in March under a "Yokohama City Journalist Fellowship Programme".

Big events are not new to Yokohama as the city has played host to numerous large-scale international conferences including Apec Japan 2010.

All this is not possible had this city not transformed itself from a degrading suburban residential town into an eco-friendly, livable city with a strong economic base. Yokohama, the capital city of Kanagawa Prefecture, lies on Tokyo Bay in the Kanto region of the main island of Honshu.

Its sustainable city management success has prompted it to share its experiences and knowhow with other cities seeking to overcome various urban issues.

The success also makes Yokohama an apt choice for the ADB annual meeting whose theme is “Building Together the Prosperity of Asia.” The meeting, with more than 5,000 delegates, is focusing on the region's growing need for infrastructure as a critical sector towards achieving sustainable and inclusive development.

Rapid economic and population growth in emerging cities has led to a host of urban woes - congestions, pollutions, insufficient social and economic infrastructure, poor quality of life and greater vulnerability to natural disasters - says Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica).

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to all these urban problems but Yokohama - a bustling city in the centre of Japan with a population of 3.7 million people and a land area of 437.4 square kilometres certainly - has the credentials to share its expertise.

"Yokohama experienced rapid development from a devastated post-war stage in the 1940s to a prosperous modern city within about 60 years, overcoming issues such as urban sprawl, lack of infrastructure, and pollution," says Jica.

Recognising that urban challenges are a continuous process, Yokohama is pursuing innovations to tackle new urban challenges: global warming, decreasing natural resources, ageing and declining population, and the need for a supportive environment for working mothers and their children.

"In Japan, Yokohama plays a leading role in Japan to counter the new challenges with close cooperation with the citizens and private companies," says Jica. This led to the Japanese government selecting Yokohama in 2011 as a "FutureCity" aiming to be a model city for advanced technology, socio-economic systems, services, business models and city building.

The five-day, four-night trip in March - organised by Yokohama City under the "Yokohama City Journalist Fellowship Programme" - gave us the chance to see first hand the city that in 2014 won a special mention in the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize biennial international awards.

Media representatives from Asia on a recent visit to Yokohama under a Yokohama Journalist Fellowship Program.
On the left (standing) is Masaru Goto, Director for the Asian Development Bank Annual Meeting
A visit to the Cupnoodles Museum. Through the museum's many exhibits one can learn about the creative thinking of Momofuku Ando, the founder of Nissin Food Products and investor of Chicken Ramen
A waterfront view of Minato Mirai 21 District
Tea-master at Sankeien Garden, a traditional Japanese-style garden designed and landscaped by Sankei Hara, a wealthy businessman in the silk trade.
Cherry Blossom at Sankeien Garden
Another scenic view at Sankeien Garden
Yokohama Marine Tower
Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse, a historical building used as a complex including a shopping mall, a banquet hall, and event venues
Cosmo Clock 21, a giant Ferris wheel at the Cosmo World amusement park in the Minato Mirai 21 area.

Yokohama's immediate northern neighbour is Tokyo, the capital of Japan with a land area of 2,188 sq km and a population of some 13.5 million, or about 11 per cent of the Japan's population.

Yet, Yokohama boasts its own identity. To quote the special mention, this satellite city at the edge of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area "has successfully established its own identity as a liveable, relatively affordable and family-friendly city by tapping on the internationalisation of the region and excellent transport networks". The city’s long-term vision and project-oriented approach with a high level of collaboration with its stakeholders and citizens was cited as an admirable model.

"Yokohama is an engaging city with a beautiful waterfront scenery and rich Japanese traditions including 'Washoku', the traditional dietary culture of Japan," Fumiko Hayashi, mayor of Yokohama, says in a welcoming message.

Its transformation success takes the form of what it calls the "7 approaches" to achieving sustainable growth, which can bring a new perspective for governors and urban planners around the world.

Similar to what other emerging cities in the world face today, Yokohama experienced significant urban issues from the 1960s through the 1980s, when its economy saw strong growth and its population rose dramatically.

The "7 approaches" are essentially seven project processes.

  1. Building basic urban structure through integration of strategic projects
  2. Urban development management through regulations and guidance
  3. Enhancing the attractiveness of the city through urban design and town management
  4. Private sector and citizens' participation
  5. Building a resilient city through comprehensive disaster prevention
  6. Providing 24-hour lifeline for all citizens
  7. Continuous innovations


The media tour took us to places such as the International Affairs Bureau, Minato Mirai 21 District Heating and Cooling Co Ltd, the Water Works Bureau, the Resource and Waste Recycling Bureau, the Environmental Planning Bureau, the Tsurumi River Basin Information Center, the Transportation Bureau and the Transportation Bureau - the different arms that make this thriving city possible. It also took us to places of interest such as the Cupnoodles Museum, Sankeien Garden and the Yokohama Marine Tower.

A visit to Minato Mirai 21 District Heating and Cooling, which supplies chilled water and steam to clients night and day
Metawater, a provider of optimum solutions for creating a circulatin of water recourses. It addresses all needs related to the water environment
Wastewater treatment plants help to keep the quality of public water body clean and prevent city flooding due to rapid discharging of storm water
A panoramic view of Tsurumi River Multipurpose Retarding Basin, used as a disaster prevention activity base in the event of flood damage and earthquake disaster
City of Yokohama Kawawa Rail Yard, a maintenance facility to ensure safe, stable and confortable train opetation of Green line
Yokohama Disaster Risk Reduction Learning Center whose main objectives include responding to city disasters in the Yokohama station area

Yokohama in the late 1960s and 1970s, during which strong economic growth took place in Japan, faced serious urban issues, all closely intertwined. Rapid economic development in Tokyo to the north resulted in urban sprawl and land development of neighbouring suburban areas including Yokohama City. Population growth in this period was 5-10 per cent per year, way above those in other metropolitan areas in Japan at the time.

This rapid urbanisation created a nightmare: lack of urban infrastructure and services, traffic congestion, pollution and insufficient social services and the like.

What Yokohama did was carry out strategic basic infrastructure projects to create a massive urban structure akin to what it calls the backbones and organs of people.

Six inter-linked strategic projects, comprising three urban development and three transport development projects, were introduced.

The three urban development projects were:

(1) Minato Mirai 21 (Future port for 21st Century): creative new business, commercial and cultural centres as the city's economic driver;

(2) Kanazawa reclamation: creating an eco-friendly zone to which factories relocate and create good environments for workers, residents and visitors;

(3) Kohoku New Town: new town development, with urban services, connecting to the urban centre of Yokohama by subway.

Interlinked with these urban projects were three transport projects, namely:

(4) Subway Network Development: connecting city centres and suburbs by public transport network;

(5) Expressway Network: Distributing goods and people by formulating a trunk road network as the backbone of the city;

(6) Yokohama Bay Bridge: 860-metre bridge for goods transport, which also served as a monumental icon for the waterfront city centre. The segregation of cargo traffic helped reduce congestion within the city .Opened on Sept 27, 1989, it crosses Tokyo Bay with a span of 460 metres.

Minato Mirai 21 (Future Port for 21st Century)

Work started on the Minato Mirai 21 (Future Port for 21st Century) project in 1983 to turn the city into an international city of culture that is active 24 hours a day, a city of 21st century information, a city friendly to both people and the environment, surrounded by water, greenery and history. The project involves redeveloping 186 hectares of waterfront and reclamation of 74 hectares of land.

Minato Mirai District Heating and Cooling Co Ltd was established in 1986 to play a role in supplying heating and cooling for these advanced urban facilities. Today, it is supplying chilled water and steam to clients throughout the day.

Jica says that the waterfront project created a revitalised business and cultural centre in the waterfront zone, which is now pulling in global offices, shops, museums and tourists. Importantly, it has also become a MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) venue.

In 2010 alone, this zone is said to have generated some 1.8 trillion yen (S$22.3 billion based on current conversion) of economic benefits. It also has disaster-resilient features, using various disaster-proof technologies such as quake-resilient quays and underground utility tunnels.

Kanazawa Reclamation Project

So much land in Yokohama City including the waterfront zone used to be dominated by heavy industries and factories in the 1960s. To implement the city enhancement projects, the city created the Kanazawa Reclamation Project that provided a designated industrial zone with high quality environmentally-conscious designs with wastewater treatment facilities and preserved greeneries.

Private heavy industrial companies decided to relocate in this area by utilising vacant land for urban redevelopment projects of MM21. Today, MM21 District is a showcase of Yokohama's urban development.

Kohoku New Town Project

Kohoku New Town Project created a residential area with commercial centres, public facilities and agriculture land. The new town was designated to provide a comfortable living environment and curtail the trend of disorganised, environmentally destructive construction of housing around the city. It offers green zones, parks and hillside open spaces, designed to create a beautiful, livable environment for all residents.

Image Source for 6 inter-linked strategic projects:

Private sector and citizens' participation

No write-up on Yokohama's sustainable city management is complete without mentioning the participation of the private sector and the citizens.

Yokohama has worked closely with its people and private sector. Through a range of educational programmes and campaigns, it raised public awareness to gain understanding and consensus for its policies.

The resulting exquisite urban environment is a result of coordination and cooperation between the city government and citizens during it long 150-year history.

New urban issues

Fast forward to today when Yokohama faces challenges with new urban issues: the need for energy conservation and emission reduction to tackle global warming and the issues of decreasing natural resources. Another problem is ageing and declining population. In Yokohama, its population is expected to start declining in 2019. The elderly population above 65 years old is said to have exceeded 21 per cent by 2013, and is expected to grow close to a million by 2025. Meanwhile, more and more women are willing to continue to work after having children and there is an urgent need for the city to create an environment supportive of busy parents. Among new projects are carbon reduction measures, life innovations and improved accessibility to childcare support. As it said in one of its "7 approaches" to urban planning, it is a continuous innovation process.

International cooperation

Backed by its experience, Yokohama has promoted international cooperation through sister cities/partner cities under its CityNet program. To further pursue international cooperation, Y-Port (Yokohama Partnership Of Resources and Technologies) was launched in 2011 and in October that same year it also became the first city to conclude a partnership agreement with Jica. In October 2010, Yokohama and Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) also concluded a "cooperative agreement for environment and urban infrastructure" to combat urban issues and global environmental issues in developing countries undergoing rapid urban development.

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