Integrating housing with rapid transit in a commercial manner like Tokyo achieves could be a successful urbanisation model for the Anglo-World
The political battle for middle class voters in many Anglo-world countries is moving onto the housing front. Many different urbanisation models are being considered. Tokyo in particular is gaining a lot of attention.
In February I watched a UK Conservative Party policy debate video (sound starts from the 1.15 min mark). Liz Truss a then junior Minister (now Secretary of State for International Trade) announced she is a big fan of Tokyo urbanism as a post-Brexit/post-austerity remedy for her country's housing woes and as a campaign strategy for her party to gain political support with younger voters. She believes the Conservative party needs to challenge vested interests, in particular NIMBY land owners who oppose new housing. Truss is aware that the increase in Piketty inequality is due to excessive house price inflation. She proposes land use policy reform.
It is refreshing to listen to a debate about how society can become more productive not more speculative. And to listen to politicians who want to be principled not populist. At the moment in the Anglo-world we have speculative societies being led by popularity contests which is a dangerous mix.
Below is my understanding of the key aspects of Japanese urbanism and how it may apply to my Anglo-world country of New Zealand.
- The way Tokyo has integrated trains with property development is brilliant.
2. Unmatchable in their efficiency, reliability and speed, Japanese trains represent the cutting edge of innovative modern transport.
3. An important aspect of rails success in Japan is their excellent service culture. There is a holistic consideration of all aspects of service from facilitating affordable housing, fast and speedy journeys that take advantage of the latest technology, to supporting an ecosystem of high quality commercial enterprises at destinations.
4. Public transport in Tokyo does not need to be subsidised because Japan does not spatially subsidise motor cars. In Japan when you purchase a vehicle you must prove that you own or rent a private parking space suitable for the vehicle. There is no assumption that motorists have the right to store their vehicle in public spaces for free. Scarce city spaces are allocated by pricing.
5. Even though Tokyo is the largest city in the world it has surprisingly affordable housing. For example, the average rent of a two-bedroom apartment in Tokyo is US$1000 a month which at current exchange rates is about NZ$340 per week. Tokyo’s rents have been stable for the last decade.
In comparison in New Zealand the median rental value for a two-bedroom flat in Auckland is $490/week and in Wellington it is $465/week.
Tokyo, and Japanese cities more broadly, have managed to stay affordable by building more. Japanese cities are able to build quickly because they have scrapped regulations that delay or forbid new housing construction. In Japan zoning types and land use regulation is largely made at the national level which minimises NIMBY objections.
Land prices in inner Tokyo are considerably higher than in London, whereas house prices are significantly lower. The explanation, James Gleeson argues, is that land in Tokyo is used more productively to produce more housing than equivalent land in London.
Competitive transport mechanisms combined with competitive urban housing intensification characteristics has allowed Tokyo to be a relatively affordable city.
This provides evidence that city land supply is not necessary fixed. This contentious point is at the heart of theoretical debates about unaffordable housing.
6. New Zealand transport economist David Lupton has a thesis which I believe gives the theoretical backing for why Tokyo urbanism works so well. David believes we need appropriate charges for infrastructure and services so the choices people make do not impose financial burdens on others.
7. Urbanist Alain Bertaud in his new book ‘Order Without Design -How Markets Shape Cities’ confirms this theoretical approach.
Congestion road pricing (P.200)
8. These sort of spatial economic ideas I amalgamated into a Successful cities understand spatial economics paper.
9. Interestingly, Japan copied Germany’s land readjustment practices to make room for urban expansion. This is how I recommend New Zealand acquires affordable land for integrated housing and rapid transport projects.