Japanese urbanism and its application to the Anglo-World

Brendon Harre
Feb 9 · 5 min read

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 junior Minister 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.

Ontakesan shops. Note the urban design layout — and the lack of cars. Source: @mayo_rob
  1. 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.

Pointing and calling is part of Japanese train services impressive safety procedures

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.

Tokyo Station’s Japanese train food

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.

Pricing can be a very effective tool for allocating scarce resources

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.

Competitive transport mechanisms combined with competitive urban housing intensification characteristics has allowed Tokyo to be a relatively affordable city.

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.

Parking (P.199)

Congestion road pricing (P.200)

8. These sort of spatial economic ideas I amalgamated into a Successful cities understand spatial economics paper.

In the future will the practice of allowing people the right to store 2-tonne cars free of charge in public places be considered as mad as bloodletting?

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, such as, my Wellington Eco-City proposal.

10. These concepts assisted me in developing a proposal to help solve Wellington’s housing crisis. The capital city currently has New Zealand’s most acute housing crisis. House prices are inflating by 13% per annum and household rental bills are increasing by more than $1000 per year.

Wellington’s rents are higher and have been inflating faster than Tokyo’s.

11. These concepts have also been helpful for analysing how another New Zealand city -Greater Christchurch can escape from its current devil’s choice urbanisation model -unaffordable housing or terrible traffic congestion.

New Zealand needs an urbanisation project

A collection of essays about cities, housing, land, the built environment and transport which collectively make the case for New Zealand to implement a wide ranging urbanisation project

Brendon Harre

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Trying to optimise amenity and affordability values for urban areas

New Zealand needs an urbanisation project

A collection of essays about cities, housing, land, the built environment and transport which collectively make the case for New Zealand to implement a wide ranging urbanisation project