Yanaka’s proposed building height allowances could lead to blandification

Taito Ward officials are considering relaxing building height limits in the historic temple district of Yanaka in Tokyo. 

Local residents, concerned that this could harm the charming character of the low-rise neighborhood, are petitioning the local council to reconsider the idea. 

The proposed height allowance zone would encompass 3,500 meters of roads located between Ueno Station and Yanaka Cemetery, and towards Nippori and Sendagi Stations. Many years ago the roads were designated as city planning roads with the intention of one day widening them to allow more traffic. The designation limited surrounding building heights to no more than 10 meters (approximately three floors). In the past couple of years, lower-than-expected traffic volume has seen moves to abolish these road widening plans. This would remove the 10-meter height limit. 

Taito Ward’s plan would allow building heights of up to 12 meters in low-rise residential zones, and 20 meters in commercial and non-low-rise residential zones. Areas that once had 3-story height limits could now see buildings up to 6 stories. If the plan is approved, this may possibly push land values up but could also see older, traditional properties demolished and redeveloped.

Several historic and culturally significant properties are located within the zone, including the former home of sculptor Fumio Asakura (now the Asakura Museum of Sculpture), Zensho-an Temple, and Eikyu Temple. 

Yanaka is known for its traditional streets lined with temples, small cafes, and shops operating out of old wooden shophouses. The neighborhood’s history goes back 400 years and offers a glimpse into the more traditional Japanese streetscapes that are becoming increasingly scarce in Tokyo. This area managed to avoid serious damage in the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake and WWII air raids, leaving a number of historic structures. 

Tourists now flock to the district, with some estimates of as many as 3 million visitors a year.

Petition

Author Mori Mayumi has started a Change.org petition seeking signatures to support the preservation of the Yanaka district. Those interested can find more details here: https://www.change.org/p/save-the-history-and-culture-of-temple-town-yanaka-tokyo-s-oasis

Source: The Tokyo Shimbun, September 17, 2019.

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