Sustainable Pocket Neighborhoods: The Case Of Tokyo's Residential Areas

Japanese residential areas are often criticized for being responsible of sprawling by defensers of mixed high-rise blocks, in particular Tokyo. Such high-density areas suffering from a lack of space tend to find out solutions to solve these spatial constraints to satisfy and attact new dwellers.
Residential area, Kitazawa, Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
Urban models — mixed high-rise block form — such as Singapore or Hong Kong are considered as the most appropriated urban models for countries suffering from lack of space. In this instance, Singapore is often viewed as a model for Japanese contractors.
Residential area, Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
Such as Singapore with a population of 5,183,400 fore an area of 694 sq km with a density of 7,315 pp/sq km, Greater Tokyo has a small land area for a population of 42,607,376 for an area of 7,408 sq km with a density of 5,752 pp/sq km (TMA has a population of 13,185,502 for an area of 2,187,66 sq km and a density of 6,027.2 pp/sq km, while little Tokyo (23 wards)'s population is 8,967,665 for an area of 621.9 sq. km and a density of 14,061 pp/sq km) . Yet, its living patterns are mostly composed of low, medium and high buildings, precisely single-detached housing, low-rise collective housing as well as medium-density and high-rise housing. Nonetheless, in the residential areas, the low-rise, until now, dominates the high-rise.
Residential area, Setagaya ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
Since I began my research on Japanese urbanism and architecture 10 years ago, I have been hearing that Tokyo lacks of green and open areas. Given the fact that lots, in these densely residential areas, are small, sacrifices are very common: no cars if your plot cannot affod a parking slot, and no garden, no fence…
Residential areas, Setagaya ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
During my latest sejourney in Tokyo last autumn, I spent time walking in these areas to understand and scrutanize living patterns in these overcrowded residential areas, how people do to live in such congested areas, how they manage to combine house, parking lot and other needs.

Suggested blog: Tokyo Green Space.

Residential area, Setagaya ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
—> Green can have different uses. Used as a residential tactic, it permits not only to
beautify the house but also protect it from external views.
Residential activities in Tokyo, and more broadly in Japanese cities, are very interesting as objects of analysis as they provide another glance to the current and redundant discourse on Tokyo's overpopulated areas. Some blogs such as a small lab put an accurate focus on residential areas in the seek for the relationship of dwellers to nature.
Residential areas, Setagaya ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGCIndeed, to overcome this issue of lack of space, these residential areas have quietly and patiently been changing their overcrowded landscape with no green and open areas, even no parking slots, into efficient, green-friendly areas. More and more vacant lots are converted into open areas, and within a private land, even a smaller lot, dwellers develop interesting residential tactics to integrating green into the setting. This cohabitation of green and residential space makes Tokyo's living patterns more sustainable than one can imagine. All these pictures included in this post show a large range of spatial arrangements within residential land.
Residential areas, Setagaya ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
—> A new trend in Japanese cities is the low vertical house. As verticality seems to be
the new norm, even single-detached housing shift into vertical.
Note the combination of garage, vertical single-detached house and green areas.

Suggested reading: Kaid Benfield 'Pocket Neighborhoods' For Sustainable Suburbs, in The Atlantic Cities.

The notion of "Pocket neighborhood" that I borrow to architect Ross Chapin can be employed in the case of these small-scaled communities. A Pocket neighborhood, according to Chapin, consists of, to summarize commonly, a neighborhood with shared common green, walkable small town settings leading to a compact footprint around shared compact space.
Residential area, Setagaya ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
—> An example of cohabitation of parking lot and car, single-detached housing,
and green areas, mainly composed of plants in pot.
However, while these small-scaled communities respond to the main criteria of sustainable living patterns, Chapin's Pocket neighborhood differs with Japanese Pocket neighborhoods in the sense that that of Chapin provides larger zones for its dwellers while Tokyo cannot afford.
Residential area, Setagaya ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
—> When the house occupies almost 100 per cent of the land,
the tactic used here consists of aligning plants in pot alongside the façade.
These pots are nibbling progressively on the street due to a lack of space devoted to green areas.
Yet a Pocket neighborhood is too flexible to be exclusively confined to American-type of residential areas. It is adaptive, fluid and suitable. It is probably cultural as well. You can find it in Europe, Asia, etc., in different manners, with various constraints depending upon spatial dynamics of the place.
Residential area, Setagaya ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
—> The elevation is a combination of high fence and hedges to protect the house from external views.
Many Machizukuri plans (or Community-based plans) envisage to aim at developing a protected and traffic-free environment for urban dwellers.
Residential area, Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
—> Lush greenery participating in the quietness of the area.If so, these criticized and critical areas might provide a better living condition to its dwellers, or at least will demonstrate that even a low-rise residential area can be sustainable. Many dwellers defending this thesis in Setagaya ward…
Residential area, Setagaya ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
—> A shared lane which function is to connect not only different levels within the residential area,
as well as residents, can also be used
as a shared green area. See how green elements occupy this space void between these buildings.
Residential area, Setagaya ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
Residential area, Setagaya ward, Tokyo. Credit: ULGC
Image credits: ULGC, 2011