By Don MacGillivray

Japan is sponsoring a Future Cities program to transform itself into a low-carbon society. The Japanese government is selecting and supporting projects that are demonstrating a variety of environmental solutions through their Eco-Cities Initiative. Many are pioneering initiatives with ambitious targets for greenhouse gas reduction and other related activities.

A few of the key characteristics they support are: compact urban redevelopment, alternative transportation, energy efficient homes that will last for 200 years, widespread use of renewable energy and conservation, and innovative uses of forests and agriculture.

Their Eco-Cities project is now in its ninth year. All the Japanese cities were given the opportunity to participate and now thirteen cities are finalists.

With national sponsorship, high visibility, and participation of corporations, businesses, educational institutions, and community efforts, the results are remarkably successful even with very ambitious goals. The government provides seed money for the projects, but most of the resources come from the local districts. Often the support, participation, and education of the public is an equally important part of the projects.

Two elements of Japanese society have influenced this work.

The disaster of the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 impacted many of the cities and towns on the west coast of Japan. The destruction of their nuclear reactors reduced energy production.

The other aspect has to do with the aging of the Japanese population. The United States is having an increase of aging baby boomers, but in Japan they are expecting at least twice as many senior citizens to retire soon. The traditional way of families and the younger generation caring for aging relatives will not be as effective as before.

Shimokawa Town is in the northern part of Hokkaido with a population of 3,445. Ninety percent of the city is forested and this provides their primary industry and employment. In this cold climate, the town began using woody biomass fuels from the sawmills wood waste to heat their buildings instead of heavy oil, significantly reducing their CO2 emissions. Their primary goal is to provide sustainable, renewable forest management with a long-range outlook that does not deplete forest resources.

Toyama City has an area of about 1,240 square kilometers of mountainous forests that accounts for 70 percent of the city. Development of the flat area over the past 40 years has been scattered, resulting in a low population density and urban sprawl. Curbing and reversing urban sprawl has become the city’s highest priority. The city is improving the transit network, providing convenient shuttle bus routes with the central Toyama Station functioning as the transportation hub. The city established a 20-year urban development plan to encourage people to live in concentrated neighborhoods near public transportation access points to reduce the auto usage.

The town of Niseko on Hokkaido, pop. 4,901, is making use of geothermal resources. The community center, high school, homes and other buildings are heated by thermal energy obtained from 31 boreholes 250 feet deep that heat and cool their buildings. After doubling the size of the buildings by renovating them, the CO2 emissions were cut in half. In the high school, students use the heat to grow vegetables year ‘round in the school’s greenhouse.

In Sumida City in Tokyo rainwater collecting and removing substances absorbed from the air and roofs make it clean and pure for use in daily living. In 2014, the city adopted ordinances and regulations and provided subsidies for the installation of water storage tanks in large buildings.

Itabashi City in Tokyo has promoted the growing of green walls. These vegetative walls shade buildings from the summer sun and keep buildings cool. The plants are grown and tended by the schoolchildren with the help of instructors that teach them how to grow and care for plants. Building temperatures are reduced by as much as four degrees centigrade. The plants grow flowers and vegetables much appreciated by the local families and their communities. More than 130 elementary and junior high schools are taking part in this “green curtain” movement in Tokyo and Kyoto.

In Fukushima City, the Arakawa Clean Center generates energy from the incineration of waste material. The resulting power is used to heat seventy-one K-12 schools.

Ikoma City has established a public corporation to buy electric power from locally-produced sources, selling it to businesses and households. This is modeled after the German Stadtwerkke where it has proved successful.

The Eco-Cities project in Japan will be a model for others around the world. With so much dissension about Climate Change and Global Warming, it is necessary to publicize and illustrate the effectiveness of new ideas. With these needed changes, those that lead the way will benefit from developing and marketing new technologies and the industries that will follow.