A Caring Place Blog: Bottom-Up Urban Design – Sugamo Jizo-Dori, Japan – by Amber Roberts

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Creating a Caring Place: A&DS has published a report which sets out the work that we have been coordinating, together with Scotland’s Towns Partnership, to respond and support the Scottish Government’s work around Town Centre Living.

We have identified 10 Principles of a Caring Place which places user needs at the heart of decision-making, service provision and investment in our places.

Amber Roberts is a landscape architect, practising in Glasgow and Cairngorms.  In 2018 she was awarded the Mark Turnbull Travel Award from the Landscape Institute Scotland to travel to Sweden and Japan to learn more about urban design for ageing. In this blog – corresponding to Principle 7 – Accessible and Diverse Amenities and Service – from the 10 Principles of a Caring Place, Amber writes about the development of Sugamo Jizo-Dori, Tokyo, Japan.

Increasing Resilience

Amber Roberts writes: Japan and Sweden are currently transitioning into super-ageing societies, as a result they are ahead of the curve in creating design solutions for ageing users. In travelling to the two countries I found examples of design for ageing that considered more diverse project types across the scales of the built environment from city planning through to small community projects.

Japan is increasing resilience in older age and sustaining a better qualities of life by implementing changes to the built environment now to encourage physical activity and social interaction in newly retired people. This second of two blog posts on developments in Japan explores a bottom-up urban design development of Sugamo Jizo-Dori in Tokyo Japan.

Urban Design: Sugamo Jizo-Dori, Tokyo

Sugamo Jizo-Dori is a shopping street in the North East of Tokyo. Originally Sugamo Jizo-Dori, Tokyo attracted older people through the existence of a statue said to heal ailments. From this, a whole specialised district has emerged with shops, services and restaurants that cater to older people.

The street is on a completely level plane and between 3-6pm weekdays (12-6pm weekends) it is completely car-free. The shops lining the street range from fresh fruit and vegetable stalls to furniture, clothes and medicines. A wide range of services is available on the street making it a one-stop shop for things such as dentists, post offices, ATM machines, hairdressers, chemists, launderettes, nail salons. Free WiFi in the area makes the internet more accessible to people that may not have it at home.

Accessible routes

The route to Jizo-Dori from Sugamo metro station is completely undercover with no steps or ramps throughout the 500m route. Audio and visual traffic lights assist people to cross the two vehicular routes on the way to Jizo-Dori. The street is highly legible with entrance archways either end, a central square/park and intermediary seating areas with clear maps along the street. The shop owners decorate their shop fronts with plants, flowers and other items creating a personalised and interesting street to walk down.

Shopkeepers also provide benches and stools for passersby and are helpful to those in need, defined as ‘omotenashi’ (traditional Japanese ‘hospitality that stresses gentleness towards people and the environment’).


Helpful designs

Sugamo developed from the bottom-up, older people started to go there first and then shops, services and design followed. While the cultural context is completely different in Scotland, we do have areas that are already attractive to older people. We could identify these spaces and highlight them for targeted urban improvements. Sugamo is a great example of how public and private sectors can work together on a micro scale – shop keepers in such areas can be encouraged to provide seating and access to toilets that alleviates funding issues for local authorities, and while omotenashi might be a bridge too far, shopkeepers can also provide an informal support network. The implementation of limited car access during times of heaviest pedestrian use also creates a flexible planning solution that decreases the more problematic aspects of shared space.

About the author

Amber Roberts earned a doctorate from Manchester School of Architecture before practising as a landscape architect in Glasgow and the Cairngorms. In 2018 she was awarded the Mark Turnbull Travel Award from the Landscape Institute Scotland to travel to Sweden and Japan to learn more about urban design for ageing. Her interest in the subject stems from witnessing first-hand the limiting factor that (badly designed) environments played on her elderly grand-parents’ health in their later years. She has since conducted research in Europe, Asia and America and hopes to promote the benefits of age-friendly design in creating greater health equity.

Images: Explore the images in this slideshow. All photos by Amber Roberts

SERVICE: Town Centre Living Advice

A&DS is developing a design advice service on town centre living, initially looking at town centres as Caring Places for older people.

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