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3 years since Japan’s disaster - communities remain scattered and suffering

03 June 2014 Taylor & Francis

Planning Theory and Practice’s Interface on the ongoing problems of rebuilding communities in Japan after the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

While western eyes are focused on the ongoing problems of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor site, thousands of people are still evacuated from their homes in north-eastern Japan following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency.  Many are in temporary accommodation and frustrated by a lack of central government foresight and responsiveness to their concerns. 

With the exception of the ongoing problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, outside of the Tohoku region of Japan, the after effects of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, and the subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster, are no longer front page news. The hard work of recovery is the everyday reality in the region, and for planning schools and consultants across the country the rebuilding of Tohoku dominates practice and study.

But while physical reconstruction takes place, progress is not smooth. Many victims of the disasters and members of the wider public feel that the government is more interested in feeding the construction industry than addressing the complex challenges of rebuilding sustainable communities.  This is a region that was already suffering from the challenges of an ageing population, the exodus of young people to Tokyo and the decline of traditional fisheries-based industries. In the worst cases people are facing the invidious choice of returning to areas that are still saturated with radioactive fallout or never going home.

The frustration is reflected in four short pieces in Planning Theory and Practice’s Interface Section from architecture, design and planning practitioners working with communities in four different parts of Tohoku.

Christian Dimmer, Assistant Professor at Tokyo University and founder of TPF2 - Tohoku Planning Forum which links innovative redevelopment schemes in the region says:

“The current Japanese government’s obsession with big construction projects, like mega-seawalls that have already been shown to be not likely to be effective, is leading to really innovative community solutions being marginalized, the voices of communities being ignored, and sustainability cast aside.”

According to community planner and academic, Kayo Murakami – who edits this Interface section:

“The troubles of the Tohoku reconstruction are not just a concern for Japan. They highlight some of the fundamental challenges for disaster recovery and building sustainable communities, in which people are really involved, all over the world.”

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