The City-Technology Relationship in Japan

Special Report: Large Public Facilities
By Éric Baye

Based in part on the results of a research carried in 2001 on technological projects and the Japanese city, this paper starts by recalling the strong relation between the Japanese society and technics - and later technology. Since the nineteenth century, this relation affects cities and urban networks. This is even more true since the 1960s and the city-technology relation has gained a new economic dimension as the interest of large financial, technological and utility companies for urban projects rose. The paper discusses two specific forms of development of the city-technology relation. The first relates to the mega urban complexes, built especially around train stations or in coastal areas, and stimulated by the development of the telecommunications industry. These projects echo the transformations of the Japanese society confronted to post-industrialization and stake on the expansion of an unrefrained consumerism of goods and leisure. The second form of development of the city-technology relation has to do with the urban utopias that have flourished in Japan since the 1970s and that were stimulated by the period of prosperity in the 1980s. The paper examines two of those utopias in detail: compact cities with their “hyper buildings,” and floating cities (the Mega float project). The paper concludes that these developments, mega projects or urban utopias, cannot be seen solely as the whims of a nation convinced that economic growth will be eternal. The hopes placed in the city-technology relations are embedded in profound cultural features of the Japanese society. Be there a crisis or not, the archipelago should therefore remain a privileged milieu of urban imagination.

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