What is special about life in the Tama River area?
The traditional model of city planning assumes that people commute from their homes in the suburbs to workplaces in the city center, but this needs to change. Each city center should be a self-sufficient unit that not only facilitates work, but also leisure. Tokyu Corporation has pioneered this transition through 30 years of redeveloping Futako-Tamagawa, a city area where people both live and work. We first encountered BIOTOPE at the conference TAMAGAWA OPEN MEET-UP, organized by the Creative City Consortium (a research organization where Tokyu Corporation is a board member). One of the many Futako-Tamagawa residents who lead a fulfilling lifestyle in this unique environment is Saso, who spoke about the value of living and working near the Tama River.
Creating a vision that people can empathize with
Traditional city planning usually conforms to a master plan devised by the city authorities, but in the future, this will not be enough. It will get harder and harder to attract people to an area without a targeted effort, and as the “inter-city competition” for people intensifies, the importance of raising the demand of an area will keep increasing. Since the number of potential areas for new development is decreasing, Tokyu Corporation came up with the idea of harnessing the existing resources of a region to redevelop them. We couldn’t use traditional methodologies for this, so we needed something new. The design thinking process aims to understand the user and figure out how to create create custom value for potential fans, and I sensed that this could be very useful in creating a future development vision.
Share your thoughts, and work towards implementing them
At the first brainstorming session, BIOTOPE summarized in a single drawing our thoughts on what we wanted to achieve over the next year. I was very impressed with how they managed to express our vague thoughts and ideas so intuitively. We wanted a map to get an overview of all the different things that were occuring in parallel, and this drawing visualized and clarified which actions will be crucial. Although we always knew what kind of change we wanted to create, we had never properly considered the perspective of residents and other affected groups. But through stakeholder analysis, trend research, field observations and citizen interviews, we were able to create a number of detailed scenarios, and thereby clarify and settle our strategy bit by bit.
Thinking while running along together
Starting from this drawing, our collaboration with BIOTOPE spawned several concrete ideas over the next three months, such as sending a someone to work by the riverside, or creating a special zone for flying drones. This process of learning and creating together felt exactly like “co-creation”, and was a refreshing experience. We always had an intuition for what kind of area we wanted to create, but we never put this intuition into words or tried to clarify what hurdles lay in the way of implementation. At each session, BIOTOPE gave us new homework that forced us to think hard about things like this, and I think we learned a lot from it.
Strategically turning lead users into accomplices
After creating a development vision, we discussed with BIOTOPE who we should reach out to. We decided to start by involving city authorities and businesses sensitive to social trends. That early decision allowed us to progress smoothly with the concept review process, which included copywriting, visual design and website prototyping. We launched a teaser page to get the reaction of experts, and their response proved to us that our vision has value. Giving the area a name and a unique character has allowed the Tama River area to attain a new significance. I view this as an accomplishment of design thinking. Honestly, the speed of progress was beyond my expectations.
Applying design thinking to future city planning
Building a new city on a blank sheet of paper isn’t actually very hard, but giving an existing city a unique character is. That is, unless you use the design thinking process to pick out local resources and listen to the opinions of local residents, and then carve out a personality from all of this. BIOTOPE also proposed making use of the new concept of a circular economy, which we found very meaningful. Another important point was starting out with researching the area’s history. Thanks to this experience, it reinforced my initial realization of how important a river is to the character of its surrounding area. Looking ahead, I believe that we can use the same methods we applied to the Tama River area to other river areas as well, such as the challenging Tama Denentoshi area.