Vision design for the next generation of city planning with emphasis on utilization of local resources

When Tokyu Corporation's Department for Urban Development looked at Futako Tamagawa, they saw people leading a lifestyle unlike anywhere in central Tokyo. Their company had spent 30 years redeveloping the area, which now combined space for people to both live and work. The sight convinced them that future cities should be constructed as a network of self-sufficient centers. To help them create a new city development vision, they chose a nontraditional approach: design thinking.


Created a future vision for the area that utilizes its strengths and unique characteristics

Used infographics and visual scenes help envision the ideal future for the Tama River area

Tested the vision’s viability through a teaser website

Vision Design



Communication Design


To optimize use of existing local resources for new urban development.

What BIOTOPE did

Formulated a development vision and a strategy for innovation and implementation of new working styles in the Tama River area.


Ideas were translated from theory into action, and then expanded into a large-scale plan involving city authorities and businesses.

Otoya Kobayashi

Tokyu Corporation, Assistant Manager for Planning in the Business Division at the Department for Urban Development
Kobayashi was born in Tokyo in 1980, and is a graduate of Waseda Business School. After studying urban planning at Tsukuba University Graduate School, he joined Tokyu Corporation, where he took part in everything from planning, development and eventually the operations of the Shibuya Hikarie retail complex. In 2014 he went on to work on social experiments and events employing new technologies and public spaces, such as segway tours and art events, as part of the town planning project that followed the completion of the Futako-Tamagawa Rise complex. Currently leads TAMA X, which thinks up new styles of living and new kinds of commercial activity in the Tama River area.

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.

Did we create lasting change?

The effort that created the Tama River area development vision has spawned discussions in the Tokyu Corporation across department lines, about future city planning in the Tama Denentoshi area. By assembling a diverse team of young and passionate members, Tokyu has taken one more step towards sustainable city building.

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