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  • Charles Kelley AIA

Tokyo Placemaking

Updated: 2 days ago

District Placemaking and Area Management: 2024 Tokyo Project Tour.

May 25 through May 29th, 2024.

ULI Asia Pacific delegation from Korea on a study tour of Nihonbashi Tokyo with our host from Mitsui Fudosan; Naruo Mukaiyama and Amito Hoshino.


Placemaking in Japan has a unique meaning and purpose. It is where national interests are aligned using urban design to promote social and economic goals in the design of neighborhoods that support resilient communities.  In other places around the world, one might refer to them as an Ecodistrict, Innovation District, Living Community, or a Just Community.  In each, they each provide the ability for the people who live and work together to sustain the vitality that supports business and community activities.  They also share outdoor public spaces with intensively planted gardens and canopy trees to provide comfort from the hottest or rainiest days of the year.  They sustain multigenerational communities and provide a refuge for them during unplanned disasters.  In Japan, urban design and placemaking support each other in the creation of neighborhoods with prosperity and resilience as a feature.

Green Urban Design LLC conducted a study tour of Japanese placemaking projects prior to the 2024 ULI Asia Pacific Conference.  A group of sustainable development aficionados visited the most successful urban neighborhoods in and around Tokyo. Each of the districts had a unique aim or outcome that attracted partners to regenerate economic activity and attract visitors to promote vitality.  The following is a summary of the unique features of each district and findings from the tour.



Nihonbashi name is derived from the Nihonbashi River bridge crossing marking the location of this historic commercial center. In English, the name Nihonbashi means "Japan's Bridge". This bridge is at the origination point of the five historic roads linking Kyoto, Tokyo, Nikko, and Shirakawa: connecting Japan’s commerce over the centuries.  At this important commercial center, the area has regenerated itself as a vibrant innovation district incubating international life science and aerospace research initiatives.  An operating agreement between a diverse group of diverse and interested groups in the neighborhood formed an entity to plans and makes investments in the district to promote business and innovation goals the stakeholders share. About Us | CO-CREATION CITY NIHONBASHI (

Plazas and pathways form a network of places connecting the district to services along a grid of streets in a dense mixed-use district.


This commercial office district is located between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace. Like other high density employment districts, it lacked activity when workers left the district. To counteract the malaise in pedestrian and communication activities a partnership agreement was formed to support a cooperative entity, Ligare, to improve streets so as to promote activities supporting business, conventions, and tourism.  This district has the highest commercial lease rates in Tokyo which disincentivizes housing development and the potential for a balance in residents to workers. Because there few residents, Ligare promotes public space programs that increase public space activation to sustain a business ecosystem serving cultural exchange, knowledge sharing, startups, and established companies.  Marunouchi/ Ligare

The streets and interior spaces are connected to form active grade level spaces.  The Street improvements are designed for pedestrians and are often closed for program events.


Originally conceived transit-oriented development bedroom community it has become a vital mixed-use district that achieves a sustainable and resilient community vision.  Buildings and open space improvements were planned via a third-party entity called the Urban Design Center Kashiwa-no-ha.  They gave directions on behalf of stakeholders who would benefit from coordinated planning, open space programing, cost sharing, energy management, and water use efficiency.  They did this by supporting innovation in business, research, and academia in the urban design of a neighborhood that regenerates nature and the economy through resilience investments that reduce carbon emissions. It is the largest LEED ND Platinum Plan Certified Smart City in the world.  Kashiwa-no-ha Smart City

The space between buildings is designed as a place for a community of business and residents in outdoor settings that manage stormwater, provides shade, and promotes outdoor activities supporting research and business innovation.  

Research labs, offices, classrooms, and retail services are connected along ground floor active use corridors.   


Residential and commercial uses are connected along an amenity rich corridor with covered spaces to expand seasonal outdoor activities.  This LEED ND certified neighborhood is also an intermodal hub connecting rail and bus systems.  It draws its activation from its mix of uses, the movement of people through space, and the activities of corporate employees who use the services in the area which are also used by the local residents.  Its robust public space activities, the co-working environments, and the amenities that are sustained create an active and vital mixed-use center for surrounding communities. Futakotamagawa Rise

 A linear development centered along an active pedestrian way connecting, at one end, a large park with residential towers, bus terminal, corporate offices, retail services, and with a rail station at its other end.

Azabudai Hills

Through a complex and inclusive property purchase and operating agreement, a large park space was created to support a large mixed-use development in Tokyo.  It’s open space system connects nearby mixed-use neighborhoods and has reoccurring community-oriented programs and activities throughout the year.  The experience of the space defined by the first 15 meters of each building is diverse and complements the presence of the tall towers and extensive retail ground level uses. Azabudai Hills

A green space connects adjacent neighborhoods to a central space where seasonal programs are staged as community focus for residents, commercial tenants, students, and retail shoppers.



The design and operation of these neighborhoods are represented by a coordinating entity that deploys good ideas through a sequence of priority public private projects.  This entity supports placemaking as improvements are made over time.  This entity is trusted with area management responsibilities to reduce risk to investments due to economic turbulence, natural disaster, or other unplanned disaster.


They all shared:

1.       A design that supports seasonal outdoor activities using trees, water management, and covered spaces to sustain economic development goals.

2.       A mix of uses with residents and workers supporting businesses and the activation of the public realm throughout the day, 

3.       A network of pathways and activity nodes across the neighborhood connected with nearby neighborhoods and other places. 

4.       An operating agreement that invites stakeholders to participate in meaningful programs that support community activities and business interests.  

5.       A third sector entity representing stakeholders in business, government, academia, and local community to plan and make improvements to enhance resilience and sustainability. 


This is exemplified in the Urban Design Center Initiative in Japan.  The Urban Design Center Kashiwa-no-ha was the first neighborhood to model and prove the value of such a third sector coordination entity in Japan.  This entity helps stakeholders promote good urban design solutions in the planning of transportation, land use, and environmental improvements that will afford placemaking of active public spaces to support each other in the creation of neighborhoods with community prosperity and resilience as a feature.


Japan’s approach to placemaking has inspired a regenerative urban design approach.  The most interesting projects use the activities located in the open space between buildings to support economic vitality and community activities which are connected along streets, pathways, and plazas.  This space is rich in water management, trees, and plantings that make attractive outdoor spaces for residents, workers, and visitors.  Its mixed-use buildings, ground level uses, and open space form a neighborhood scaled geospatial economy that promotes innovation in research, incubates business, promotes social mobility, and can regenerate itself after unplanned disasters.

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