SPECIAL vol.7 Attending the Sanriku Region “Machizukuri” Symposium
by Voices from the Field Admin - Tuesday, 27 March 2012, 10:52 PM


Atsushi Teratani,
Member of the Japan Association for Promoting
Zero-to-One Community Vitalization

I wonder
who will represent the voices of residents in reconstruction,
who will be able to achieve “machizukuri” for the people
that will live in the reconstructed communities?

 On December 15th, 2011, I served on the panel of the Sanriku Region Machizukuri Symposium, which was open to the public, at Iwate University in Morioka City. What I mean by “machizukuri” is citizen-led participatory community vitalization, although this term tends to be more widely used to mean citizen-involved community vitalization, which is commonly practiced in Japan. Rather confusingly, it is often used by government officials to refer to a government-led approach to community vitalization in which citizens are participants. To my great regret this was exactly what I found most of the speakers from the public sector meant by “machizukuri” at this symposium. On the whole, the symposium made me question who will actually listen to the opinions of residents. My concern became deeper and deeper as the meeting went on.

 The National Government decided to allocate 1.5 trillion yen for reconstruction grants in the third supplementary budget. Among the projects eligible for these grants, three types of projects are core: “Relocation of Communities”, “Land Readjustment” and “Development of Tsunami Recovery Bases.” The reconstruction planning will mainly be carried out combining these three core projects.

 The Iwate Prefectural Government has set up the goal of “Multi-layered Disaster Prevention” in its Basic Reconstruction Plan. The aim is to develop disaster-resistant communities where lives will never be lost to a tsunami again. This would be accomplished by, for example, elevating land surfaces, constructing high-rise evacuation buildings, and offering disaster prevention education. However, the municipalities along the coast face the common problem of staffing shortage. Although reconstruction projects will move into high gear in the next fiscal year, an administration official admitted the expected shortfall of hundreds of personnel with specialized knowledge in community planning as well as of professionals who can provide physical and mental care for the citizens affected by the disaster.

 According to the plan, twelve coastal municipal governments in Iwate Prefecture are supposed to execute the reconstruction plan. Those municipal governments, however, lost 20 percent of their staff in the tsunami, and are currently fully occupied with their routine work. Under such conditions, I could not help but wonder who could implement the reconstruction budget properly, and who will consider the needs of the residents at the same time.

 I believe that local autonomy should be composed of both “government autonomy” and “resident autonomy”; the proactive autonomy of each community could be achieved only by a successful collaboration of the two. After all, it is the residents that will keep on living in the area. Consequently, the residents should play a lead role in the community.

 Let me go back to my initial question about who will promote “machizukuri,” which reflects the views of local people who will continue living in the area. If a “community” is developed leaving every decision to consultants, who are said to be experts in town planning and “machizukuri”, a question arises: Who will feel attached to such a town, and who will be able to feel proud of their town, or feel any sense of ownership? In a few years, these areas may look fully recovered in terms of its appearance and facilities, but will actually suffer the challenges of the time; depopulation, aging, and low birthrate. Taking these factors into consideration, it will be difficult to achieve real reconstruction and redevelopment of communities, if the current approach used by decision-making bodies remains unchanged. I hope that the communities will be redeveloped by the initiative of the residents.

  Besides attending the symposium, I went to see the disaster-stricken site in Taro District, Miyako City, on the following day. The sight left me speechless. The town was totally devastated. On the hillside, an entire graveyard, where the residents paid respect to their ancestors, remained as it had been. I thought of the residents’ spiritual bond with their ancestors and the long stretch of time over which generations had lived there. I strongly wish that, whatever it takes, these people will build back a town that can be handed down to their descendants for years to come.

Picture of Sharon Corologos
Re: SPECIAL vol.7 Attending the Sanriku Region “Machizukuri” Symposium
by Sharon Corologos - Wednesday, 23 May 2012, 10:58 AM


I very much appreciated reading Teratani-san's analysis of the rebuilding needs that are ahead. He makes a strong case for resident involvement in the planning. Experts are important, to be sure, but not more important than the displaced citizens.

How do the affected people ever recover? I imagine myself, my family.... torn out of my home.... never to be able to again live on the land I own, sleep in the bed that was my mother's, eat at the table that has been in my family for generations. It's a grave financial loss, to be sure, but it's a greater emotional loss.

The Japanese people are known to be resilient. But some individuals will need support for a long time. We aren't all alike in personal emotional strength. We need encourage all disaster victims to be active in their own recovery.... to take part in all plans for their future. That will be the best way to tie the past to the future.

Picture of el joma
Re: SPECIAL vol.7 Attending the Sanriku Region “Machizukuri” Symposium
by el joma - Wednesday, 23 May 2012, 10:57 AM


Hello to all. smile.

Reading Mr. Teratani's reflections above made me recall some insights I gained during my involvement in some government-led development projects back in my home country (The Philippines). Using ODA monies, income-generating projects for the poorest families were to be initiated at the community-level. Inevitably the question of ownership/stake by the beneficiaries of the project became a central issue of sustainability and long-term impact, as Mr. Teratani highlights in the case above.

But then other equally compelling views came into the discussion -- and these are what I would like to share with the VfF team.

In the Philippine case where the poorest communities may be unorganized (as the primary concern of the residents is just day-to-day survival) -- and thus may not have a mechanism, an organization through which their Machizukuri may find its voice -- should development funding be then withheld until they are ready to "lead" its implementation? In other words, which is the greater goal: guaranteeing sustainability or getting food on the table?

I find myself asking then -- on the Iwate case as narrated by Mr. Teratani -- were the grassroot community organizations at the community level through which their Machizukuri could find expression still intact after the destruction wrought by the tsunami? By intact I mean, did the core officers luckily escape with their lives? In those areas where the tsunami erased even community organizations by taking with it its members, then which now is the higher value: still Machizukuri/citizen-led reconstruction or just getting the reconstruction started as fast as possible in any form (i.e.Machizukuri/citizen-involved) ?