I make no secret of my affection for Shimokitazawa (下北沢). I enjoy coming back again and again to see what’s new, what’s the same, and just absorb all of the great things that exemplify Tokyo’s walkable, livable and lovable transit oriented development. In the first volume of The Tokyo Project, I presented Shimokitazawa as an eight minute film and brief but detailed explanation of the neighborhood’s history and urban development issues at hand. I also wrote a separate post about the community celebration on the last night before the Odakyū Odawara Line switched to new underground tracks and disassembly work began on the grade level railroad crossings (fumikiri) that had helped define the neighborhood since the early 20th century. On this return visit, we accompany Dr Christian Dimmer as he leads Waseda University students on a walking lecture around Shimokitazawa, and observe the significant changes to parts directly affected by redevelopment following the change to the rail line.
Standing in the middle of the above ground Keiō Inokashira Line platform and looking north into Kitazawa, nothing seems amiss.
But move over to the east end and you can look down into the large pit where the old Odawara Line station building and platforms once stood, along with a large portion of an old market that came out with it.
The black fenced, vacant asphalt lot with orange cone was part of the Shimokitazawa Ekimae Shokuhin Ichiba (下北沢駅前食品市場), of which only a small section now remains.
The new station building and south exit is still under construction, though the ticket wicket is functional.
The new north exit replaces one that was around the corner and opened in front of the Daimaru Peacock.
The deep descent to the new Odawara Line platform is the most dramatic change.
The new south exit is much wider than its predecessor, which wasn’t much more than a flight of stairs that exited directly onto the street. A new ticket and IC card machine bank is outside to the left of the gate.
Down on the south side of the station, the Shimokitazawa Minamiguchi Shōtengai (下北沢南口商店街) is business as usual.
This was our meeting point for the afternoon walking class. The students are not urban planning majors, but this is an elective course designed to give an overview of planning and design concepts that would help one to be an engaged member of their own community with regard to these issues.
The first leg of the walk took us straight south, out of the shōtengai and deep in the Daizawa area. Just past the Daizawa Elementary School, a greenway runs across the middle of the municipality.
In Tokyo, there is a relationship between building heights and allowable road width increases.
This building was pointed out specifically as a concern. It’s height may open the door for widening the road, with consequences for the school and shopfronts that line it, as well as the residential neighborhoods behind.
Curving and narrow streets are often clues of the many streams and waterways that once weaved through Tokyo. As the city developed, many with filled in or at least covered over. A natural stream that once flowed through this area was one of those filled in. The one that now runs alongside this greenway is man-made, with water cycled through via pumps.
We walk east along the greenway before turning back north into residential blocks, passing Kitazawa Hachiman Jinja (北沢八幡神社).
The shrine offers parts of its grounds for use as public space. Just inside the main torii is a playground.
Up the street, Buddhist temple Shingan-ji (森巖寺) hosts a kindergarten.
We talk about gentrification and the short lifespan of Japanese housing stock. As older properties are sold, knocked down and replaced, some by high end condominium developers, these neighborhoods become less and less reachable for middle class buyers.
We head back up toward Shimokitazawa Station, skirting along the south and west of the shōtengai.
This is an informational flyer produced to help residents understand the changes that are happening to the neighborhood. Christian notes that, as well made as it is, it is still loaded up with complexity and technical detail that make it difficult to fully grasp for people who are not planners.
The walkway over the old Odawara Line platforms is still in place and allows a great overhead view of the construction. The space left by the right-of-way is one of the areas of greatest contention. The post World War II reconstruction plan for Shimokitazawa, still in force, called for the right-of-way to be converted to an arterial road in the event that Odakyū moved the line underground. Some residents and activists are concerned about the dramatic change to the character of the neighborhood that a traffic bearing road would bring, and question the relevance of applying such an old plan after so many years of organic development. The group Greenline Shimokitazawa proposes converting it into a greenway, in a similar way as Manhattan did with the High Line. The main argument for going through with the road is improved access for buses and emergency vehicles, and more expedient evacuation in the event of fire.
We wait for the Inokashira Line to pass at its fumikiri on the west end of the station, the only remaining crossing in the center of Shimokitazawa.
Things are so tight here, the edge of the street is up against the end of the platform. Narrow streets and intimate spaces is one of Shimokitazawa’s defining characteristics, which is why the prospect of an arterial road is so alarming to many.
We pass the site of the old station and Shimokitazawa Ekimae Shokuhin Ichiba on our loop up through the area on the north side of the tracks.
This indoor corridor of stalls is most of what’s left of that market.
These shōtengai are an important part of Shimokita’s place identity. Certainly, the neighborhood is much more than just the central shopping district. However, passing through the shōtengai on the way to a live house, to a tiny bar or bookstore on a quiet backstreet, or just home, is a shared experience that unites everyone who lives, works or plays here.
Traffic now flows freely through what was the largest and most centrally located crossing.
After the walk, we camp out in a cafe with a small event space to digest what we saw, talk about the multiple perspectives on the pending changes to Shimokitazawa, and think about how to apply the concepts learned to our own experiences. I certainly learned some new things about the neighborhood and took to heart Christian’s caution to apply a stakeholder approach, even when you think the solutions should be obvious. Cities are complicated things. It’s unlikely that any one person or group will have all the answers. Changes will always come, but having informed voices participating in the conversation gives the best chances for positive outcomes.
This post is part of The Tokyo Project, Volume 2. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.