Sustainable pasts: Turning back to find the future in Kyoto, Japan
(Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle)
Paper short abstract:
Kyoto was subject to intense modern redevelopment but citizen protest led to a new planning regime seeking links with the rich history, supported by most residents. The paper explores the contradictions of the respective social process and of current appropriations of local traditions by newcomers.
Paper long abstract:
For a city living off its reputation as the stronghold of history and tradition, Kyoto has seen quite a bit of contention over its built environment, with modernist planning and high-rise construction increasingly transforming the city through the 1980s and 1990s. Citizen protest facilitated intense debate so that with national legislation changing, Kyoto City revised its planning policies in the 2000s. Kyoto specificity was reinterpreted as a positive value and the future of the city came to be sought in linking up with its rich history, such as by restoring the traditional town houses and using their designs in new buildings. Since then, tourism has skyrocketed, construction and real estate did not enter the predicted slump, population decline ended, and sworn critics of the new planning regime are nowhere to be found. The paper will show that the social process was nonetheless contradictory: civil society groups were indispensable for kicking off the debate but despite the city administration's professed commitment to participatory approaches, key decisions were taken in a fairly top-down mode. And the new supporters of traditionality are often those who lack own roots in Kyoto's past, so that "vicarious tradition" becomes a major force in the city's ongoing regeneration.