Urban Transformation

What’s behind Tokyo’s massive redevelopment?

Tokyo's massive reconstruction project coincides with a timely need to restore old buildings and earthquake preparedness.

Tokyo's massive reconstruction project coincides with a timely need to restore old buildings and prepare for earthquakes. Image: Unsplash/Mike Hsieh

Naoko Tochibayashi
Communications Lead, Japan, World Economic Forum Tokyo
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This article is part of: Centre for Urban Transformation

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  • Large-scale redevelopment of Tokyo, Japan includes "once-in-a-century" plans around popular neighbourhoods, high-rise buildings, new transport links and disaster preparedness.
  • The plans surrounding Tokyo's uplift have considered the capital's growing pockets, geological forecasts and time-tabled reconstruction.
  • Urban redevelopment should also take into account the changing nature of urban living and lifestyles and accommodate the new normal in major cities like Tokyo.

Tokyo is in the midst of large-scale redevelopment that includes plans pegged as a “once-in-a-century” undertaking.

The construction sites are stretched out throughout the city including Shibuya, a pop-culture hub; the Tokyo Station area near the Imperial Palace; the Toranomon or Azabudai area, where offices and residences will coexist; and the waterfront area, which hosted the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, all of which are stretched throughout the city.

Why Tokyo is redeveloping now

There are several reasons why Japan’s capital is changing at such a dizzying pace. While the lifecycle of a building constructed with reinforced concrete could last between 68 years to 150 years, depending on the finishing material and method, legally the number of years the structure will remain useful as a fixed asset is set at 47 years.

Also, office buildings that were constructed during the booming economy in the latter half of the 1980s or the “bubble economy” are now due for reconstruction. Most importantly, office buildings with old earthquake resistance standards need to be reconstructed. There is also a need for disaster-prevention redevelopment in response to lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred in 2011.

Rush to construct high-rise buildings

In Shibuya, eight major office and commercial developments with high-rise buildings will occur between 2023 and 2029 and specifically the area surrounding the station, scheduled for completion in 2027.

Sakura Stage in Shibuya, a 39-story building complex, will be completed in the fall and commercial facilities are to open by the summer of 2024.

Masashi Okada, president of Tokyu Land Corporation, which is handling the project, says, “The area around the station is in the final stage of redevelopment and Shibuya will become a place where people from all walks of life can easily visit.”

In the Toranomon area, about six kilometres from Shibuya, Mori Building Company has announced the opening of Toranomon Hills Station Tower in the fall of 2023. The skyscraper, developed with the Toranomon Hills subway station, will have 49 floors above ground and four below, standing approximately 266 metres high. The three towers already completed will provide offices, a hotel, commercial facilities and a centre for information dissemination, with a total development area of approximately 800,000 square metres.

Shingo Tsuji, president of Mori Building Company, says, “This is not a simple reconstruction of a building but a redevelopment project integrated with an unprecedentedly large-scale urban infrastructure.”

People’s lifestyles and ways of working have changed dramatically as a result of digitization and the experience with COVID-19, leaving working-from-home a standard practice.

Naoko Tochibayashi, Public Engagement Lead, World Economic Forum

Public transportation central to plans

Public transportation also plays a major role in urban redevelopment and Tokyo’s uplift. For example, Shibuya Station, with an average of 3.32 million boardings and disembarkations per day, is served by nine train lines from four companies and has been under construction since 2015 to make access to one of the busiest train stations in Tokyo more convenient. The scale of the project was vast and disrupted operations, using around 4,000 workers for 53 hours and 30 minutes.

The waterfront area, transformed by the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, is undergoing major changes. The former athletes’ village will be transformed into a huge condominium complex with approximately 12,000 residents, scheduled to open in March 2024. A redevelopment project is also underway at the former site of the Tsukiji Fish Market, which covers about 23 hectares.

Since the population in these waterfront areas will likely keep growing, the Tokyo Metropolitan government announced the development of a new subway system. The estimated project cost for the development is ¥420-510 billion, equivalent to approximately 10% of Tokyo’s annual revenue, expected to be profitable within 30 years of its opening envisioned for 2040. A connection from the subway to Haneda Airport is also being mused to strengthen international competitiveness further.

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100 years into the future

Redevelopment on this scale has its challenges. People’s lifestyles and ways of working have changed dramatically due to digitization and the experience with COVID-19, leaving working from home a standard practice.

The number of non-traditional office locations in Tokyo, such as shared offices and co-working spaces, has also skyrocketed and renting offices by the day has become an option for companies. Against this backdrop, there are questions around the demand for traditional office buildings and whether the new subway system would be as profitable as planned.

Even Tokyo, where the population has continued to grow, is expected to see its overall population decline by the mid-2030s. Some ask whether it is necessary to make such a huge investment now. In addition, let’s not forget that in the past, development has been changed or stalled; the opening of the new Toyosu market, which began construction in February 2014, was postponed from the original fall of 2016 to 2018, two years later.

The once-in-a-century redevelopment is an opportunity to make Tokyo a better place to live and even more attractive as a next-generation city that attracts companies and human resources from around the world. In addition, we must remember the magnitude-7 level earthquake expected to occur directly under the Tokyo metropolitan within the next 30 years. Disaster prevention functions of the city are, therefore, inevitable. It is expected that the city will be developed with an eye toward the next 100 years.

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