February 19, 2013


Historic Local Community Pathways in Japan Help Protect Green Spaces from Developers

Keywords: Civil Society / Local Issues Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.125 (January 2013)

A key word used worldwide in the context of sustainable society is the concept of "community." Among the various perspectives about what makes a community is the idea and management of the "local commons," which will likely attract more attention in the future. Today, we introduce the Japanese term "rido." It refers to the traditional, historic paths that run through communities. These paths are known and used by locals, but not covered under the Japanese Road Act. They are an example of the local "commons," as described in the article "Rido ga ninau kyoteki ryoiki" (translated as "Rido Serving as Common Territory"), by Associate Professor Rui Izumi of Senshu University School of Economics (part of the book "Local Commons no Kanosei" or "The Potential of Local Commons" published by Mineruva Shobo Co. in 2010). For ease of reading, in this article we will refer to these "rido" as "pathways." In Japanese, the character for "ri" means village, and "do" means path or road.


Significance of Pathways

People have always had close ties with local pathways. Emerging when human activities first began, they have changed their shape along with the development of society. Since long ago, the pathways in Japan were constructed by local residents for the convenience of the community, such as for linking houses together and providing paths for going out to hunt and collect food. They were created mostly before the Meiji Era (1868-1912), when the modern scheme of land ownership was established. The pathways were not used or managed exclusively by any individual, but were freely used by residents and jointly maintained by the community. But now, most pathways have lost their functions or have become roadways, while their users, maintainers, and owners have grown apart from each other, and a separation has emerged between rights and obligations.

While wide roads, mainly built for automobiles, segment communities as a kind of boundary line, pathways promote relationships within a community as spaces where people walk, stand, and talk with each other and where children play. They create unique spaces together with the design and forms of roadside buildings, outdoor benches, potted plants, rows of trees, and even wild vegetation.

The pathways were originally constructed and maintained jointly by community members. Such community work, as well as other work on common land, helped strengthen community bonds. The bonds are based on links between people, between communities, or between people and a community. The pathways are more than just a way to get from one place to another.

Recently, pathways have attracted attention from more people. Creating new and restoring old pathways has taken on new significance for residents who have become motivated to get involved with town planning and secure their access to natural green spaces in their community. Many municipalities enforce regulations that require the agreement of all owners of adjacent land when there is a proposal to destroy or change a pathway, which can help block the wanton destruction of "satoyama" (the community-managed woodlands or grasslands near human settlements). Even if a company buys mountain land, they cannot develop it however they wish, because they are not allowed to abolish or change the pathways without approval. Here we outline the case of the Hiromachi green space in Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture, where protecting historic pathways was used as a means to prevent wanton urban development.

Protecting the Pathways Helps Prevent Over-exploitation of Land

The Hiromachi green space is about 60 hectares of satoyama consisting of forest, valley bottom, and a river system, located in the Koshigoe district in the western part of Kamakura City (an historic town famous for its many temples, about an hour south of Tokyo by train). In the old days, it was called "Tsumura-no-yama" (Mountain of Tsumura), where people engaged in agriculture or forestry until the mid 1960s. When the paths on both sides of the valley bottom or ridges were damaged by heavy rains, people concerned about the mountain would work together to repair or improve them. However, since the late 1960s, the forest fell into disuse and was left to grow wild. In 1970, the Hiromachi green space as a landscape area reached a turning point when it was designated an "urbanization promotion area," meaning it would be opened up to residential development.

In 1978, once becoming aware of the development project planned for the Hiromachi green space, local citizens began waging a campaign of strong opposition. The Shin-Kamakura-Yama Community Association, in a new residential area near the green space, gathered more than 60,000 signatures on a petition against the project and submitted them in 1983 to then-mayor of Kamakura City, Isao Nakanishi. The next year, the surrounding eight community and neighborhood associations (representing about 4,500 households) formed a new group, the Kamakura no Shizen wo Mamoru Rengokai (Association to Protect the Nature of Kamakura), which started to play a central role in this movement. Kamakura's mayor and the deputy chairman of the city council joined the local people for a public meeting in 1985, and the movement spread all over the city.

In 1989, Kamakura Mayor Nakanishi approved development of part of the district under the banner of achieving urban development based on conservation of green spaces, which again evoked a sense of urgency. In 1993, however, mayoral challenger Ken Takeuchi, who promised to preserve the green areas, was elected as the new mayor and led the city to change its fundamental policy to preserve green spaces, and in 1997, the Kamakura City Green Preservation and Creation Ordinance was approved. In 1998, the association inaugurated the Kamakura Hiromachi Midori no Trust (Kamakura Hiromachi Green Trust) for the city and its citizens to aid them in employing various strategies to hamper development plans. In September 2000, when the Kamakura City Council adopted an act to preserve the Hiromachi green space as an urban forest, the city made a proposition to buy the land from the major developers (Toda Co., Hazama Co, and Yamaichi Tochi Co.).

In October 2002, the three companies abandoned their development plan and reached a basic agreement with Kamakura to sell the land to the city. In December 2003, the city and other public authorities bought it for 11.3 billion yen (U.S.$127 million), with contributions from Kanagawa Prefecture of 2 billion yen (about $22.5 million), 2 billion yen (about $22.5 million) from Japan's federal government, 3.5 billion yen (about $39 million) from the Kamakura City Green Space Preservation Fund, and 3.8 billion yen (about $43 million) from the city of Kamakura. The land became publicly owned, making a long-term preservation scheme possible, and the rest of the land owned by other parties had been almost entirely bought up publicly by February 2006.

This is the history of the development issues surrounding the Hiromachi green space. So how were the historic pathways treated? A public map from 1898 shows a network of red lines indicating the location of the pathways in the area of what is now the Hiromachi green space. When the area was used for agriculture or forestry, the pathways were naturally used on a daily basis, and periodically repaired and improved. However, with the deterioration of the green space, they were integrated into the surrounding area and lost their traditional uses. Afterward, the battle with developers began and the existence of the pathways was forgotten.

In 1991, a few citizens around the area formed the Association to Protect Hiking Trails, thinking it important to not only campaign against development but also directly campaign to preserve the green space. Although the green space itself was owned by the developers, which prevented members from entering the area, the pathways were still there, untended, and so they cut the long grass to search for and restore them. A conflict with developers was unfolding at the time, but this conservation activity drew little attention and continued quietly.

The story of the pathways took a new turn in 1998. The then-mayor of Kamakura, Ken Takeuchi, used the pathways as a policy strategy. Takeuchi met with the developers in October 1998, and told them that the city would not sell 24 routes of pathways, with a total length of six kilometers, in the area to be developed, nor exchange them for new roads. Without selling or exchanging, land development would be difficult because of the web of pathways remaining in the area.

In December that year, the mayor proposed a plan to build footpaths to promote citizens' health by restoring the pathways, which had lost their original function, and extend them to the old city of Kamakura and Ofuna. The plan, however, was received unfavorably by the city council, as well as by anti-development residents who were calling for the total restoration of the Hiromachi green space. This is because the mayor stated that the plan was not for protecting the green space from development, and also because he had not conducted any advance consultation with the city council and citizens, despite him saying the paths were for citizens' use. Takeuchi's proposal, however, was not just a spur-of-the-moment idea.

Mayor Takeuchi was actually against the development of the Hiromachi green space, since he had won the election on the pledge to preserve three major green areas in Kamakura, including the Hiromachi green space. Legally speaking, however, it was difficult to continue rejecting an application for the development of the green space, because it was located in an area zoned for urbanization. In addition, the developers put pressure on the city in February 1998, saying that they would sue for damages unless the city lifted the freeze on administrative procedures for granting the land development permit. So, the city gave them notice of conducting a pre-assessment of the development. Takeuchi's intention was to legally slow down the process of the development using the pathways as a strategic shield, leaving aside the question of whether he would actually build footpaths or not.

After Takeuchi retired as mayor, he stated that there were only three ways to block the development plans: (1) argue that the development is unconstitutional based on the provision of paragraph 2 of Article 29 of the Constitution, which stipulates that property rights shall be restricted for the sake of public welfare; (2) exploiting loopholes in the law; and (3) strongly advocate for corporate social responsibility to discourage developers. In the case of the Hiromachi green space, Takeuchi used approach (2) as mayor of Kamakura, and citizen activists used (1) and (3), to try to put the developers in a tight spot legally.

Takeuchi's plan to build walking paths for citizens was abandoned in October 1999. Around that time, a citizen-led group focused on restoring the pathways started working separately from the Association to Protect Hiking Trails. Takahiro Ikeda, then-representative of the Association of Kamakura Hiromachi-no-Mori Lovers, a group of citizens from outside the area, believed that community paths are common assets shared by local residents, like common land; thus it should not be allowed for developers to infringe on them.

Based on his belief, Ikeda not only opposed the housing development but also launched an initiative, Mononofu-no-Michi Groundwork Trust, in order to restore the long-forgotten communality of the pathways by repairing and reusing them. Volunteers cut grass, cleared fallen trees, and put up signposts. The restored paths were named "Mononofu no Michi" (literally meaning "paths of the samurai" in Japanese), and are now loved by the community. Since May 2009, another civic group supporting walking paths, Sansakuro no Kai, has been working to maintain the pathways, with support from the Association to Protect Nature of Kamakura and the non-profit organization Kamakura Hiromachi-no-Mori Civic Council.


This is one example of an initiative to prevent over-exploitation and to protect green space through the process of a struggle by local people to restore local pathways. In the future, we will keep watching and report more cases on the concept and management of the "local commons" in Japan.

Written by Junko Edahiro