August 13, 2014 7:00 pm JST

Tokyo wants to use Olympics to help transform city

TOKYO -- Tokyo is preparing for dramatic changes in the buildup to the 2020 Olympics. And it wants to use these changes to define its future for generations to come.

     The Japanese capital plans to use the sports event as a launching-off point for crafting a future city that is clean, boasts cutting-edge environmental technologies and is full of business opportunities and tourist attractions.

     For this idea to succeed, it needs to be based on a clear and sustainable grand vision. But is Tokyo up to the task?

Powerful attractions

According to one blueprint for Tokyo's transformation into a standard-bearer for urban ecology by 2020, Olympic athletes and officials would use hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles for transportation. Fuel cells would also provide power to houses, airports and markets in the capital.

     This plan was handed out at a meeting of senior engineers from major Japanese makers of cars, electronics and other products on July 30. These members comprise an expert council that advises the Tokyo Metropolitan Government on how to turn the city into a hydrogen-powered society.

      The panel will discuss such targets as having 200,000 fuel-cell-powered vehicles and 1 million households equipped with fuel cells in Tokyo.

     There are also more details emerging for the new "Olympics road" to support the influx of fuel-cell cars. The partially completed road will eventually connect the Toranomon area in central Tokyo, which is near the U.S. Embassy, with the waterfront, which will be home to most of the Olympic facilities.

     Towering over the road is Toranomon Hills, a skyscraper complex that opened in June. The main tower is the tallest building in Tokyo and houses Hyatt's first Andaz luxury boutique hotel in Japan, as well as a large international conference hall.

     Shingo Tsuji, CEO of Mori Building, the developer that operates the complex, is enthusiastic about the business outlook of the complex. "We will attract people, goods and money from around the world," Tsuji said.

Flaws in the jewel

Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe has pledged to make Tokyo the No. 1 city in the world by the time of the Olympics. This is a highly ambitious goal, considering Tokyo has consistantly been ranked fourth -- following London, New York and Paris -- in the Global Power City Index compiled annually by the Institute for Urban Strategies of the Mori Memorial Foundation.

     Tokyo ranks high under many criteria, but comes up short for its market attractiveness and international transportation network. But Tokyo is working to fix these flaws. 

     The Japanese government has designated central Tokyo as a special zone for bold deregulation under its new strategy for economic growth. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has crafted a plan to make Tokyo one of the world's top financial centers.

     Haneda Airport, which is much closer to central Tokyo than Narita Airport, has already increased its number of international slots. 

     New railway lines are also in the planning stages that would better connect Haneda to central parts of the capital, including East Japan Railway's Haneda Airport access line that would run on a currently unused freight line and the kama kama line linking the Tokyu Tamagawa Line with the Keikyu Airport Line.

     There will be an estimated shortfall of 10,000 hotel rooms during the Tokyo Olympics.

     Marriott International plans to open in Tokyo a luxury hotel under a brand that has yet to come to Japan. Hotel Okura Tokyo, which is also near the U.S. Embassy, will remodel its main building by 2019.

Beyond just two weeks

While Tokyo is awash in redevelopment projects, some experts are worried about the lack of a "grand design" for the city's future that can tie together this mishmash of public and private projects.

     The main argument is that a comprehensive, integrated development strategy is needed to effectively and efficiently distribute the limited resources needed for all these plans.

     In the years leading to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, political heavyweight Eisaku Sato served as the state minister in charge of the event. Two weeks after the Olympics, Sato became prime minister.

     The government should create the new cabinet post of minister in charge of Olympics-related projects, who would have the power to coordinate and prioritize projects, says Hiroo Ichikawa, dean at the Professional Graduate School of Governance Studies at Tokyo's Meiji University.

     In July, the Platinum Society Research Association, led by Mitsubishi Research Institute, called for greater emphasis on the urban planning legacies of the Olympics for future generations. The association stressed the need of creating a system to attract private-sector funds to finance Olympics-related projects.

     Many experts also argue that the 2020 Olympics should be regarded as just one landmark in Tokyo's quest to become a city that sets global trends and standards for urban development in the future.

(Nikkei)