Japan tsunami shapes future of community
An underpass cuts into a mountain in Higashimatsushima, leading to a flurry of construction activities, but it's not the usual dust-billowing, heavy-equipment-whirring-type scene.
It is more like Lego blocks going up geometrically - a sign of a landscape being developed to house a community that is sustainable, environmentally friendly, and, hopefully, more humane.
"The development of the Eco Town model was in consultation with all the stakeholders," informed Shuya Takahashi, director of Revival Policy at the Revival Planning Division, Higashimatsushima City Office.
"We had extensive meetings with citizens - officials of the city government, local chamber of commerce, major companies," he added.
City officials also met with schoolchildren and took note of their recommendations.
"Their inputs matter the most," said Takahashi. "After all, we are doing all of this for them and the generations to come."
Development of the new Higashimatsushima urban space is born out of the Japanese government Future City Initiative (FCI) of 2011, which seeks to create cities that are not only eco-friendly, but people-friendly, too.
This translates to dealing with resource and energy constraints, global warming, and addressing the needs of an ageing society.
The goal, according to the FCI mandate, is to solve problems faced both in Japan and around the world by establishing more sustainable social and economic systems and restoring a sense of social connectedness.
"Our aim," Takahashi said, "is to ensure no one is isolated, and there is a community that is looking out for each other and (with) facilities like hospitals, supermarkets, (and) schools that are easy to reach."
Post the 2011 tsunami in Japan, the urban landscape of Higashimatsushima has changed, with low-lying areas converted to public parks or agriculture land and dwellings now located in elevated areas. These communities have a mix of individual town houses and apartment blocks.
"This mix ensures that the bigger buildings, which are close to individual housing complexes, can be converted as shelters in the event of a natural disaster," Takahashi said.
Renewable energy forms the backbone of these emergent communities, with solar energy used extensively as communities house battery storage units that double as emergency power supply units for hospitals and schools in the event of an outage.
"During our discussions, independent power sources were recommended, which has led to the development of a model renewable energy district," Takahashi informed.
Kizuna Solar Park, near the Pacific Ocean sea-face, is one such initiative, with solar panels stretching over a vast expanse and having the capacity to power 600 households annually.