Housing and Competition-Oriented Urban Policy in Post-Growth Japan
Yosuke Hirayama, Professor of Housing and Urban Studies, Graduate School of Human Development and Environment, Kobe University
The Japanese government has implemented urban regeneration as a key policy, placing special emphasis on the redevelopment of Tokyo. Within the context of economic globalization and ascending neoliberalism, international intercity competition in the East Asian region or the Global North has noticeably intensified. Japan has, however, long been undergoing unstable economic conditions since the property bubble burst in the early 1990s, leading to the view that the nation’s global competitiveness has waned. Moreover, the population of Japan, which began to decrease in the mid-2000s due to extraordinarily low fertility, will continue to decline with an accelerated rise in the proportion of elderly people. Demographic stagnation has combined with economic decline to transform Japan into a ‘post-growth society’. The government has therefore sought to re-galvanize the nation’s competitiveness by means of fueling the restructuring of Tokyo as a lever.
Within the framework of the developmental state, the Japanese government took the initiative in developing not only large cities but also smaller cities and rural areas. The equal and balanced development across regions with spatially redistributing resources was the primary focus of the post-war regional policy. The government has protected the economy of local communities through the allocation of public works and the system of financial transfer. However, post-bubble economic stagnation, intensified intercity competition and pervasive neoliberalism have effectively combined to lead to the reorganization of regional policy towards the Tokyo-centric approach. This has coincided with the government’s new policy oriented towards economic decentralization, encouraging provincial communities to become more self-sufficient. The allocation of public works and financial assistance from the central government has been substantially reduced, implying that the government no longer seeks to protect local economies evenly. The rise of the Tokyo-centric approach has represented a shift in the key principle of regional and urban policy from ‘development’ to ‘competition’.
A key argument is that the Japanese government’s new, aggressive policy orientated towards urban competition has combined with post-growth demographic and economic stagnation to widen spatio-economic disparities in people’s housing fortunes between Tokyo and the rest of the country, and within Tokyo itself. A number of large-scale residential projects has reinforced and reflected the booming economy of Tokyo, whereas provincial cities and rural areas have increasingly been confronted with economic decline. In addition, competition-oriented urban policy has created social, economic and spatial disparities within Tokyo itself. The growing investments in real estate have been concentrated on the city centre, accelerating the erection of many condominium towers. On the periphery of the city, however, the property market has been continuously declining with rising vacancy rates. Moreover, those on low incomes have increasingly faced difficulties in securing housing. This presentation focuses on changes in people’s housing conditions in post-growth Japan, with particular reference to competition-oriented regional and urban policy.