Government Response on Kyoto Tower Controversy / Changes in Townscape Policy (Part 2)

To continue with the previous blogpost, the Kyoto government had adopted a second phase of amendment for its townscape policies, which concerned restrictions on both the natural environment and urban core.

Phase 2: Societal consensus on the importance of townscape preservation and the development of tradition and modernity in Kyoto Townscapes

In 1969, the Kyoto government introduced the “Vision of the Development of Kyoto in the coming 20 Years”, which was the first long-term urban plan after the war. The plan highlighted the issue of striking a balance between conservation and development, the basic policy was “Conserving the north and developing the south” , which aimed to preserve the historical townscape and mountain views of three sides in the north, and develop the south. Furthermore, the areas along the mountains and rivers were designated as Landscape Conservation Area for the sake of preserving the natural environment. To protect an attractive environment and perspective view of the residential area and to improve the urban landscape that copes with the demand of new urban functions, the entire city was designated as Landscape Development Area. This was the first time for the city to manifest its urban landscape policy.

Conceptual map of Landscape Area based  on the “City Development Plan” in 1969
Conceptual map of Landscape Area based
on the “City Development Plan” in 1969

In 1970, an “International Symposium on the Conservation of Traditional Cultures in Kyoto and Nara” was held by UNESCO and the Agency for Cultural Affairs. The symposium suggested that Kyoto should undergo the parallel advancement of heritage conservation and historical districts development. Accepting the recommendation, Kyoto city government introduced another series of amendment to its urban landscape policy. Kyoto City Ordinance on Urban Landscape was enacted in 1972 as the first legislation that brought protection to various pieces of Kyoto’s fabric. This multifaceted law stipulated certain parts of the city as Aesthetic Areas, including urban districts and the city centre, to promote harmony between historical sites and the scenery around them. Also, it authorized the creation of special areas to maintain the architectural identities of particular neighborhoods, such as the Controlled Structure Area. The designated area is applied to the Aesthetic District to prescribe certain design features for any new construction. For these areas, any external construction work requires advance permission by the mayor’s office, which allows for the enforcement of strict controls over building heights, external design and color. In 1973, in response to the tall buildings endangering the urban landscape of Kyoto, more than half of Kyoto’s built-up urban core was stipulated as Areas of Special Control over Enormous Construction, in which the height of new buildings are normally restricted to 31m. Any higher construction , with 50 meters as the absolute limit, requires the mayor’s approval with recommendations concerning external design and color. These restrictions were imposed to prevent the repetition of the construction of tall image-building landmarks as the Kyoto Tower. The ordinance marked a wide consensus to preserve the whole city as such as a valuable historic place, and especially its unique placement of being visually surrounded by a horseshoe layout of natural mountains.

Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Historic Buildings and other areas for townscape and  landscape protection in Kyoto
Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Historic Buildings and other areas for townscape and
landscape protection in Kyoto

These series of amendment on Kyoto’s landscape policy displayed the government’s comprehensiveness to preserve urban scenes as a whole, the natural and the man-made artefacts, rather than conserving particular buildings or sceneries as individual objects. This new esteem for and rediscovery of the traditional townscape has to be seen in the broader context of growing regard and consideration for urban design, human- scale architecture and traditional as well as modern amenities in urban planning.

Christoph Brumann,Tradition, Democracy and the Townscape of Kyoto: Claiming a Right to the Past ( New York: Routledge, 2012), 57-58

Christoph Brumann, Urban Spaces in Japan: Cultural and Social Perspectives. (New York: Routledge, 2012), 54-55,70

Konomi Ikebe, “A Study about the Japanese landscape law including cultural landscape and Historic City Preservation and Restoration Act”, Hort Research No.66 1-9 (2012), accessed December 18, 2016

Uta Hohn, Townscape Preservation in Japanese Urban Planning, The Town Planning Review Vol. 68, No. 2 (Apr., 1997), pp. 213-255, accessed December 18, 2016

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