The Neutral City – Neutrality of Infrastructure

Modernization in Hiroshima in pre-war and post-war periods are both centered on infrastructural development. However, the motives behind the two periods should be differentiated. In this article, I would argue that the post-war modernization with respect to infrastructure is due to its inherent neutrality, and such development even become an aesthetic regime in the post-war Hiroshima.

 

Immediately after the bombing of Hiroshima on 8:15 am on 6th August, 1945, restoration of major infrastructure, like roads, bridges, railways, electrical and water services began. The importance of infrastructure could be manifested in modern cities. These infrastructure has played an extremely crucial role in post-war relief works, medical and sanitary activities. Major infrastructural recovery timetable could be summarized as follow (Ito, 2015):

 

6 August (am) Clearance of arterial roads by army and civil guards
6 August (pm) Recovery of train from Hiroshima to Saijo
7 August Recovery of Ujina line between Hiroshima and Ujina
Danbara Transformer Substation was repaired to serve Ujina, next to military establishment and Hiroshima station
8 August Recovery of the trunk line Sanyo line between Osaka and Fukuoka
9 August Recovery of Geibi Line, between Hiroshima and its northeastern suburbs
Recovery of street cars of 1.5 km away from Hiroshima city center
18 August Recovery of Kabe lin, between Hiroshima and its northwestern suburbs

 

The Hiroshima Peace City Reconstruction Plan adopted in 1952 had two features that addressed the importance of infrastructure: (1) 100-meter wide east-west running boulevard, and (2) arterial road in grid pattern. As the post-war Japan suffered greatly from the legacy of the atomic bomb, a new symbol of rehabilitation was important to the Japanese and especially the Hiroshima citizens.

 

The 100-meter wide boulevard was once proposed to be constructed in 7 cities, namely Tokyo, Kawasaki, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe and Hiroshima, only Nagota and Hiroshima had turned out to realize the construction. Such construction, similar to Haussmannization in Paris, were embedded with various motives and had shown the attention shifted from individual heroic form of architecture to an urbanist perspective of the city.


Reconstruction of most Japanese cities including Hiroshima were base on (1) highly urgent emergency issues; and (2) “Basic Policy for the Construction of War-damaged Areas” adopted in December 1945. Facing financial difficulties and catastrophic destruction, “Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law” was enacted, which provided more national support to the city.

 

Much international and national attention were paid on reconstruction of Hiroshima. The plan was much based on the ideals at that time, i.e. late 1940s to 1950s. They had also widened the road from pre-war standard of around 22 meter to 36 to 40 meters; reserving more green space; and readjusting land to reserve space for infrastructure. We can infer that infrastructure was vital to cities at that time and infrastructure was recognized as a symbol of modernity and recovery. The 100-meter wide boulevard was planned as a major artery road of Hiroshima, thus its width would be beyond human scale.

 

The 100-meter boulevard is undoubtedly an important infrastructure that provides a solid foundation of modernization of Hiroshima. It connects the urban fabric of Hiroshima by brings about efficient transportation. More importantly, it becomes a new symbol of peace and modernization. The renowned cenotaph designed by Kenzo Tange might be significant as a architectural or aesthetic symbol, but in an urban scale, the urban fabric is much shaped by the 100-meter boulevard. It affects how the city is divided and connected, “the image of the city” as suggested by Kevin Lynch, and also people’s activities and behavioral patterns.

 

Ito, T. (2015). Reconstruction of Hiroshima Industry 1945-1960. 地域経済研究: 広島大学大学院社会科学研究科附属地域経済システム研究センター紀要, (26), 3-15.

石丸紀興. (2014). 広島は平和都市・平和記念都市として復興・展開してきたか. 日本都市社会学会年報, 2014(32), 25-44.

 

広島都市生活研究会. (1985). 都市の復興 : 広島被爆 40年史 [Reconstruction of Hiroshima : Pictorial history of forty years since atomic bombing]. 広島市: 広島市.

 

5 Comments on “The Neutral City – Neutrality of Infrastructure

  1. Boulevard can really make a huge impact on a city. The best example might be the Las Vegas Strip mentioned in lectures. Like this one in Hiroshima, it provides high efficiency for the drivers, and it is also an essential symbol, representing entertainment offerings and perhaps the whole image of Vegas. With giant billboards, lights and doppelganger of the world’s famous architecture and monuments along the Strip, it defines Las Vegas as a tourist and entertainment paradise. It also attracts architects all over the world, hoping to be part the creator of the Strip, MIT describes it as the architecture of American’s dream.

  2. The monumentality boulevard at the city centre does provide a focal point and directionality for the previously disoriented urban fabric. I agree that the boulevard does improve the efficiency of vehicles navigating within the city to a certain extent. Although in the context of post-war Japan the solution was not problematic at all, I would question if a boulevard is still a valid answer to the problem of traffic in the case of Asian cities nowadays. In terms of efficiency, dedicated highways can already support much higher volume than boulevards (which are segmented by traffic lights and intersections). A 100-metre wide boulevard, given its vast scale compared with pedestrian, creates a urban barrier between two sides as pedestrians can only cross the long crossing at certain intersections. Do boulevards still have its significance in determining a city’s image / efficiency?

    • Jason, maybe I should explain more about background of the design of 100-meter wide boulevard.

      Reconstruction of most Japanese cities including Hiroshima were base on (1) highly urgent emergency issues; and (2) “Basic Policy for the Construction of War-damaged Areas” adopted in December 1945. Facing financial difficulties and catastrophic destruction, “Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law” was enacted, which provided more national support to the city.

      Much international and national attention were paid on reconstruction of Hiroshima. The plan was much based on the ideals at that time, i.e. late 1940s to 1950s. They had also widened the road from pre-war standard of around 22 meter to 36 to 40 meters; reserving more green space; and readjusting land to reserve space for infrastructure. We can infer that infrastructure was vital to cities at that time and infrastructure was recognized as a symbol of modernity and recovery. The 100-meter wide boulevard was planned as a major artery road of Hiroshima, thus its width would be beyond human scale.

      To answer the question of human scale, efficiency, urban connections and mobility, we would certainly have other answers. You may be interested in looking into TOD, which stands for Traffic-Oriented Development. Automatic vehicles, alternative transport, shared bikes and many more options have been proposed. Note that they are responding to future context base on the present conception.

  3. Infrastructure was chosen as the tool to rebuild the city because of its neutrality – roads and railway for transportation of medical aids, food supply to guarantee the basic survival of her citizens – no one would question the motives of the Japanese government behind the reconstruction. Infrastructure – symbol of neutrality, speed and modernity – is an ideal tool to modernise Hiroshima.
    The 100-meter-wide boulevards were design by War Damage Reconstruction Agency, which were supposed to build throughout Japan, but eventually due to opposition by the locals, only one boulevard was built in Hiroshima, and two in Nagoya. Similar to Haussmann’s Boulevards in Paris, the boulevard acts as a tool to restructure the city fabric and thus giving order to the city, although some critics questioned the military use of boulevards as transporting troops. Nevertheless, in Japan, the people questioned the use of boulevards – why we need such a wide road? It is wide enough for planes to take off, or even battleship, aircraft, etc. Given that the post-war Japan is believed to be fully demilitarised, and under the supervision of SCAP, my inner doubt of the boulevards as a military tool melt away. In fact, I believe the reason why it is so spacious is to offer a safe environment for evacuation in case of natural disaster, as Hiroshima is always threatened by earthquake and tsunami.

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