Tokyo/ Olympics 1964/ I Introduction: Tokyo Olympics Urban Scheme as the Result of Local interests but not Olympic interests

For many people, the modern Olympics Games are seen as a great contest of sportsmanship and chauvinism; for others, they are a media extravaganza. It should also be stressed, however, that the Olympics are also about the cities.

Due to rapid progress in the world economy, social mobility and communication techniques, the 1960s witnessed a wave of radical urban growth across all major world cities, creating great pressures on housing and civic infrastructures. Meanwhile, Western planning ideas were heavily influenced by architectural modernism, leading to calls for urban transformation towards more rational and functional settlements. Inevitably, 1960s and 1970s Olympic urbanization was impacted upon by these Zeitgeists.

Tokyo Olympics is the result of local interests, not Olympic interests at all. The role of the Olympics in triggering urban transformation was taken further in Tokyo for the 1964 Games. The Games provided a timely opportunity to remedy the city’s poor civic infrastructure and to fast-track the already proposed ten-year development plan.

Tokyo spent nearly US$2.7 billion in 1964, or 3.2 per cent of GNP in 1965, on an ambitious urban renovation plan, which included extensive road improvements, harbour expansion and developments of urban amenities, housing, tourist accommodation and waste and sewage disposal systems. But at the plan’s core was a carefully contrived, multi-hierarchy transport network that crisscrossed the whole city, embracing eight new expressways, 22 motor links of various kinds, 73 kilometres of subway, 13.2 kilometres of monorail and a 500-kilometre Shinkansen connecting Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.

Investment in Olympic construction, Tokyo 1964 to Beijing 2008


Interestingly, among Tokyo’s vast Olympic expenditure only a tiny portion (less than three per cent) went to the construction of purely competition-related facilities; the majority was invested to meet the city’s short-term and long-term development needs. What had been planned and achieved in Tokyo did transform the city from congested, war-damaged chaos to a modern, prosperous metropolis.

A successful Olympic urban scheme seems always to be associated with a suitable and linked long-term master-plan for the host city in terms of project determination, land usage, resource mobilization and development orientation, as you can see from the different in emphasis of olympics. Yet, it is not able generalizing whether Tokyo is the best Olympics urban scheme through this kind of comparison because each city has a different context.

Instead, what we can learn from Tokyo 1964 Olympics is the importance to rationalize the budgetary deployment so that Olympic projects do not overshadow the development of other essential facilities in the city. Emphasis on such may help to avoid over-ambitious initiatives triggered by infatuated enthusiasm, or any hasty decision-making because of the tight Olympic deadline.

Now that Tokyo is a modern and mature city, controversies mainly are concerned about the new venues as the city’s infrastructure is one of the best in the world. Under a nearly completely different urban context, it is expected that a different data graph is expected for Tokyo 2020.

1 Comment on “Tokyo/ Olympics 1964/ I Introduction: Tokyo Olympics Urban Scheme as the Result of Local interests but not Olympic interests

  1. Looking at the graph in Olympic construction investment, it seems that the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo had the highest investment combined in comparison to other recent games. Perhaps it can be said that the Olympic Games in 1964 was merely a reason to kick-start the urban transport and development of Tokyo. I agree that the example of Tokyo was a rare occurrence that prioritized the needs of the local city over that of the external image, which contrasts sharply with more recent games in which Olympic infrastructure are left as empty shells after the games. It would be interesting to see how the 2020 games change Tokyo compared to that of 1964.

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