Tokyo/ Olympics 1964/ III Zooming Into the Short-term Impact of the Massive Expressway Development Plan to the Urban Fabrics

While the massive expressway development aims to achieve macro-objectives to Tokyo’s City Urban Development in previous narratives, one may not neglect the impact during the execution of all the constructions. In short, it is necessary to investigate the trade-off between long-term and short-term goals, the city scale and the human scale.

Tokyo is simply a city of destruction and construction during the 1960s. Between 1963 and 1964, if you visit Tokyo, you will be amazed at the scene. On many main roads in Tokyo, more than 10,000 large pits were dug, in order to build elevated roads and bridges, with more than 7,000 houses and more than 50,000 citizens demolished for the Olympic project. The city was full of gullies. It not only turns the traffic into a chaotic condition in which congestions can paralyses daily operations, but the resulting traffic accidents killed more than 1,000 people.


Associated Press, (AP) Photo, Zhu Jia Cheng

“There was no water in Tokyo at that time, only the steel bars on the top of the head and the black ruins under the feet.”     – Japanese writer Takeshi Kaikō:

Looking at the residence of the construction workers, the hardships of the conditions made people feel chilling. The living space dark and crowded, dirty and ruined, and the air is filled with the smell of urinating urine.

Associated Press AP Photo/Koichiro Morita


When an urban scheme is being evaluated, the positive and negative outcomes are always emphasized, but the challenges during the execution of the plan are often overlooked. To execute such a large-scale urban development plan, it needs to employ equal amount of resources, in particular the mobilization of citizens. The trade-off for the construction of massive infrastructure are undesirable, if not unacceptable living conditions, under which any of them will cause massive reverberations and paralysis to any developed metropolitan cities nowadays.
It was after Jane Jacobs, an American-Canadian journalist, author, and activist who published  book The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961, arguing that urban renewal did not respect the needs of city-dwellers.

Certainly, it may be unfair to conclude that the livelihood of citizen at that time is not being respected because the post-war city context of Tokyo and other factors do contribute to such planning. Yet, what if the undesirable conditions during the execution of the Olympics Urban Scheme really stacked up into enough resistance to the urban development, so that whole scheme is paralyzed under social unrest? Why is the Olympics Urban Scheme carried out successfully albeit such undesirable conditions? This actually leads to the next narrative, which relates to nationalism.



3 Comments on “Tokyo/ Olympics 1964/ III Zooming Into the Short-term Impact of the Massive Expressway Development Plan to the Urban Fabrics

  1. It is interesting to point out the short term negative impacts like chaotic living conditions and paralyzation of traffic etc. of constructing mega structures within the urban fabric. You can perhaps further investigate on how the project could have been better carried out or planned to prevent these discussed problems and if there were other similar projects or urban renewal plans in Tokyo or other cities that had managed to minimize the level disturbance that the construction had brought to the city.

  2. You have exhibited a perfect example of ‘give and take’. With glorification of the city, some sacrifices are made which created other issues such as traffic congestion and poor living standard. It is striking to know how human-scale problems are overlooked with the shiny result of those ‘larger’ achievements such as monumental gymnasiums and massive expressway.
    However, you can mention more about the positive effect of above-mentioned development with pictures and examples to create a stronger argument. As you mentioned, people would amazed at the scene of construction and deconstruction of Tokyo, maybe it’s better to perceive how those implements intensified Tokyo’s soft power in the long term.

  3. It is interesting to read that you link the successful implementation of the scheme with nationalism because the case of Kyoto is similar. And questioning the short-term influence, or say, the impact to the local people is very inspiring since it would change the evaluation of the value of the scheme. To me, city planning, especially large-scale movement is difficult to execute without the requirement and management of government, however, during which, citizens’ benefit usually is sacrificed. It is of great importance of the planners to take this into consideration and balance the value.

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