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Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012

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Norihiko Nomura, director general of the Office of Co-Governance and Creation of the Yokohama Policy Bureau, shows off the Minato Mirai 21 area, the main venue of the Yokohama Smart City Project, in Yokohama on Sept. 26. The YSCP has been selected by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry as one of its Next-Generation Energy and Social Systems Demonstration Areas. YOSHIAKI MIURA


Yokohama shares growth experience with the world

Y-PORT project provides local governments from across the globe with knowhow, consultations regarding infrastructure, development

Staff writer

Despite the name, the Yokohama City government's Y-PORT project is not about a port, though it might be easily assumed since Yokohama is one of Japan's largest ports and well-known for having prospered as an international trade center since the 19th century.

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Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi (left) shakes hands with Cebu Mayor Michael Rama of the Philippines at the Yokohama City Government building in Naka Ward on March 28 during the ceremony to sign the memorandum of understanding on technical cooperation for sustainable urban development. YOKOHAMA CITY

Y-PORT, which stands for Yokohama Partnership of Resources and Technologies, is one of Yokohama's midterm projects that Mayor Fumiko Hayashi has made a priority. It is about providing local governments in the world with Yokohama's knowhow to install the social infrastructure necessary to handle a rapidly growing population.

"Yokohama is one of very few cities in the world that have experienced a rapid increase in population, subsequent rapid deterioration of the urban environment and success in handling such situations. We the city government, companies and residents have together made efforts to create a win-win situation for everybody," said Norihiko Nomura, director general of the Office of Co-Governance and Creation of the Yokohama Policy Bureau.

"It's a very rare and valuable experience globally for a local government to have," he said.

The pace of population growth in Yokohama is much faster than in Tokyo and Osaka, and thus, installation of social infrastructure that is necessary to accommodate a growing population such as sewage systems and garbage processing systems must also be much faster, Nomura said.

And Yokohama's former pace of growth is "very similar to the current pace of large cities in Southeast Asia," he said, explaining why Yokohama has much to share with such Asian cities.

Yokohama City's population doubled from 1.37 million in 1960 to 2.77 million in 1980. The growth rate has decreased since then, but the population has steadily increased to the current 3.69 million, second most in Japan after Tokyo.

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Officials from Yokohama City and Japanese companies based or with branches in the city take part in a business matching session that Cebu City, the local chamber of commerce and other business groups jointly organized in the Philippine city on Aug. 1.

However, the percentage of households and businesses with accessible sewage services was about 2 percent in 1960 and 20 percent in 1980, according to Yokohama City. It is now near 100 percent.

People with no access to sewage systems were dumping dirty water into the sea and rivers, which made the city suffer from serious pollution, Nomura said. Yokohama had to deal with the situation and did so quickly, he added.

The city also had problems with air pollution and traffic jams, which have been solved by expanding infrastructure networks including efficient public transportation systems throughout the city, he said.

Large Asian cities realize that Yokohama has such experiences that they can refer to in dealing with their own problems. Officials from local governments around the world, mainly Asia, visit Nomura's office for consultations, he said.

In Y-PORT, Yokohama City collaborates with engineering companies, infrastructure makers and other companies involved in urban development, which have headquarters and branches in the city, to help Asian cities tackling problems caused by a sudden increase in population.

Among the companies that have signed on to collaborate in Y-PORT are global engineering companies such as JGC Corp. and JFE Engineering Corp., which makes water purifying facilities, recycling plants and other social infrastructures, and Chiyoda Corp., a company providing services related to clean energy.

These companies will seek business opportunities in Asian countries while Yokohama City can support such tax-paying entities. The city receives no direct monetary benefit through this project.

Nomura said Yokohama City will be a good liaison for companies to obtain legitimate inquiries from Asian cities because it can give them proper advice as an operator of infrastructures, while companies tend to give advice only from a manufacturer's viewpoint.

There have been no concrete examples of Y-PORT programs yet, but Cebu City in the Philippines and Yokohama City are close to initiating some concrete deals.

In a prelude to the Y-PORT project, Yokohama and the Japan International Cooperation Agency in October last year announced JICA's collaboration with Y-PORT. JICA will initiate urban development plan formulations in various Asian cities while the City of Yokohama will provide technical advice to cities based on a variety of experiences that Yokohama has accumulated so far.

In March, Yokohama and Cebu signed a memorandum of understanding on comprehensive collaborations, in which Yokohama provides advice on ecological urban development, with the support of JICA.

In late July and early August, both city officials and employees of related companies went to Cebu to exchange information.

"Soon, we may be able to announce something concrete," Nomura said.

Cebu is the fifth most populated city in the Philippines, with 718,821 residents in 147,600 households. The average temperature ranges from 23 to 33 degrees Celsius and annual precipitation is about 2,000 millimeters. Damage from typhoons is relatively less than in other places in the Philippines.

Five Yokohama City officials, 32 employees of 20 companies and a faculty member of Yokohama City University, who went as an observer, visited Cebu. The companies represented included JFE Engineering, Nissan Motor Co. and NTT DoCoMo Inc.

They inspected river pollution and garbage collection areas, and exchanged opinions with local businesspeople and municipal officials.

Cebu's needs are to make rivers clean, set up sewage systems and establish garbage processing systems, Nomura said.

Another city that Yokohama is close to beginning to support through the Y-PORT project is Bangkok.

The capital of Thailand and Yokohama have previously had various connections in urban development.

Since 2009, Bangkok officials have come to JICA's Yokohama center to learn about Yokohama's efforts in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. They learned how to operate energy-efficient buildings and social infrastructures, Nomura said.

"Especially, they are interested in reducing the number of cars by strengthening their train and other public transportation systems. They are also interested in increasing greenery in the city," he said. "Those are Yokohama's strong points."

The urban development that Yokohama wants to highlight in environmental technology can be found in the Minato Mirai 21 area, which hosts Landmark Tower, Japan's tallest building. Other facilities in the development include the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse, a structure over 100 years old renovated to serve as a shopping and dining complex, the sail-shape hotel the InterContinental Yokohama Grand in the Pacifico Yokohama convention complex, department stores and amusement parks.

The Yokohama Smart City Project is involved in taking care of Minato Mirai 21's ecological environment. The YSCP has been selected by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry as one of its Next-Generation Energy and Social Systems Demonstration Areas.

In Minato Mirai 21, structures equipped with many ecological features are connected to an energy and information grid, meaning they share energy sources and information with wired and wireless connections. Many buildings have solar power generation systems, efficient sunlight-gathering mechanisms, heat-insulating surfaces, high-reflectance coatings, rooftop and wall greenery, and other measures that help save electricity.

Those structures also have systems to gather rainwater to mix with wastewater for recycling. Tiles on walkways are made of material that collects and retains rainwater, which keeps surface temperatures low.

The Minato Mirai 21 and surrounding waterfront areas also have several small-size wind turbine power generators as well as the large "Hama Wing" wind power generator. The area uses many LED lights, which are initially expensive but save on future electricity costs, and has charging stations for electric vehicles.

In another ecological effort, Yokohama City boasts its residents' high standard in reducing the amount of garbage by 42 percent, exceeding the original target of 30 percent, from 2004. This was achieved simply through frequent notifications to residents on the proper methods to separate waste into cans, plastics, paper materials and others.

The increase in recyclable items has led to an increase in recycling companies enjoying economies of scale. The flourishing of such companies means better services, making it even easier for residents to recycle.

"Waste categorization is very important because the recycling business would not go well without it," Nomura said.


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