Green Cities - Bringing nature back to the metropolis

With major cities such as Singapore leading the way, urban greenery has been gaining traction in various cities worldwide. The popularity of this shift in city planning is reasonable, given the growing concerns over global warming and interests in innovative “green” cities. It is also thanks to aesthetic factors; eco-friendly products and areas tend to be attractive and garner positive reviews. Singapore, as mentioned earlier, is one successful and trendy site; it appears to encompass them all – lush environments, renewable energy, and future sustainability. The cityscape speaks for itself with its unique formation, comprising of skyscrapers interwoven with trees and parks. 

How can other cities be “green” cities as well? Although Singapore is not necessarily the ultimate role model, it certainly showcases tactics that other places can follow. Tokyo, for example, is an epitomic case where urban greenery is fit to grow. The capital is famous for its sprawling, electric design. After all, it boasts one of the world’s highest population densities; besides being the most densely populated prefecture in Japan, Tokyo has been witnessing a steady population growth after exceeding 10 million people in 1963 (see graph below). In terms of pop culture, the urban giant has close ties to iconic cyberpunk films such as Akira (1988) and Bladerunner (1982). Thus, it is no mystery why the city is concentrated with close-set buildings and its inhabitants. So what can be done with Tokyo in order to transform it from a concrete jungle to an eco-friendlier one?

Image: A section of a graph shows Tokyo's steadily rising population; already having reached 10 million people in 1963

A straightforward step is simply incorporating greenery into the landscape. The Mitsubishi Ichigōkan Museum in the business district of Marunouchi, Tokyo, has already taken a similar measure. The museum, along with other office buildings, frames an artistically constructed garden. Almost as if part of the museum’s exhibition itself, the garden is complete with various types of flora and sculptures that together form a tiny oasis in the middle of the city. 

The placement and formation is strategic as the garden is encircled by different facilities: the museum, restaurants, office buildings, and a florist. Because of these functions and the overall aesthetic appearance of the garden itself, the place is frequently a hub for visitors who chat and dine among the foliage. In the summer, various roses bloom and invite honeybees and small birds – a unique sight considering the location; a key business district of Tokyo. 

Image: One scene of the garden by the Mistubishi Ichigōkan Museum (by author)

What would be desirable is to have functional green areas, not just a few trees and shrubs planted in the asphalt. Of course, green spaces offer some relief for the eyes after endless grey landscapes and simultaneously evoke a soothing atmosphere. But in the end, it serves as mere decoration with little to give. This is why rooftop gardens are a promising plan. New York is a center of such innovative green designs and architecture, where rooftop gardening is gradually becoming popular. Companies such as Brooklyn Grange encourage and install rooftop garden for many clients, as well as partnering with numerous non-profit organizations throughout New York to promote healthy and strong local communities. Already, about 1200 buildings in the city have green roofs that are used for assorted purposes: flower gardens, vegetable plots, and even beekeeping. 

Image: A green roof installed for CookFox Architects by Brooklyn Grange

Operating an apiary in a city seems an absurd concept, but New York is blossoming with urban beekeeping. Similar to the aforementioned rooftop gardens, beekeeping is another innovative industry that is both eco-friendly and bountiful for its produce. Groups such as the Empire State Honey Producers and New York Beekeepers Associations actively promote beekeeping through programs and events. Both associations also assist to-be beekeepers by offering courses. Beekeeping in such environments is beneficial in mutiple aspects. For example, in addition to creating an "oasis" in the city, it creates a win-win relationship where the people gain income from producing the honey while the bees have a home of their own. This is particularly important as honeybees are currently decimated by mites, which have wiped out entire apiaries or colonies of bees in sections of the Philippines, Brazil, the Soviet Union and Italy in the last few years. For both bees and human alike, this new urban activity is crucial and hopeful; a promising system that other cities can look up to. 

Image: Anyone interested in beekeeping can participate in events provided by the New York City Beekeepers Association 

These ideas together support the use of unused spaces and facilities; a plan that is well applicable to Tokyo’s innumerable buildings. It is obvious, especially from aerial photography, that Tokyo has a vast supply of empty roofs that are usually cluttered with some equipment. Tokyo and other metropolitan cities have untapped potential to be sustainable areas. Urban greenery, as seen in the cases of New York's apiaries, can better the city as well as its inhabitants. It is not all just about polishing the scenery to look appealing; the benefits reach far beyond to economic and envirionmental causes. With growing concerns of global warming along with rising levels of carbon emissions, urban greenery is a promising approach that cities such as Tokyo should focus on.