Roppongi double-tap

Via Jean Snow, here’s a Japanese perspective on what megalomaniacal architecture is doing to Roppongi. The prognosis, it seems, is not good.

I gotta tell you, I am deee-lighted to see Ozaki muster some local resistance to the scale and pace of development in the neighborhood, having been appalled by Roppongi Hills from the very beginning.

It’s clearly not that Roppongi had been a congenial or an attractive environment before Mori’s wave of tower-erection: it wasn’t, and it wasn’t likely ever going to be. I certainly preferred to spend my time elsewhere. But any genuine lover of cities knows that Total Environment is ultimately a strategy without a future – and this is especially so if Ozaki’s musings about the sanitizing desire underlying development here turn out to be on point. You can’t keep a lid on the Id forever.

To quote somebody whose work I don’t actually care for, and whose own particular flavor of “transgression” leaves me cold: “Without obscenity, our cities are dreary places, and life is bleak.” I never thought I’d miss the tat and clammy hustle of Roppongi, but I like bleakness even less in cities. It’s too bad that the regeneration the neighborhood incontrovertibly needed couldn’t have been allowed to proceed at a tempo and in a style that left more of what it was intact.

3 responses to “Roppongi double-tap”

  1. Gen Kanai says :

    As a New Yorker in Tokyo (within walking distance to both Hills and Midtown to boot) I view the changes here in Tokyo much like the changes that have been made to NYC, specifically the 42nd street/Times Square area.

    My grandparents used to own a small house near Roppongi crossing back in the 1950s. They sold it to move to a larger plot of land out in the ‘sticks (Ota-ku) so they have many memories of post-war Roppongi.

    I’m of mixed opinion myself with both NYC and Tokyo. In both cases the development has squeezed out the part of the city that was iconic of that area. That said, it’s clear you/I are in the minorty: the vast majority of visitors to NYC or Tokyo prefer the new Times Square, the new Roppongi Hills/Tokyo Midtown.

    And while you’ll never kill them off (like roaches, they’ll always survive) the underworld element, who used to make Times Square or Roppongi their base (and still do in Tokyo at least), do worse in the bright lights and glare of these new developments, which in my book is a significant plus (but one that cannot be measured.)

  2. speedbird says :

    That said, it’s clear you/I are in the minorty: the vast majority of visitors to NYC or Tokyo prefer the new Times Square, the new Roppongi Hills/Tokyo Midtown.

    Well, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, whether you meant to or not: “the vast majority of visitors.” My sense is that actual New Yorkers shun the Times Square area unless they have specific business there, and leave the Disney/Hershey “experiences” to the tourists.

    This is clearly one of those ways in which NYC and Tokyo diverge. I would prefer that cities be primarily for the use and enjoyment of the people who live there, and by that standard I guess the various Hills actually do pass the smell test.

    I can’t help but think they’re a shame, though, and most especially Omotesando Hills. There, of course, what got overlaid wasn’t a sleazepit, but the most beautiful street in the city. (Maybe this is how New Yorkers of an older generation think of the pre-Pan Am Building Park Avenue.)

  3. Don Rintala says :

    I walked around Tokyo Midtown a little bit. It seemed all right to me — kind of ordinary. My reference is Roppongi Hills and its noise-polluting Roppongi Hills Arena (an on-going problem). If Midtown can avoid the sort of noise pollution problems associated with Roppongi Hills, I’m prepared to give it my blessing.

    The idea that these kinds of developments are going to “clean up” Roppongi is absurd. If I’m not mistaken, Roppongi Hills was built upon a fairly nice area — not on top of bars and massage parlors. There’s even a picture book that records what the area looked like before it was destroyed. Looks like it was largely residential and small offices, plus a small park and the Asahi TV studio. An Associated Press article claimed that Roppongi Hills gave Roppongi a “much needed facelift”. You’ve gotta hand it to Mori’s PR apparatus.

    Roppongi Hills also has a truck-loading area that operates noisily throughout the night. I think it torments the people living nearby. So, if they’re going to build one of these monsters near your home, one thing to fear is that your home will be effectively destroyed by the noise.

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