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Case studies

Toshima Ward’s International City of Arts and Culture Vision
  • Toshima Ward faced the challenge of a negative reputation and a declining population, becoming known as the “ward at risk of disappearing”
  • The International City of Arts and Culture Vision was created to improve the image of Toshima, using arts and culture to make it a “ward of choice”
  • It has created an International Arts and Culture Extraordinary Ambassadors programme, turning over 1,200 members of the public into a ‘cheering squad’ to spread the word about Toshima

What was the challenge?

At the beginning of the new millennium, Toshima had a negative reputation as scary, dark and dirty. Due to the ward government’s fragile financial position, it was not able to allocate much budget to urban renewal efforts.

It addressed this problem by implementing an urban renewal programme centred around culture, setting the goal “to be loved and to be proud.” This achieved some success. Toshima was the first of Tokyo’s 23 wards to win the Commissioner for Cultural Affairs Award in the division of Cultural Creative Cities.

In 2014, however, the Japan Policy Council designated Toshima “the ward at risk of disappearing.” Population decline was a major threat for Toshima. Its Total Fertility Rate was only 0.94, compared to the Tokyo average of 1.09 (and a population replacement value of 2.1). Beyond this, Toshima had an unusually low number of women aged between 20 and 39 – and this demographic was expected to diminish by more than 50% by 2040. Even if the birth rate increased, the decline in the number of young women would make it difficult to sustain the population.

Toshima faced the challenge of losing its appeal because of a declining birth rate and declining economic vitality. This was inevitable unless residents and businesses worked together to tackle the issues that threatened its competitiveness.

In an increasingly aging society, people choose a place to live for reasons of personal fulfilment, or based on its economic strength. If Toshima was to become a place where people would choose to live, it needed to demonstrate strong character and presence, set a clear future vision, and involve the community.

What is the project?

Rather than viewing the challenge in isolation, as an issue faced by a single ward, Toshima views the issues raised by its falling population in a national context. Therefore it has taken a national and international approach to the solution, thinking far beyond the boundaries of Toshima ward.

In 2014, Toshima established an emergency task force, which created a four-pillar strategy with the goal of turning “the ward at risk of disappearing” into “the sustainable development ward.” One of the pillars of the strategy was to use culture to promote the urban development and regeneration, and attract more residents, businesses and foreign visitors to Toshima.

The International City of Arts and Culture Vision embodies this pillar, and is the culmination of the urban renewal work the ward had been undertaking since the turn of the millennium. It will use arts and culture to improve the image of Toshima, making it a “ward of choice.” By developing the pride and affection that its inhabitants feel towards Toshima, it will create a positive growth cycle that attracts people and businesses. A goal is for “the ward to be like a theatre, where everyone is able to be a central player.” In the past, urban infrastructure and cultural projects were discussed and implemented separately. However, Toshima has come to realise that it is better to take an integral approach to urban development.

How does the project work?

The International City of Arts and Culture Vision, a pioneering approach to tackling the national and international issues caused by a falling population, has three main strategies:

  • Cultural: From subculture to high culture, from traditional to cutting edge, create an unprecedented and appealing ward where diverse cultures juxtapose.
  • International: Implement a project such as the Culture City of East Asia project, demonstrate the appeal of the ward to the rest of the world and increase inbound tourism.
  • Space: Return the priority in urban spaces from cars to people, and transform the ward into a theatre – where everyone can not only be a central player, but also encounter people from all over the world.

To realise the vision, Toshima pursued dialogue with experts and residents, as well as launching public consultations. This process took place in an unprecedentedly short period of time.

  • 2014: Choosing experts who are active in the forefront of arts and culture to serve as ‘producers’ for the International City of Arts & Culture scheme and to offer advice on the town’s vision
  • 2015: Formulating the scheme and convening the International City of Arts & Culture Forum (with 31 members, including the experts who are leaders in arts and culture), which discussed the implementation strategy for the vision
  • 2016: Launching the International Arts and Culture Extraordinary Ambassadors. Over 1,200 ambassadors, who are members of the public, have become a ‘cheering squad’ to spread the word about Toshima, and are playing an active role both within and outside of the ward.

As a result of this work, Toshima has won positive media coverage for its transformation from the “ward at risk of disappearing” to the “sustainable development ward” in a very short period of time.

What will happen next?

Urban development is also part of the International City of Arts and Culture Vision. The former site of a ward office, three minutes from Ikebukuro station (one of Toshima’s main stations), is being redeveloped into a cultural venue with eight theatres.

This cultural venue, Hareza Ikebukuro, will become the driving force of the International City of Arts and Culture, creating new opportunities for artists from all over the world and becoming a hub for arts and culture. A hall, which will be pre-opened in autumn 2019 in the new landmark as the symbol of the ward, will accommodate various plays and events such as musicals, lyric drama, kabuki, opera, Japanese traditional performing arts, and concerts in addition to official events such as coming-of-age ceremonies and school events. Not only will the venue provide opportunities for members of the public to engage with various artforms, it will also allow them to become central players at these special occasions.

Furthermore, Toshima also plans to be a cultural creative city in collaboration with the members of the public who are playing an active role as the International Arts and Culture Extraordinary Ambassadors.

What has been learned?

  • In the beginning, when Toshima aimed to become a Cultural Creative City, it couldn’t gain consent from residents for urban development centred around culture. However, after dialogues with various stakeholders lasting for decades, and after clarifying its vision for culture, understandings have finally been reached. By getting results, Toshima has learned how to undertake new policies with confidence.
  • Toshima has cultural resources dotted around the ward, such as Ikebukuro Montparnasse, The Holy Land of Manga including Tokiwa-so, and small theatres deeply rooted in the community. As the ward’s cultural policy evolved, its urban strategy was shaped by a culture characterised by both tradition and innovation. It benefitted from uniting existing cultural resources rooted in the community with new cultural resources and policy.