Neighborhood streets as meaningful spaces: Claiming rights to shared spaces in Tokyo

Sorensen, A.

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Sorensen, A. (2009). Neighborhood streets as meaningful spaces: claiming rights to shared spaces in Tokyo. City & Society, 21(2), 207-229.

Collective Memory , Japan , Public Space , Social Movement , Streets , Tokyo

The focus of this paper is the strategies of civic actors in a central Tokyo neighborhood to claim a voice in managing changes to their community and creating shared meanings for neighborhood streets and public spaces. In Yanaka an active community movement has worked to protect and improve shared community spaces by celebrating them as a historic legacy and a shared community resource, investing new and more complex values and claims on shared spaces, and redefining public streets as civic spaces in their neighborhood. They assert the rights of community participation in managing urban change by creating a neighborhood constitution, organizing art events and festivals in the streets, engaging new participants in shared property rights, proposing new criteria for evaluating urban change, and telling stories of a strong and distinct community. Claiming ownership of the meaning and management of local public spaces is a political strategy of self empowerment by community groups that has been relatively successful in this case.

Main finding
The author discusses how collective neighborhood actors create new, add to, or change the meanings of their shared spaces and how this effort is shaped by physical space and the residents' daily routines and public interactions. Under threats of new development and redevelopment in their neighborhood, concerned residents sought to preserve their community's sense of place by focusing on the tight network of streets (many of which are private lanes - a relic of adhoc planning) as a form of shared space. The author identifies urban characteristics unique to the neighborhood which are key to preserving the character of the neighborhood with the narrow roads especially constraining attempts at unwanted redevelopment. Part of the struggle of the community was to challenge the market and define the meaning of these shared spaces using two key pieces of activism in the struggle to preserve meaningful spaces.

Description of method used in the article
Fieldnotes, participant observation, archival research, and six interviews with local leaders were conducted.

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Organising categories

Field Observations
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