Yokohama tagged ‘smart city’ for energy programs

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Drastic increase in population, disorderly construction of houses and factories, traffic congestion, water shortage, filthy waste dumping sites and pollution—the city of Yokohama in Japan has seen nothing less than what Delhi has in the past few decades.

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But while the national capital continues to struggle in ideating sustainable projects, Yokohama has emerged as the biggest “Smart City” in Japan with the help of a unique public-private participation model.

It was in 2010, when Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city and once known as the ‘bedroom town’ of Tokyo, formulated the Yokohama Smart City Project (YSCP). It was conceptualized as a five-year pilot for three of its districts—Minato Mirai 21 Area (urban center), Kohoku New Town Area (residential) and Yokohama Green Valley Area (industrial). Having developed these three “smart districts” way ahead of the deadline, the YSCP was later expanded a project area covering about 435 square kilometers.

How did Yokohama become a Smart City?

The USP of Yokohama’s Smart City project is the smooth collaboration the city government had with the private sector and the citizens. Companies such as Accenture, Tokyo Gas, Toshiba, Nissan Motor, Panasonic, Meidensha and TEPCO were asked to work on projects such as introduction of renewable energy, energy management of households, buildings and local communities and next generation transportation systems.

The city representatives repeatedly held meetings with the citizens for all its projects. “Public participation has been important to us as it makes citizens act and behave responsibly,” said Toru Hashimoto, executive director at Yokohama’s development cooperation department.

However, the highlight of the YSCP is the smart grid system it laid for energy management of households and all other buildings including factories and commercial. Introduction of the system in 4,000 homes alone has resulted in 20-percent reduction in power consumption, said officials working on the project.

In transportation, while a robust subway and bus system exists, 2,300 electric vehicles and charging stations were introduced throughout the city.

“Solar power generation of a total of 37 MW has been set up at 249 locations. We are also generating wind power, hydropower, biomass power in over a dozen locations,” said a Yokohama Partnership of Resources and Technologies official.

While cleanliness is a facet of this Japanese city, one gets to know the secret behind it on visiting its waste-to-energy incinerators. The Kanazawa plant, located along the sea, has a capacity to burn 1,200 ton of garbage a day for heat and electricity, while getting rid of daily waste produced by city residents.

Toshihide Abe, the director of the plant, said that the focus has been on reducing solid waste generation in the city. “The city has strict waste regulations which we have to follow. Only combustible household waste is incinerated. We used to have seven waste-to-energy plants in Yokohama in 2005 but three of them were closed by 2010 due to the reduced amount of waste,” he said.

However, more than these waste-to-energy plants, it is the awareness campaigns that have worked in the city’s favour. “As many as 3,300 campaigns and 11,000 seminars were conducted across the city to make people understand best waste management practices,” Abe said.

Cannot be developed in isolation

According to Hashimoto, a smart city cannot be developed in isolation. It has to be in sync with the area’s urban development projects, which is what Yokohama did.

Yokohama’s smart city mission hinges on the six strategic projects that were launched way back in 1965.

First to showcase Yokohama’s urban sprawl, Minato Mirai 21 was developed by shifting factories and industries out. A city center with energy efficient skyscrapers was built to make it the city’s commercial and business hub.

The “New Delhi City Centre” that is being planned for the 550-acre area around Connaught Place in Delhi is going to be similar to this.

Second was the Kanazawa reclamation project where city officials negotiated with private players to shift factories from densely populated areas to this site.

Third, the Kohoku New Town was built as a residential area where private developers were asked to build sewage systems of their areas and give up a portion of their land for public use such as parks, schools and health centers.

The subway system was enhanced to link residential areas to the city center. A 124-kilometer expressway was built, the last part of which is under construction, to decongest the city and finally an iconic 860-meter Bay Bridge, akin to Delhi’s upcoming Signature Bridge, was built to divert heavy traffic and create a direct link to Tokyo.

Apart from infrastructure, Yokohama also set guidelines for community development that embraces its historical heritage. In 2004, a creative city policy was implemented, under which the city preserved historical sites through adaptive reuse. Most notable was the Red Brick Warehouse, the old port customs building that has been converted into a commercial area.

Having achieved its Smart City targets, the city of Yokohama is now faced with new urban challenges of an aging population, building a support system for women’s participation, childcare and climate resilience—all of which it hopes to address in its ongoing project of creating a Future City.

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