Decision Made on March 17

Urban rezoning and redevelopment projects were decided on March 17, two months after the earthquake, as part of the reconstruction measures. Many victims at that time were still struggling to find a place to live during the severe conditions. Public opinion was strongly opposed to the measures and as many as 2,365 written opinions were submitted in the City of Kobe alone. The authorities claimed that the decision was necessary to prohibit houses from being built in an uncoordinated fashion after the expiration of the building restriction period of two months under the Building Code. They also insisted that they could secure the budget by deciding urban planning projects at the early stage which would support a smooth recovery for the victims.

Urban planning in Japan has been formed through reconstruction projects from disasters or war. It is, therefore, almost second nature for Japanese authorities to come up with urban planning projects when a disaster occurs. Major examples are reconstruction from the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923, with 142,800 dead or missing, 128,000 buildings totally collapsed, and 447,000 buildings totally burnt) and rehabilitation from the severe damage caused by the Second World War. One of the latest examples is reconstruction from the Sakata Great Fire, which occurred in 1976 in Sakata city in the northern area of Japan and burnt out an area of 22.5ha destroying 1,777 buildings, killing the head of the fire department during his duty, and leaving 3,300 people affected. The reconstruction project was carried out with incredible speed taking only 2 and a half years. The Ministry of Construction at the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake appeared to think they should start urban planning as quickly as possible following the case in Sakata.

It is, however, doubtful whether or not it was wise to lay out a plan without informing the disaster-affected people concerned and to forcibly decide on it, neglecting claims or opinions from the people.

Feasible Consultation

A new law called the Special Law for Disaster-Affected Urban Areas' Reconstruction (Hisai-Shigaichi Fukkou Tokubetsu-Sochi-Hou) was established at the end of February, immediately after the earthquake, enabling the building restriction period to be extended to up to 2 years. If the purpose of the forced decision on urban planning projects on March 17 was to prohibit people from arbitrarily reconstructing their houses, what should have been done was to employ the new law. If the projects had been properly presented to the affected people after the crisis had somewhat subsided and they became able to think about their lands and houses, and if genuine consultations between residents and authorities had been held, some agreements could have been reached in many districts. People were not able to properly reconstruct their houses because in many districts where rezoning projects were proposed, paths were less than 4-meters wide and rezoning was an effective way to solve the problem.

Successful Example in Tsukiji, Amagasaki City

Some people say that consultation with residents will only lead to a mired situation where no decision can be made. There is, however, an actual example of success in Tsukiji, Amagasaki city. Authorities and residents talked over the rezoning project in this district through until August the same year. The rezoning project was decided along with a residential improvement project, and, as a result, 90% of the people who had lived as tenants, who are usually unable to come back during an ordinary rezoning project, did return to the district. Though it is true that the swifter the reconstruction is carried out the better, several months of necessary consultation should not be regarded as a delay in reconstruction.

Forced Urban Plans to Hinder Community Reconstruction

A plan, of course, can not always be decided by the authority drawn from consultation. Consultation may result in a change or suspension of the plan. In some districts, on the contrary, people may want an urban planning project. What should have been done before deciding an urban planning project was to investigate and take into consideration what people desired and needed. Although this may have taken several months, it was possible. An example in Toshima, Awaji island, where a plan was forced, and another one in Shin-Nagata, Kobe, where the redevelopment project area was too huge, indicate how problematic it can be to decide and carry out rebuilding urban plans forcibly and rough-and-readily.

People crowded into the Kobe city hall (March 14, 1995)
Kobe City Urban Planning Council guarded by city government employees (March 14, 1995)


(SHIOZAKI Yoshimitsu)