Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike asked to stop $2.45 billion plan to remake park, famous baseball stadium

TOKYO: Governor Yuriko Koike was asked Tuesday to stop a disputed $2.45 billion project to convert a Tokyo park district, renowned for its rows of 100-year-old ginkgo trees, into a largely commercial area anchored around three skyscrapers.
The plan for the Jingu Gaien area calls for razing a famous baseball stadium where Babe Ruth played and rebuilding it, part of a vast construction project that threatens thousands of trees in a city with limited green space.
A group of 420 outside experts including architects, urban planners, environmentalists and economists demanded in an open letter and news conference that the project be suspended and suggested Koike was ignoring public discontent and bowing to the powerful construction industry.
The letter said Koike and her government “have made no effort to provide official answers to dozens of public questions” and policy decisions. It asked for an independent environmental assessment and said some of the ginkgo trees “are in a state of obvious decline” that could be exacerbated by construction.
“What she (Koike) is doing with this case is the simple destruction of nature when we need more trees,” Kohei Saito, a political economist at Tokyo University, told The Associated Press. “We should have an open public discussion. This is not something that only politicians and private companies should decide.”
This is the latest in mounting opposition to a plan led by real estate giant Mitsui Fudosan, the city and the Shinto religious body to demolish the baseball stadium and an adjoining rugby venue, and rebuild them in the same area in order to accommodate a pair of 200-meter (650-feet) towers and an 80-meter (260-feet) companion.
The plan has been likened to building skycrapers in New York’s Central Park.
Koike was Japan’s environmental minister for three years and was once mentioned as a possible candidate for prime minister. She has called for a “green transformation” of Tokyo, but critics have dubbed her the “Empress of Tree-Cutting” for the city’s forays into park space, often to accommodate commercial interests.
The Jingu district was considered “common property” until after World War II when the government sold it under a promise it would remain a common. About 30% is still owned by the Japanese government.
The construction project would take 10 years to complete and has been the subject of several lawsuits. Some land-clearing has begun with 325,000 people having signed petitions to scrap the plan.
The flashpoints center around who controls public space, using park areas for profit-making ventures, and the fate of nearly 150 ginkgo trees, a species regarded as a living fossil.
One-thousand other trees are likely to be felled during construction. Several thousand were cut to build the neighboring National Stadium for the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021.
Rising opposition could slow other commercial projects in green areas in Tokyo, including famous Hibiya Park, described as the city’s oldest dating from 1903.
“In Tokyo there are plans to cut down trees in other parks and turn them into commercial facilities with the aim of making them parks for profit,” Saito said.
Opponents of the project include famed novelist Haruki Murakami and the late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Jingu has also been placed on a “Heritage Alert” list by a conservancy body.
Takashi Ueda, president of the Fudosan Group, in an interview published on Jan. 5 with TV Asahi argued that the baseball stadium – opened in 1926 – was too old to be refurbished.
“The Jingu stadium will turn 100 years old. It’s getting extremely deteriorated and, taking into consideration a possible major earthquake in the capital region, the situation is quite insecure,” Ueda said.
Some dispute this claim and say the Jingu stadium – famous for its colonnade arcade – could be renovated for a fraction of the cost and promoted as a cultural asset.
Fenway Park in Boston dates from 1912 and Wrigley Field in Chicago from 1914. Both have been refurbished and are among the most venerated in the United States. They are also located in dense urban areas.
Meiji Kinenkan, a historic reception hall in Jingu Gaien, dates from 1881 and is still widely used with no calls for its demolition. Mitsui Fudosan’s headquarters building in Tokyo dates from 1929. Koshien Stadium, located near Osaka, was built in 1924, has been in use since a refurbishment.
Ueda said he hoped to reduce the number of trees to be cut, and at the same time “further increasing the greenery.” He said the “timing” would be discussed with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Jingu Gaien and tree-cutting could be major issues when Koike runs for re-election later this year. Critics suggest she is likely to push back tree-cutting until after the election.
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