[ISEA2010] Keynote: David d’Heilly – Tokyo Galapagos


In a 2007 UN report, greater Tokyo, at 35,676,000, is regarded to be the world’s most populous metropolitan area. Its nominal GDP is also the largest, estimated at just under 1.5 trillion. The current disourse on megacities, however, tends to focus on Mumbai, Mexico City, São Paulo, Shanghai and many other upcoming major conurbations. Tokyo tends to be seen as a special case, or an irrelevance. I found this interesting. The last time that Tokyo was featured in a major survey of urbanization was Saskia Sassen’s “The Global City”, in 1992. Now, in researching Tokyo, what we’re finding is that much of what is successful about Tokyo, what keeps it the largest and most competitive city, are indeed the same things that bring it this claim to irrelevance.

The study of Tokyo is fascinating because its modernization is so succinct. Tokyo went, in the space of 100 years, from being a medieval castle town, in a nation which had expressly excluded modernization, to being the world’s largest megacity. Tokyo exploded; but only horizontally. Today, central Tokyo has a population density of some 35,600/mi². This is similar to Brooklyn, at 34,920/mi². Brooklyn, however, is 86% multi-unit dwellings, whereas a similar percentage of Tokyo’s homes are two-story single family dwellings. And this is not just for residential areas. As late as 1997, there were only 70 buildings over 30 stories high in all of Tokyo

  • David d’Heilly (JP/US) is working in the arts and journalism between Asia, Europe and the U.S. His writings have been published in eight languages, he has worked on numerous film and television productions and has curated and produced art exhibitions and festivals in Japan, The US, Sweden, and France.

Full text (PDF) p.  506-507