The neighborhood of Shimokitazawa represents Japanese counter-culture more than any other place in Tokyo. Indeed, this is probably one of the first places that young architects, designers, artists, djs, or activists visiting Tokyo are taken to by their Japanese friends.
The narrow and crowded streets of Shimokitazawa have a perfume of freedom and anti-conformism. In Shimokitazawa styled-up youth look alternative and lead alternative lifestyles. Indeed that is one of the rare places in Tokyo where counter-culture meets politics.
The constituencies of Shimokitazawa are diverse. With its unique character, the area attracts many students, artists and other creative types. Meanwhile, affluent homeowners have settled around its center making the development of luxurious department stores a very lucrative prospect for investors.
Thanks to the two train lines stopping through, residents are just minutes away from Shibuya and Shinjuku Stations, which are two of the major centers of Tokyo. Hundreds of thousands of commuters living in South-East Tokyo pass through Shimokitazawa everyday.
Recently, a plan dating from 1946 for a 26-meter wide road throughout the neighborhood was resurrected by Odakyu, a large railway owner and real-estate developer. The government of Setagaya ward, which includes Shimokitazawa, championed the new road plan.
Planning in Tokyo is characterized by strong top-down interventions mainly in the form of infrastructure investment. At the same time, Tokyo is often described as a city of villages, composed of small neighborhoods of 3000 inhabitants or less, known as “chou”. The chou however, serves typically at diffusing information and decisions coming from above to the local level rather than bottom-up communication. In Tokyo, it is very rare that local communities succeed in stopping or even changing the plans of the government.
Some grassroots groups have emerged in Shimokitazawa to oppose the plan and to propose alternatives. Their constituencies extend far beyond local residents. Many people, including musicians, architects, and academics, from Japan and abroad recognize the importance of preserving Shimokitazawa, with its rich urban subcultures and relaxed atmosphere.
Beyond the fate of the neighborhood, the urban policy of the city is in question. Many cities around the world begin to recognize that citizens must be involved in the planning of their communities.