Asia / Global
What to do with an ugly building project in Tokyo? Cover it with a park, of course. Plus: "clean-air" holidays in China and flying doctors in Thailand.
Bumper to border
The opening of a motorway junction is rarely a cause for celebration but Ohashi Junction, in Tokyo’s Meguro district, is showing there can be more thoughtful ways of approaching unsightly infrastructure projects. Instead of leaving the neighbourhood with a bleak spaghetti of expressways, the local government has covered the entire project with a rooftop public park named Meguro Sky Garden. The vertiginous modern Japanese garden, which is open daily to the public, cost ¥1.08bn (€8.2m) paid for by Meguro Ward, with the help of a ¥200m (€1.5m) grant from the government. “It’s the first time this has been attempted in Japan,” says Toshiyuki Kanai of Meguro Parks Department.
Although this vast meeting of two busy motorways was deemed necessary to reduce congestion in central Tokyo, it was hardly an asset to the area. “When the junction was being built, there was concern that the surrounding neighbourhoods would be affected by air pollution and traffic noise,” says Kanai.
The local government decided the best solution would be to encase the raised intersection and put a carpet of greenery on top. Meguro Parks Department worked with Tokyo University of Agriculture, which advised on everything from design to the best type of soil. The plants – over 1,000 trees and shrubs – were chosen for their hardiness and seasonal variety and include Japanese pine, cherry and maple trees, as well as flowering plants such as jasmine and clematis. There is also a small vegetable and herb garden.
The park winds over the junction for 400 metres and spirals up to 35 metres above street level. It took two years to build and opened in spring. Visitors can relax on benches and on a clear day even see Mount Fuji.
Rooftop gardens in Tokyo:
- The Roppongi Hills Rooftop Garden: A rice paddy and fish pond feature in this 1,300 sq m patch, 45 metres above street level.
- St Luke’s International Hospital: Its space in central Tsukiji is used by patients and visitors.
- Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism: Leading by example, this concrete edifice in Kasumigaseki has a 1,700 sq m garden.
Out of thin air
Visiting Beijing apparently doesn’t have the same appeal if the Forbidden City is cloaked in a cloud of pollution. According to the China Tourism Academy, the number of overseas tourists to China fell by nearly 2 per cent over the first three months of the year, with environmental issues such as air and water pollution believed to be the primary reason. Domestically, there’s been a surge of interest in “clean-air” holidays.
Fujian, on China’s southeastern coast, courted tourists from the north during the smoggy winter months with a TV spot featuring waterfalls, mountains and blue skies. “Take a deep breath,” the ad implored. “You’re in Fujian.”
Finding a flat can be a thankless task for Asia’s new middle class. As economies have boomed the property market has struggled to provide affordable digs for all. One of the biggest challenges is finding enough homes for the elderly. At a conference in Kuala Lumpur in August, housing experts from around the world will consider ways to give senior citizens a leg up the property ladder.
Medical tourism is becoming big business in Thailand – almost 1.5 million foreigners headed to Thailand last year to check in to its clinics and hospitals. Now the country is attracting aviation medical experts from around the world to debate safer patient care in the air, with the first International Civil Air Medical Transportation Conference being held in Bangkok this July.
“The civil air medical sector is in high demand,” says Shane Brooks, deputy director of aviation quality and safety at Bangkok Hospital Medical Center, the event’s main host. Topics of debate will include new technology, safety and repatriation.
On the road again
The Malaysian island of Penang has attracted more foreign investment: Chinese firm Beijing Urban Construction Group has won €2bn in road and tunnel projects to connect the island to the mainland.