Density defined: Tokyo is home to the world’s largest urban population. It’s filled with people, both horizontally and vertically, and citizens constantly interact with one another, creating an around- the-clock sense of urban surveillance. The city’s famed Shibuya Crossing, for instance, pictured here, is used by approximately 500,000 people daily.
Informing accessibility: Security manifests in many ways, including the ability of those with disabilities to navigate a city. An expansive network of markings line Tokyo’s major streets, indicating crossings, stairs and other street architecture for those with visual impairments. Often, the intricate markings extend into buildings themselves, allowing these individuals to arrive safely at their destinations.
Well lit: The lighting of public spaces in Tokyo is a priority. The city’s municipal governments ensure that everything from major roadways to small side streets and alleys is lit. This isn’t, mind you, stadium-like glare. Simply, patches of properly proportioned light that ensure a safe journey day or night.
Community minded: The majority of police in Tokyo are stationed at more than 1,200 kōban, small one- to two-room police huts, like the one pictured here, located throughout the city. As part of the local neighborhood, the police happily field questions as well as address safety concerns. Kōban-stationed police are trained, for instance, in both self-defense and flower arrangement. This community-based approach is so well respected that it is being exported to other countries in North and South America. Brazil is a particularly enthusiastic adopter.
Neighborhood watch: Most people perceive Tokyo as a single city. In fact, it is a collection of 23 wards, 26 cities, five towns and eight villages, each of which are made up of a number of neighborhoods. When it comes to safety and security, it’s the neighborhoods that have the most influence. The Kodomo 110 program, which is coordinated by the wards and local police, is facilitated entirely by the local community. Found on the doors of shops and residences, the program’s stickers, pictured right, indicate safe spaces that are able to address and support everything from the health to the security concerns of its residents. This community connection is further complemented by the chōnaikai, or neighborhood associations, which serve as communication channels that can respond in times of crisis.
Japan’s culture is a relatively homogenous one, rooted in care and respect. Consequently, Tokyo, unlike other cities, rarely shows the wear and tear of other urban environments. Residents invest in their areas, ensuring that buildings, sidewalks and streets are well kept to create a sense of safety and security that permeates the city’s streets.
While the Japanese capital routinely ranks as one of the safest cities in the world, its safety is the result of a careful balance of these cultural codes with architecture, design and urban planning. As the city continues to grow and diversify, coupled with an influx of individuals thanks to the upcoming Rugby World Cup and Summer Olympics, it will need to adapt to keep its citizens both safe and secure.
A few key areas have been marked for improvement: resiliency against natural disasters, cybersecurity and collaboration between the public and private sectors on large-scale safety and security initiatives. Tokyo possesses a high level of infrastructural safety, but its earthquake susceptibility continues to represent a real threat. There are still structures that aren’t earthquake resistant. Evacuation plans, as well as inundation and natural disaster countermeasures, aren’t yet fully fleshed out for an international audience.
Cybersecurity presents an entirely different issue. The Olympic Games in London were subject to more than 200 million cyberattacks. While the threat that cyberattacks will pose in 2020 can be inferred, preparing for it is a completely different matter, because much of the current knowledge may be potentially irrelevant. The key will be increasing public awareness of digital safety and security. More immediately, other cities have a few facets from which Tokyo can take inspiration. There is little formal cross talk between public and private. In the future, the sharing of resources and information will be key, allowing the city to appropriately respond to safety and security issues, as well as those caused by density and flow. Tokyo will also need to address the idea of event-specific security, taking heed of the lessons learned from London and Boston. (Steps are already being taken, with police officers running alongside participants of the Tokyo Marathon and other scalable, event-specific solutions being put in place.) At a technological level, security systems will need updating. Despite designing and manufacturing some of the world’s most cutting-edge digital technology, most of the country’s security systems are still 20 years behind. Ahead of 2020, it’s important to remember that in no way are these issues deal breakers. As we’ve seen across these pages, Tokyo already does many things right. It’s about preparing for the city’s future so that it can continue to be an inspiration for urban safety
Mixed use: Because of the architecture and design of Tokyo, many of its public spaces are in use around the clock. This occurs in massive mixed-use developments, which can contain shops, hotels, offices and apartments, as well as the city’s streets, which are shared by pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. Whether it’s a building or a roadway, mixed use creates greater awareness and, by extension, respect, ensuring there is always someone watching out or able to lend a hand.