The Crisis of Successful Places – Shibuya’s Case


  • Carlos J.L. Balsas Ind. Researcher, Albany, New York, USA



Japan, Tokyo, Shibuya, Sakariba, Shopping, Entertainment, Downtown Improvement District.


Successful places in cities are difficult to find. Usually, they result from spontaneous appropriations by multiple publics. The essential characteristics of those places can be augmented by urban design techniques. Once deemed successful or promising, they may attract additional investment, which can also strengthen their endogenous essence. They might acquire new identities and become rebranded during requalification processes. However, the question remains regarding the appropriate levels of intervention and the extent of regulation and management, including design, maintenance, safety, funding and promotion. The Shibuya district in Tokyo, Japan, is perceived and portrayed as a successful place by the media. Its economic functions comprise a mix of shopping and entertainment. It is also a relatively central place in close proximity to major rail, bus and subway lines, and a critical location for retail, employment, restaurants, museums and hotels. The purpose of this article is threefold: (i) to examine the characteristics that make Shibuya seemingly a very successful place, (ii) to identify strategic investments and their eventual correlation with changes in patronage, and (iii) to understand and review recent public space interventions and management practices. The research methods included visits to Shibuya, in loco built environment inventories, scrutiny of public space improvements, interviews with management personnel of the Center-Gai association, and bibliographic reviews. The key finding reveals a certain emphasis on creating a highly energetic iconography and postmodern identity, which has contributed to making Shibuya a distinct urbanscape in a very cosmopolitan Asian global city.


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