Friday, January 29, 2016

City Slickers in Yokohama Forests: Yokohama Green-up 5-year Plan 横浜みどりアップ計画

Deep Iijima Citizen Forest

Although the first Citizen Forest, Iijima Citizen Forest, was established in 1972, the program of urban forestry did not have much strategic direction for quite some time in Yokohama. The landlords who have been inheriting the forest for generations wanted to keep their family practice. But many of them could not find younger generations to carry on … in the end the families became typical metropolitan dwellers who were forgetting household tradition of forestry. While their tax burden, as property and inheritance taxes, skyrocketed due to Yokohama’s proximity to the center of Tokyo. It became more and more difficult to have somebody manage the forests. Trespassers and plant thieves came, people damped garbage or worse, and the forest floors were getting compacted daily. The high-tech civil engineering in the City prevents floods or forest fires, but at the same time it hinders natural cycle of plant succession. As the forests were abandoned in multiple ways, its biodiversity was reduced to a critical point for substantial soil runoffs that facilitated easy landslides in this rainy and earthquake-prone island.

Bony surface …
a compacted soil

Spoiled urbanites did not like the neighborhood forests that turned into rubbish collectors while depriving the “right of sunshine” for their new home-sweet-home built randomly around, or as the source of fallen leaves that clog the drainage of public roads. The spread of satellite TVs and cellphones also made them complain “those inconveniently standing trees over there.” The atmosphere in a community turned sour between newcomers to housing developments and traditional landlords. There was a definite need to deal with the mess. Then, the Burst of the Bubble in Japanese economy changed something during the early 1990s. Yokohama started to feel fed-up with go-go concrete buildings over the destroyed forests. People imagined protecting forest for the next generation, for agricultural land to know the agriculture and healthy foods, and for greenery to be enjoyed hands-on.

Kashiwa-cho Forest is just next to
a typical bed town of Tokyo.
Kumano Jinja Forest exists side-by-side
with the newly built houses.

Popular roads within a forest see visitors continuously.

Between 1996 and 2002, to nurture volunteer organizations in urban forestry, Yokohama Forest Forum よこはまの森フォーラム was organized by the collaboration between the civil society and the City. Although their activity culminated in 2002 with the establishment of an official Outline to Support Forest Volunteerism in Yokohama 森づくりボランティア団体育成・支援要綱, the coordination problem among actors was obvious for everybody joined the force. The former Forum members studied and discussed how to proceed for the environmental policy amicably agreed in a community, with more solid funding. The first comprehensive plan to achieve these was voted in the City Congress in 2008. Based on the decision, the systematized help for Citizen Forests began in 2009 with the introduction of Green Tax 横浜みどり税 and the first Yokohama Green-up 5-year Plan 横浜みどりアップ計画. Evenly split excess taxation was introduced for the individual and corporate citizens in Yokohama, currently 900 yen per year for individuals. 

Do you remember this one at Segami Forest?
Two volunteer organizations are coordinating each other …

The money collected with this levy, roughly 2.4 billion yen per year, is pooled in the special fund for supporting natural conservation and restoration programs of forests 緑の保全及び創造に資する事業の充実を図るための基金. The money is strictly ear-marked for the management and improvement in the quality of greenery in the City, and to support more preferential tax treatment for the forest owners, such as active purchases of land by the City when landlords plan to sell them for inheritance tax. In 2013 a technical Guide Line for ForestCreation and Management 横浜市森づくりガイドラインと保全管理計画 was finalized in order for making practical activity plans at each forest. (This documentation is actually fun to read as an eco-friendly gardening guide!) Later in 2014, the program entered in the 2nd 5-year plan. So far it has preserved vegetation in the city at about 14 square meters per citizen … well, certainly, a man cannot live with food sprouting from 14 square meters of land alone. Even Astronaut Watney had more Martian spaces to survive. Yokohama is definitely not an independently sustainable city. Though, the policy has achieved something, I guess.

Kawawa Citizen Forest is next to an agricultural land.
Carrots in Maioka Forest

The City’s Green-up Program supports 2 kinds of forest: one category is closed private forests under the legal restriction in development, and another is open for ordinary citizens (i.e. not landlords) to enjoy. The first one (Greenery Preservation Area, Forests of Water Sources, Special Greenery Preservation Area 緑地保存地区・源流の森・特別緑地保全地区) is for conservation of greenery with more emphasis on natural disaster prevention and water-source preservation. Especially once the land is designated as “Special Greenery Preservation Area” which is based on the land legislation at national level, the development of the forest is prohibited in perpetuity, in return for good preferential tax treatments. The second category includes our Citizen Forest family and urban parks. The parks are registered by a national act, Urban Park Act, and defined for "usage," so that it obeys the regulation concerning visitor facilities, such as barrier-free access, toilets and (at least some) paved roads. Kanazawa Botanical Park 金沢自然公園 next to Kamariya Citizen Forest is in this group. Yokohama Nature Sanctuary, Citizen Forests (of mainly 2 ha +), and their smaller cousin Friendship Forests ふれあい樹林 (of less than 2 ha) provide minimum facility for usage, but have more emphasis on nature conservation. 

This is a Garden, in Kanazawa Botanical Park.

The parks under Urban Park Act and Nature Sanctuaries are owned by (national, prefectural, or municipal) governments. The rest is privately owned, and hence the overall responsible party is landlords. Nevertheless once a private land joins in the Green-up Program, the large forestry works, such as thinning overgrown trees and construction works for landslide prevention, are done by the money from the special fund of Green Tax. That is great, but the City and landlords alone cannot restore the biodiversity of the forests. The job in Satoyama was done by everybody in the community before Yokohama became a big city. So, the 21st century forest maintenance asks the new neighbors for help. The urbanites in Yokohama are called in to be forest volunteers to collaborate with landlords to manage at least a part of the forests of any kind, including parks.

Sent by the City, the professional contractors are
dealing with the large trees.
Large landscaping by professionals
in order to stop landslides to adjacent houses

The strongest merits in neighborhood forest maintenance are their careful, thorough, and continuous care, even if the work coverage at one time would be limited. People live nearby, so it is sustainable. As villagers of 200 years ago did, the 21st century volunteers could study and monitor constantly the environment in detail, and if necessary smarten up the mess in a gentle way. They can also tell their kids how things are going in their forest, as village elders did to their next generation ... if they know how to do it.

Volunteers are busy thinning a bamboo grove: proud owners of personal saw.

Providing educational opportunities for citizens who can participate in the program is one of the main ways of using the money from the Green Tax Fund. The city and the people who have been active for forest protection before the green tax created an education program of 3 stages. The first is for the people who are “just curious” and may visit to a promotional booth at festivals in the city. There, poster presentations and videos advertise several fun and educational activities in the forest. Some of them may actually come to visit and join the entertainment in the forest, where the City recruits potential volunteers by promoting individual “volunteer registration.” At the second stage, the City provides technical seminars for those who could join the volunteer troops listed at the City. The seminars start from “Forest volunteering 101: introduction to Yokohama Forest Volunteer Program.” In the third stage, the people actually join in a Forest Volunteer organization to participate in forest activities. They walk in the forest to learn and monitor the environment, care the forest by picking trashes and clearing overgrown forest floor with modest methodology, and organize visitor fun days to let the people know the delight of having rich forest nearby. Meanwhile, advanced training courses are provided, free of charge, throughout a year for the volunteers to hone their skills. As of FY 2015, there are more than 100 groups for forests in Yokohama (; it is excluding the number of organizations for urban parks, for stream lovers, or for hiking clubs). Some are specialized in a particular forest, or even a specific part of one forest. We’ve met them in each of Citizen Forests, like Girl Scouts for Yasashi Forest. Others focus on a special vegetation or landscape, e.g. Japan Bamboo Fun Club for Kozukue Castle Forest. Segami Forest has several organizations demarcating their activity area, geographically and by vegetation. 

Proud agricultural cooperative of Jike
collectively maintain Satoyama tradition.

I’ve attended Forest Volunteering 101 course last fall. In the next post, I’ll report about it. It was really a fun!

The City Office who’s in charge of execution of Green-up Plan is

Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau 横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-671-2891
FAX: 045-641-3490

1 comment:

  1. After the power-lines, you will come to a seasonal stream. Continue along the path and it will wind along the stream bank. forest city