March 15, 2005


Multi-purpose Aero Park

* This article is under copyright protection.

Manabu Akaike
Universal Design Intelligence Inc.

The Multi-purpose Aero Park opened in 1995 in Taiki-cho of Japan's northernmost island Hokkaido. Taiki-cho is comprised on over 10,000 hectares of very solid and flat land, and is blessed with scare rainfall and snowfall and long hours of sunlight, all excellent conditions for the aerospace industry.

The Aero Park was developed as part of the Hokkaido Aerospace Industrial Base Project and features a one-kilometer-long runway. It is well-used by both local inhabitants and sky sport enthusiasts as a place to enjoy flying gliders and light airplanes, as well as other forms of outdoor recreation, while at the same time serving as an aerospace industry base for testing next generation aerospace technology.

The first trial launches in Japan of the hybrid rocket took place at the Aero Park. The hybrid rocket combines the use of solid fuel and liquid oxygen agents and is much more stable than traditional rockets which run on either solid or liquid fuel, and materials are also much cheaper. Research into hybrid rocket applications is now taking place at various universities. The Taiki park was also selected as an official flight testing station for the research and development of the Stratospheric Platform being supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications.

The Stratospheric Platform refers to launching of an unmanned airship equipped with communications payload and observation sensors to a stratospheric altitude of about 20km, where climatic conditions are relatively stable, where it will be used for communications, broadcasting and earth observation purposes. Fixed point in-air flight tests between 2003 and 2004 are scheduled to take place at Taiki.

In order to gain the positive consensus of the local inhabitants toward the creation of this aerospace industrial base, a wide variety of events were sponsored at Taiki-cho including the founding of a Taiki chapter of the Young Astronauts Club Japan, the Space Jamboree festival, and public lectures on aerospace technology. In August 2001, the Eighth National PET Bottle Rocket Championship was staged for a mass audience. Counting visitors to aerospace testing projects, observers and event participants, Taiki-cho which has a population of about 6,800 was visited by an aggregate total of 2,800 people in the year 2000. The economic impact of the resulting business in machinery and materials, food and beverage services, rental cars and locally made products and souvenirs within the jurisdiction is estimated at 100 million yen.

However, once testing activity and events caused the number of visitors to the town to increase, it became necessary to provide new facilities and services to accommodate them. What came to the fore at that point was the grand design concept for the community known as Mobile Town.

With less than 7,000 population of its own, for Taiki-cho, the economic burden of large scale land or facility development would be considerable, and it is also self-obvious that the net economic impact would be detrirnental, not to mention that development that would place additional burdens on open spaces so blessed with nature's riches is also something to be avoided.

The Mobile Town concept was developed in answer to this situation as a way to avoid constructing fixed box-like buildings to house facilities and services. At present, researchers led by Kazuyoshi Watari, associate professor in environmental design at Tsukuba University Institute of Art & Design, are working on the design concept.

Mobile Town is a new concept in town planning that strives for flexibility in providing diverse, purpose-driven functions and services by combining and recombining a system of trailers, cranes and lifts. Town planning that relies on mobile facilities means that the overall layout can be changed easily as needed, and rearranged in ways that better meet the needs and desires of the users and the circumstances of use.

Aerospace testing facilities, service facilities like restaurants and shops, and entertainment facilities can all be moved about within Taiki town and in neighboring areas as needed for scheduled events or to meet fixed objectives. While an eminently rational use of resources, the continuous flux of the town plan also makes something of an "event'' out of the facilities themselves, and out of the growing and changing community, making for what seems to be a most enjoyable type of town planning.

Mechanisms are also being studied so that while remaining a way to construct needed facilities without damaging the land and while sustaining the ecosystem, utilization of the earth's natural reclamation capability post-moving would return materials to mother earth to foment new territory.

In the name of recent forays into local development there have been not a few failures in so-called furusato hometown funding, the boom in local expos, and theme parks and museums built expressly to attract tourists, when construction of unimaginative box-like facilities that overreach in design, expenditure and scale, with soft systems unable to keep up. Handsome buildings erected with massive financial investment and carrying considerable maintenance costs continue to decay without being used. Town planning that gets away from that kind of "over''-development, that is flexible and compact and founded on the participation of the local citizens, is finally rising to the fore.

JAPAN CLOSE-UP, January 2003, published by PHP

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