September 30, 2006


Yokohama City - Pioneer in Public Involvement

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.49 (September 2006)
"Initiatives and Achievements of Local Governments in Japan" Article Series No.14

The need to build a sustainable society requires the involvement of local residents in planning and development of public works projects and policies, and some governments are starting to employ public works planning processes that include giving citizens a hearing. This has led to the introduction of what is called the Public Involvement (PI) system. In this system, governmental bodies disclose sufficient information about public works projects to residents at the design and planning stages and provide opportunities for opinion exchanges so that a wide range of citizen views and needs can be reflected in plans and policies.

How does PI actually work? Since 1992, the Aoba Ward in Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture, has been involving general public in its road-building projects by gathering opinions from its residents at the conceptual phase and reflecting these opinions in a road project. As the first of its kind in Japan, this effort was developed by trial and error as a way to address local issues in a democratic manner. It is now considered to have been a ground-breaking effort that accumulated valuable know-how for getting residents involved and building a consensus on public work projects. Public Involvement in City Road Planning; Onda Motoishikawa Line
(In Japanese only)

Public participation in road planning

Aoba Ward is located in the northern part of Yokohama City, and is a relatively new administrative ward that was created when Kohoku and Midori Wards were restructured in 1994. Its current population is about 300,000 and its area is 35 square kilometers. The ward borders Kawasaki City, also in Kanagawa Prefecture, on the north and Machida City of Tokyo Prefecture on the west. Geographically, it is part of the Tama Hills, with the Tsurumi River running across the center of the city from south to north. It used to be a quiet agricultural region, but after the construction of the Tokyu Denen-Toshi Line, a commuter train line which opened in 1966, its population rapidly increased. About 60 percent of the land was developed in line with city planning; this resulted in an orderly arrangement of residential areas, roads and parks, providing a comfortable living environment.

The project selected to undergo public participatory road planning was the Onda Motoishikawa Road (hereafter Onmoto Road), which will run from east to west through the hilly area of Aoba Ward. The ward already had three main south-north roads, but none running east-west except for Route 246 in the southern part of the ward. In other words, there was no main west-east ward-managed road in its northern end, compromising the transportation convenience and integrity of the ward. Thus, the Onmoto Road was designed to serve as the main road connecting the ward east to west.

Yokohama City chose the Onmoto Road as a model case of public involvement in road planning because they had plenty of time to devote to planning and the area affected was limited. The Onmoto Road was not an urgent priority, which meant that residents were able to take time to discuss the plan. It was also a local road that was to be built completely within Aoba Ward, so the government could easily identify which residents were concerned and could participate in the project planning.

Involving residents

The first step towards public participation in planning the Onmoto Road was taken in November 1992 and involved a questionnaire survey of 40,000 households in the targeted area. Residents responded well, and expressed positive expectations about the way the project was being pursued. However, when the first meeting was held, fewer people than expected attended and city government officials were exposed to harsh reality such as comments from the participants to the effect that "This seems to be no more than token public participation."

After this the city government conducted PR activities, such as a campaign through a local cable television program and tours of planned construction sites. Although these efforts did attract attention, they also raised the issue of the increasing difficulty of reaching an agreement as more and more people become involved. Indeed, it is not clear who should be targeted for resident participation in planning road construction, which involves a wide range of potential stakeholders. The list seems endless, including landowners, people living on planned construction sites, people who live close to the site and will be exposed to the noise of construction work, those who live far from the site but are concerned about environmental protection, and those who would use the road but live far from the site.

In Yokohama's case, the city placed primary importance on people living along the planned route. The city government divided these residents into four blocks and held town meetings for each block. A committee was established to monitor public participation in the planning process; it was composed of 24 members, including 12 residents selected from the public, seven recommended by a coalition of residents' associations, two academic experts living in Aoba Ward, and three city officials. It was decided, however, that this committee would not have any decision-making power, but would function as a link between the public and the Yokohama city government. Therefore, the committee had only three limited roles; to sort out and release public opinion, to collect and release environmental data, and to examine various options for road construction.

The 'No development' option

One of the most remarkable features of this attempt was its inclusion of discussions of a wide range of options, including the option of "no development." Fundamentally, public works should be planned based on a social consensus regarding the project's appropriateness and necessity. However, in Japan it has been normal procedure to plan public works without seeking consensus and to implement all projects once they have been planned. Environmental assessments are of course conducted, but because they are carried out at the implementation stage, residents' opinions are not easily incorporated and it is almost impossible to drastically change or suspend planned projects.

However, in the case of the Onmoto Road, residents participated in the construction plan from its conceptual stage, and therefore it was possible to suggest the idea of "no development" as an option. The committee examined several options including no development from various perspectives such as "conservation of green space and agricultural lands," "elimination of through transportation," "user-friendliness of the road," and "influence on the residential area." At this stage of consideration, Yokohama city government was requested to release a wide range of documents including current traffic volume, the actual noise and vibration data and air pollution levels. As the example of Yokohama shows, a truly democratic society is the one that ensures administrative information disclosure and resident participation in the public works decision-making process at the conceptual stage.


The committee narrowed the list of potential alternative road plans to seven routes and the "no development" option. The next question was, "Who will make the decision on the alternatives that have been identified?" The committee unanimously agreed that the mayor was the person to make the final decision, but this discussion identified the decision-making process as an issue. In the committee and block town meetings, various opinions were exchanged. However, the city needed to grasp the opinion of the silent majority, because a limited range of participants had been attending the meetings.

As a result of discussions in the committee, it was agreed to conduct a questionnaire and seek comments from experts in the field about the survey results. A questionnaire survey was carried out targeting 10,000 randomly chosen households, about of 10 percent of the roughly 98,000 households in Aoba Ward. At the time of the survey, brochures were delivered to explain the history of the project, alternative routes for road construction, results of environmental surveys and future plans for the project.

Nearly 27 percent of households responded to the questionnaire, and more than half of respondents admitted the necessity of the road development. The expert research group judged that the results of the questionnaire were reliable, and presented a report describing what would be the desirable road development plan to the mayor after discussing it with the committee. Finally, it was concluded that the development of the Onmoto Road was necessary to form a backbone of road networks for the area.

Importance of a democratic decision-making process

In November 1999, seven years after the public-involvement initiative began, the blueprint for the Onmoto Road construction plan was drafted. In November 2003, Yokohama City decided on the construction plan as part of the city's urban planning. Discussions on how to bring it on stream are now under way.

This "road construction project based on public participation" proceeded through trial and error, but the Onmoto Road plan made a decided stir in the debate on the decision-making process for public works. For example, the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport is including public involvement (PI) in its implementation a road construction project for the Tokyo Gaikaku Expressway, an outer beltway around central Tokyo. In this project, the ministry has undertaken PI from the conceptual phase - the first time for this to happen with an expressway project in Japan. The ministry is disclosing information to residents and users along the road and discussing the plan through opinion exchange. When implementing a public works project, the government, whether it is national or municipal, should be aware that it is not the only actor in the project, even if it has the right to make the decisions. A sustainable society can be achieved only when local residents have access to information and are given a chance to join in the decision-making process.

(Staff Writer Ichie Tsunoda)