I just returned from Tokyo, and if you are travelling to the city that continues to inspire the world, I recommend getting a copy of Emergent Tokoy, Designing the Spontaneous City by Jorge Almazan (ORO Editions).
I have been reading it as I explored Tokyo and found that Tokyo, despite being a massive city – almost the entire population of Canada fits in Tokyo – remains a very functional, intimate and highly enjoyable city. Walking the streets of Tokyo, you will stumble upon very small businesses occupying microspaces. I found the breath of the businesses and spaces pretty mind-boggling, and looking at an explanation, I came across a passage in Jorge Almazan’s interview in Bloomberg:
JM: There are a number of reasons small business in Tokyo is so vibrant. A huge one that you can look at cities around the world and ask is how many flexible microspaces are available across your city. By microspaces, I mean small little nooks and crannies in the commercial or residential sectors of the city that you can do a lot of different things with and don’t need to pay a huge amount of money in rent.
This is going to sound wild to anyone who lives in the US, but for any two-story rowhouse in Tokyo, the owner can by right operate a bar, a restaurant, a boutique, a small workshop on the ground floor — even in the most residential zoned sections of the city. That means you have an incredible supply of potential microspaces. Any elderly homeowner could decide to rent out the bottom floor of their place to some young kid who wants to start a coffee shop, for example. When you look at what we call yokocho alleyways — charming, dingy alleyways that grew out of the black markets post-World War II, which are some of the most iconic and beloved sections of the city now — it’s all of these tiny little bars and restaurants just crammed into every available space.
Amazing use of microspaces! Mind-boggling to think about the hoops a business in North America has to jump through to secure a tiny itsy bit of space to use creatively in a city! So much to learn from Tokyo.