A Sea Forest Grows in Tokyo
TIM LEFFEL / Sports Features Communications
March 26 - Where many people saw an eyesore, Japanese architect Tadao Ando saw a great opportunity: to provide densely populated Tokyo with a “sea forest” on the bay.
The artificial island is home to some 123,000 tons of garbage that arrived in a period from 1973 to 1987. In 2007 volunteers starting planting saplings on the island’s 88 hectares (217 acres). The fast-growing forest is turning a barren space into an oxygen-producing, carbon-trapping lung for the world’s most populated city.
This Umi-no-Mori in Japanese is a cornerstone of Japan’s ambitious green initiative that’s part of its “Toyko Vision 2020” program. City leaders are implementing it in the hopes that it’s part of their Summer Olympics hosting program in 2020, but it will proceed regardless of what happens in their getting the bid or not. The central goal is to plant 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of new green space in the city this decade. The plantings will be a mix of new parks, rooftop gardens, and trees planted on public lands such as beside railway tracks.
To date, 20 of the target of 88 hectares of trees on the Sea Forest have been planted. Rich soil will be developed from compost made from city park and roadside vegetation waste; excavated surplus soil; waste soil from water purification plants; and heat-treated sewage sludge. Recycled rubble of demolished buildings makes up the material on pathways through the rows of planted trees.
With biodiversity a major consideration, a lush green forest, an area for water sports, and a sanctuary for birds and aquatic life will be created. As the plants grow, the forest-island should further cool sea breezes as they head into the concrete- and steel-jammed city of Tokyo on hot days and act like a natural air-conditioner.
If the city wins the Olympic bid, the Sea Forest will have four competition venues able to host equestrian, mountain bike, and BMX cycling events. A seawater channel that cuts through the island could be used for rowing, canoe, and kayak competitions, as well as marathon swimming.
The island is located about six kilometers (3.5 miles) from the site of the main stadium and plans are to connect it to the city by a road tunnel.
While the city could easily foot the bill for the tree planting, the organizers solicited donations of around $10 from 500,000 people to create a sense of ownership and contribution from the community. A few celebrities have helped the cause, with photo op tree plantings from Bono of U2, a Japanese astronaut, and a few Nobel laureates.
While the planet struggles with deforestation and global warming, Tokyo is making impressive strides to add green space to every possible location---including on top of what was once a barren eyesore.
For more on the project, see the Umi-no-mori website [http://www.uminomori.metro.tokyo.jp/index_e.html] in English and Japanese.
**Tim Leffel is the author of four travel books and editor of the award-winning webzine Perceptive Travel. http://www.perceptivetravel.com
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