Bonding People Together Through Illuminations

When December arrives, the streets of Tokyo are filled with a romantic and festive Christmas mood, creating a happy atmosphere bustling with a great many lovers and families. Making the most of the season, the richest time of year, a social experiment was conducted in Tokyo's Marunouchi district to benefit urban development.
Christmas lights shining along Marunouchi Naka-dori Street. Throughout the illumination period, various programs were held to give visitors a holiday feel and create a cozy atmosphere.

Urban Development to Meet Diversifying Lifestyles

Naka-dori is the main street of Marunouchi, one of Japan's premier business districts. It was here that real estate developer Mitsubishi Estate, the OMY Area Management Association (Ligare), the Council for Area Development and Management of Otemachi, Marunouchi, and Yurakucho conducted the Marunouchi Street Park 2021 Winter social experiment from December 1 to 25, 2021.

Their objective was to create a "people-centered space" by turning a road seemingly meant for cars into a park area and provide a more open and enriched urban life. While the project was part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Park Street Tokyo initiative, it also aimed to help develop the Marunouchi district as a tourist destination and promote it as a place for business creation.

Marunouchi Street Park, which started in 2019, is positioned as "a social experiment to explore the role of streets, their seasonal versatility, and how they can adapt to diversifying lifestyles." Looking ahead to the post-COVID age, the project incorporated not only basic infectious disease control measures into the verification experiment, but also measured the flow of human traffic and shared information on congestion levels.

Projects were conducted a total of three times in 2021 across spring, summer, and winter in order to verify seasonal changes as well. During the spring and summer operations, workplaces were set up in outdoor spaces to test the comfort, productivity, and health benefits of working in a lush urban park.

"Now that people are free to choose where they work thanks to the push for telecommuting, we thought that the outdoors could be an option too," says Nakajima Mineko of both Mitsubishi Estate and Ligare.

One section of the Marunouchi Street Park 2021 Summer project. Workplaces were set up along a cozy space covered with grass, plants, and trees.

Illuminations that People with an Impairment Can Also Enjoy

Marunouchi Street Park 2021 Winter sought ways to make a more comfortable space for viewing the illuminations along Marunouchi Naka-dori Street, a wintertime tradition.

A 4-meter-high Christmas tree, photo spots taking full advantage of the lights, lounge spaces for warming up around a fire, food trucks offering dishes from nearby hotels, and "glass houses" providing a warm space to enjoy these dishes were all created for the project.

In aiming to create "a space open to all," the illumination project this winter also ran trial tours for people with visual impairments.

"We thought about the ways we could make illuminations, which appeal to our sense of vision, more accessible for those with an impairment. Alongside asking for expert opinions, we also interviewed people born with visual impairments and had them actually take a walk down Marunouchi Naka-dori Street," says Nakajima.

The interviews reaffirmed that people with a visual impairment have always had an excellent ability to expand their imaginations using non-visual cues and enjoy themselves abundantly through their other senses. As such, a tour was set up in which volunteer guides had participants touch the lights and trees directly and provided them with detailed information, like the fact that 1.2 million lights were used to decorate the trees along the street. "It was very well received by the trial participants, and it's something we hope to bring with us into future projects," says Nakajima.

Merchandise made from works by artists with an impairment, Christmas cards including donations to support organizations for people with an impairment, and other products letting visitors feel a connection with a diverse array of people were also on sale at the Information Center.

Since the late 1990s, the Otemachi, Marunouchi, and Yurakucho districts have been working with the local community to create more comfortable spaces by reviewing details like the width of the sidewalks and types of trees planted along the streets. Marunouchi Street Park 2021 Winter's glittering illuminations also evoked the sense of care people have for one another and the desire to cherish connections.

There is no doubt that the community that has emerged out of Naka-dori Street has become a driving force behind the Marunouchi district's development. Expectations are also high for Marunouchi Street Park's continued efforts in order to ensure Marunouchi's lasting presence as a symbolic district in the post-COVID age.

A Christmas tree over 4 meters high

Park Street Tokyo

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is promoting the use of road space to create areas people can enjoy walking around as part of its efforts to shift urban development "from cars to people." TMG is also working in collaboration with community groups and local towns and cities toward the "new normal" of living with COVID-19.
Interview and writing by Wada Masayo
Photos courtesy of Mitsubishi Estate / OMY Area Management Association (Ligare)
Translated by Amitt