Current research topics

Food system mapping: urban agriculture, personal foodsheds, informal food

Farmland loss in Kyoto 2007-2017

My central research as part of the FEAST project. To promote transition to more sustainable agri-food systems, I aim to develop new ways to map existing and potential food systems. From precision mapping of urban agricultural land change processes to exploring personal foodsheds, food lifeworlds and tourist foodscapes, I combine quantitative and qualitative methods, including GIS, participant observation, interviews and participatory workshops. In a study mapping the transition of agriculture-related land use in Kyoto, we found that urban farmland decreased by about 10% from 2007-2017. This means Kyoto City is currently not well positioned to use its projected shrinking population to become more sustainable by relocalizing its food system. Other results suggest ecological footprint per capita rises with the size of cities. Recently, work on informal food practices has taken off, from mapping unmanned food sales stands to conceptual work on informality, food and sustainability.

Multispecies urban futures: degrowth, commons, and landscape stewardship approaches to sustainability

Why multispecies cities?

How cities develop in the 21st century will shape human-nature relationships. This research theme explores more-than-human urban futures through degrowth, commons, and landscape stewardship-inspired approaches to urban sustainability. A more-than-human / multispecies approach to cities can provide new insights because it takes into account other-than-human agency: people are not the only ones shaping cities and their landscapes (the 2020 coronavirus pandemic is a dramatic example). Acknowledging this opens up new worlds of possibilities for rethinking cities in more sustainable ways. This theme thus covers several concurrent projects, all centering around the question: how can we (re-)make cities to be sustainable and provide more-than-human wellbeing?

Edible landscapes as multispecies commons

Starting from 2020, one project will look into the potential of edible landscapes as multispecies commons for socio-ecological restoration of vacant land in shrinking Japanese cities. Over 90% of Japanese cities larger than 100,000 inhabitants will shrink until 2045, leading to “spongification” and increased vacant land. Recent research on depopulation proposes that landscape and urban planning can use shrinking processes to provide social and ecological benefits. In particular, edible landscapes can benefit people and nature through providing spaces for multispecies conviviality. Together with research assistant Lihua Cui (Kyoto University), we look at Sapporo and Kyoto as case studies to assess what trees and bushes are best suited for different types of vacant land. Based on this analysis, we aim to create a toolkit to implement edible landscapes as multispecies commons to achieve a positive urban degrowth in shrinking Japanese cities. This research is funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science with a three-year Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (2020-2022).

Post-growth landscape theory?

The work above builds on a past research around landscape stewardship, cities, degrowth and more-than-human geography. Specifically, I have worked to develop a landscape stewardship model for biocultural cityscapes (satomachi, 里町), drawing on the traditional Japanese concepts of satoyama and satomachi as well as the biocultural diversity theory. One major output of this research was recently published in the form of a special issue I co-edited on landscape and degrowth in post-growth societies with a focus on Japan, including my conceptual paper (in Japanese) on degrowth and landscape. Another preprint examines how we might decolonize our imaginaries from capitalism, and who might help us to do so.

Human-nature relationships: Japanese honey bees

Another project is examining human-nature relationships with Japanese bees (Apis cerana) and its associated social practices. Japanese bees are interesting, as they are neither domesticated nor completely ‘wild’. Provide shelter, and they may come, or not — or they stay, or leave! In particular, the role of hobby beekeepers and other stakeholders, as well as the bee-friendly city as a vision for more livable urban areas have proven a fascinating area of study. Early results bring insights into demographics and motivation of hobby beekeepers, as well as into attitudes of residents towards urban beekeeping. This project is a joint effort lead by Dr. Maximilian Spiegelberg (RIHN) and conducted in collaboration with Rika Shinkai (RIHN) and Dr. Jingchao Gan (Nagoya University), and has won several internal and external grants. It has also led us to become beekeepers!

Forthcoming multispecies urban futures work

A number of other activities related to multispecies urban futures are ongoing. For example, with colleagues I am currently working on a solarpunk-inspired speculative fiction anthology published in collaboration with World Weaver Press. Work is underway for a fundamental re-definition of the sustainability concept based around multispecies ideas. With AOI Landscape Design and Lihua Cui, we are exploring what a multispecies community garden design might look like. Some of this research was funded by a Incubation Study grant by the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (2019-2020). Starting 2020, I will also be collaborating with Dr. Joost Vervoort (Utrecht University) on the ANTICIPLAY project looking at gaming and anticipatory governance.

Young children & urban green space: access during daycare, parks as commons,  demand hotspots

Young children’s access to nature is vital for their mental and physical health and development. But daycare centers in high density urban areas often cannot provide large gardens, and using parks as commons can lead to conflicts with other users and overcrowding. This research examines what challenges daycare centers in Japan face in providing young children with nature contact, what expectations parents have for children’s recreation while in daycare, and whether green space demand hotspots can be identified to improve green space planning.

First results suggest that UDCs use a variety of GS and aim to provide daily access. Caregivers are vital in mediating children’s access, but locally available GS diversity, quality and quantity as well as institutional support were perceived as lacking. Parents did not rank GS high among their priorities when selecting daycare providers, and showed limited awareness of conflicts during GS visits.  This implies strong public investment into holistically improving GS diversity, quality and quantity is urgently needed from the perspective of public health and urban planning. This work is undertaken with the help of research assistant Ms Lihua Cui (Kyoto University) and funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science with a three-year Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (B) from 2017-2020.

Completed research

Private and informal green space as green infrastructure: towards participatory maintenance policies

This research examined and compared how private and informal green space can function as green infrastructure. In particular, we focus on the role and potential of participatory maintenance policies. Fieldwork stretches across several sites in Tokyo (Japan). The project is a joint effort lead by PI Dr. Katsunori Furuya (Chiba University) and conducted in collaboration with Dr. Yui Takase (Ibaraki University), my former PhD student and now Dr. Minseo Kim (Chiba University) and Shōkan Kō (Chiba University). First results reveal that how residents view informal greenspace in Ichikawa City depended on how much contact with formal green space they have in their daily life. A survey of the North part of the city found 6% of land use consisting of IGS. This work is funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science with a three-year Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C) from 2017-2020.

Informal urban green space: participatory management,  preferences for management goals in shrinking cities

Can residents manage informal urban green space themselves? Do they want to? How much municipal support do they require? These questions have emerged as central problems from earlier IGS research, and are key to unlocking the recreational potential of IGS. I examine them drawing on data from four major Japanese cities (Sapporo, Kyoto, Kitakyushu, Nagano). I found that residents know IGS in their neighborhood throughout all cities, prefer management over non-management, and propose eight principles for strategic IGS planning policy in Japan. This research was funded by the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature with a one-year Early Career Researcher Support Grant from 2016-2017.

Ready for more-than-human? Urban residents’ willingness to coexist with animals and plants

Cities do not just belong to us humans. But how willing are residents to share their neighborhoods with non-humans, be it animals or plants? What animals do we want to live close by, what animals are we reluctant or barely tolerate? Are these preferences related to place and culture? I found that residents in different countries react to different animals in different ways, and informal green space may play a role as a ‘territory of encounter’ where we relax our expectations, opening up space where human rules are weakened.

Informal urban green space as anti-gentrification strategy?

Making neighborhoods greener can cause land prices to rise, a process called eco-gentrification. This research used GIS and statistical analyses to show that informal green space is available regardless of local socio-economic conditions. It then took a closer look at several Japanese cases to look at ways IGS can be ‘just green enough’: from informal riverside community gardens to formalized usage arrangements for powerline utility corridors in Nagoya.

Informal urban green space: trilingual systematic reviews of  benefits for residents, benefits for biodiversity

I conducted two comprehensive systematic reviews in English, German and Japanese of the literature on informal urban green spaces. The first review found that informal green space plays an important role for urban residents, providing a large variety of recreational opportunities beyond a simple park substitute.  The second review identified informal green space as a major factor in urban biodiversity conservation, and argues routine maintenance threatens this function. Part of my doctoral research.

Informal urban green space: human perception, preference, and past and present use in Sapporo and Brisbane

Using mail-back surveys, this research examined what role informal urban green space plays for residents in their daily lives, and how they evaluate and use it. Results showed that more residents than expected are already using IGS for recreation, even though their view of it as an element of the urban landscape is not always positive. Evaluation and use differed between Australian and Japanese survey sites.

Informal urban green space: rapid assessment of quantity and IGS types

Through two extended field surveys in Sapporo and Brisbane, I developed a rapid assessment method to measure how much informal urban green space exists in cities,  what types it consists of, what its vegetation structure is, and how accessible it is. Results show IGS accounts for about five percent of central urban land use, with vacant lots and street verges as major contributing types.