Graduate School of Horticulture, Landscape Management

Connecting People, Communities and Time through Community Gardens

Akita Laboratory, Landscape Management Program , Graduate School of Horticulture

- Landscape Architecture Field, Landscape Course -

Associate Professor Noriko Akita is studying the future design of metropolitan areas, particularly the use of green areas, and applying her experience to support operations for recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake. We interviewed Associate Professor Akita, who says that taking up her post at Chiba University marked a turning point in her research.

Noriko Akita

Associate Professor, Chiba University Graduate School of Horticulture (as of December 2015). After completing a doctorate in urban engineering at The University of Tokyo Graduate School of Engineering, served as a special researcher at the Center for Sustainable Urban Regeneration, The University of Tokyo until taking up her current position in December 2008. Areas of specialty are land use, landscape management, and environmental management.

How would you describe landscape management, your area of specialty, as a field of study?

In a nutshell, it is a field of study that considers the coexistence of people and nature. In Japan, where the population is steadily declining, deciding how we will manage unused land due to depopulation will be a major issue. Green areas will enrich the spaces in which we live and will also play a vital role in the production of agricultural products, the prevention of disasters, and even fostering the development of communities. From the perspective of both hard and soft areas, I feel that appropriately maintaining, managing, and also creating green spaces will be an important field in Japan in the future. p>

I understand that you studied urban engineering as a student, but what made you interested in this field and to then expand your study to landscape management?

I grew up in a New Town in Osaka. Ever since I was a child, I felt uncomfortable in that space and wondered why. The direct reason why I decided I wanted to study urban engineering in earnest was the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. The city of Kobe had a mature charm about it that was not present in the New Town, which was divorced from the history of the land. Seeing the extensive destruction Kobe suffered made me want to engage in work that was related to spaces. After I obtained my PhD in urban engineering, I became involved in work that entailed formulating regulations and administrative plans, but I felt that there was a limit to managing spaces simply through regulations and planning alone. At that time, I took up a position at the Chiba University Faculty of Horticulture, where I had the opportunity to throw myself into creating and managing green spaces. Taking up this position at Chiba University was a major turning point for me.

I understand that you have interacted with people in areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. What is your intention in doing so?

The fact that a major disaster, said to be a once-in-1000-years event, occurred in my lifetime made me feel that I should take some responsibility in my own way. To find out how to improve the environment devastated by the earthquake even in a small way, regenerate connections between people, and manage the large tracts of land abandoned due to depopulation and tsunami damage, I began working with students to create community gardens in cities such as Ishinomaki, Kamaishi, Rikuzentakata and Otsuchi. Community gardens not only connect local residents but also bring together children, adults, university students, high school students, residents and supporters. From now on, I would like to make these gardens places that also connect the present and the future.

Finally, do you have a message for Chiba University students?

One of the purposes of our disaster area activities was to ask students to consider the diversity of people's evaluation axes of values and sense of happiness and the meaning of living daily life, by having the students directly listen to the stories of people who had overcome quite severe conditions. Studying abroad also gives students opportunities to participate in a similar exercise. This is because research at my laboratory is centered on field work, and to create vibrant spaces, it is important for students not only to have knowledge of the mechanisms related to land use, the ability to read a place and to conceive of spaces, but also to be capable of imagining what kind of people will lead what kinds of lives in those spaces. I feel that the gentle, warm hearts of Chiba University students are supporting many people in disaster areas, and I believe efforts of this kind will become even more important in society in the future. I would like to continue to conceptualize and actually create vibrant spaces together with students, and support the students in their independent efforts.

During seminars, the students of my laboratory who are studying abroad join discussions via Skype. Many of the study abroad destinations are universities in eastern Germany, where cities are degenerating as in Japan, and there are many advanced cases of landscape management.

Students working on creating a community garden with local high school students and residents in a disaster area in Tohoku. Matsudo, where the Faculty of Horticulture is located, is located along the Joban railway line where the effects of the earthquake could be felt. This was also one of the reasons for starting reconstruction support.