Masanori Yamashita / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
KESENNUMA, Miyagi–A group of residents in a disaster-stricken district of Kesennuma recently submitted its own relocation plan to the local municipal government, a move that could become a model for other hard-hit areas.
Residents in the city’s Koizumi district completed the plan based on many discussions and study sessions.
They still continue to hold sessions, believing that they should design their own tsunami-free hometown for their children and grandchildren.
In many districts devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, residents have yet to reach consensus on reconstruction plans in their hometowns.
The Koizumi district’s project is therefore considered a model case by urban planning specialists and officials at the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.
The group says it holds study sessions three times a month. At a recent meeting, participants earnestly discussed housing designs for their future homes.
“I want my house to be in the style of a Japanese tea ceremony house,” one said. “What about a log house?” asked another as discussions continued.
Although it was cold outside, an air of excitement filled the meeting room located in a prefabricated building near temporary housing facilities built for displaced tsunami victims.
Nagako Oikawa, 63, a part-time worker, said she is a regular participant. “It’s like creating our town from scratch together with everybody else. So, I feel I suffer a loss if I’m absent,” said Oikawa.
The district, which is located in a coastal area about a 40-minute drive from the city center, is popular among surfers for its scenic beauty. A total of 308 houses, about 60 percent of all households in the district, became unusable or were severely damaged in the tsunami.
Shigeaki Oikawa, 55, and about 20 other local residents in their 40s and 50s set up a small group in late April to plan the district’s future. Residents were concerned that their community might disappear if nothing was done.
The group found a potential relocation site on a hill 50 meters above sea level and one kilometer from a densely populated district, and suggested the place to the municipal government.
They also invited about 150 local households to participate in the project, creating a newer, larger and more systematic group. This new group began discussions and study sessions in July.
In each session, about 40 participants are divided into three groups for discussion. These participants then present their own ideas to decide the details of the plan.
Prof. Suguru Mori at Hokkaido University and an architecture firm involved in a similar post-quake relocation project on Okushiri Island in Hokkaido also participated in the project at the group’s request.
The group frequently reports its progress to the city, and some of its members have also visited Tokyo to see Takuya Hattori, a ministry official in charge of designing a relocation system in the wake of the March 11 disaster. If Hattori was away on a business trip, members of the group followed and visited him.
Hattori said: “They learned the system in depth and were also so earnest. It was amazing.”
In autumn, they drew up three rough plans. After listening to the opinions of municipal officials in charge, they combined the plans into a final version and submitted it to the city in late November.
The plan features a wide promenade, communal parking lot and meeting place located in the center of a community area. A public vegetable garden for common use and green area have also been suggested.
“Some coordination work is necessary to solve road and financial problems related to the project, but we’ll make efforts to use their plan as much as possible,” a city official said.
Even after submitting the plan, the group still holds discussions regarding the colors and materials of walls and roofs for their houses.
In a recent discussion, participants shared various ideas on how best to approach building new roofs.
“We shouldn’t use roof tiles, you know, after we experienced the earthquake,” one suggested. “My grandma said she’d like a galvanized metal roof,” said another. “But we need to consider heat insulation. Coping with the sound of rain might also be a problem,” another said.
As nearly nine months have passed since the March 11 disaster, some residents have already moved to other cities, so the group hopes that the project will be launched as early as possible.
“Unlike some other districts that have just waited for local governments to plan their relocation, the group has independently discussed and even submitted a concrete plan [to the city],” Mori said. “It’s probably the most advanced [case] in the Tohoku region.”
“A group relocation project requires local residents’ agreement,” said Hattori. “If the municipal government learns from the know-how of the Koizumi district’s efforts, it may be able to facilitate relocation in other districts.”