Monday, June 27, 2016

Urban Design – Erich

There must be people in every country who believe that their nation is the best one on Earth. It's only natural, right?

Certainly there are many in the United States who will insist that America is the best country of all, including many who have never been to any other country. And I will agree that America is pretty great. But you know what, so are a lot of places.

Japan, as an example, is one. We were in Osaka. And of course, that is only one of many cities in Japan. But some of the things we saw there showed the genius of the Japanese.

Their subway system is so well labeled (in both Japanese and Latin characters) that it would be hard to get lost. In addition to each station having a name, each has a number code. It starts with one letter that tells you which line you are on, and then has a two digit number. The numbers go in order from one station to the next.

There are electronic signs and recorded voices that tell you all the stations, and you can understand them! They aren't garbled. And here's one that will amaze you, not in it's audacity, but in a “how did no one else think of this before” way. You know the straps that strap hangers hang onto? In Japan, they make them at a variety of heights, so if you are too tall for this one, you just step one step down and get a higher one. (Or step the other way if you are too short.)

One more brilliant idea that is one of those, why didn't we think of this: As you are leaving a subway station in Japan, at any exit, there is a compass rose engraved or set in stone in the floor near the exit. So you know which direction is north as you are leaving the station. For those of us for whom north means something, it is a big help in getting your bearings.

In all the subway stations there is a long line of these textured yellow plastic tiles set into the floor. But they are not just in the stations. They run throughout the main districts of the city. You see them in the sidewalks. Different points along the sidewalks have different textures or raised patterns on them.

It's called tactile paving and apparently it is found throughout Japan. Know what it's for? It is to help blind people find their way. They can feel the different types of raised bumps with their canes or through the soles of their shoes and it tells them what is at this point.

You see it in a small measure in the U.S., for example, you might see it at the corner. But in Japan it is not limited to the corner. It runs the entire length of the sidewalk.

There is a great deal of traffic in Osaka, but considerably less than there could be. Why? Because of bicycles. Bicycles are immensely popular. You continually see people riding bikes. Mothers take their small children with them shopping on bikes with installed seats for the baby. But that's not the only installed devices.

Many bikes have a clamp attached to the handlebars to hold an umbrella. When it rains, you can still ride your bike and have both hands on the handlebars.

Parking your bike isn't the old kickstand. This kickstand is longer, on both sides of the bike and connected at the bottom. When you park your Japanese bike, the back wheel is lifted off the ground. Back to subway stations, some of them even have underground bicycle parking lots.

And finally, here's a mystery for you. In Osaka, we rarely saw garbage cans along the street. But we even more rarely saw garbage. They just don't litter, or if they do, there must be some amazing system of cleaning it up that I never saw.

Japan sure has a lot going in the right direction. I'm not sure if they believe that their country is the best in the world, but I can see why they might make that argument.

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