Change highlights the two contrasting aspects of Japan’s cultural capital.

“Beautiful” and “traditional” are words just about every visitor to Kyoto uses to describe it. The city government is well aware, and proud, of that reputation, and in order to preserve those beautiful, traditional aesthetics, much of the city is covered by restrictions regarding what kinds of buildings can be built, and how big they can be.

This month, though, those restrictions were loosened in multiple parts of the city in a move likely to encourage the construction of more apartments, condominiums, and office buildings in Japan’s former capital.

The revised building code went into effect last Tuesday, and its most notable change is reducing the limits on building heights (i.e. allowing for taller buildings to be constructed), in certain parts of the city. In the area south of Kyoto Station, for example, buildings could not be taller than 20 or 25 meters (66 or 82 feet), depending on their exact address. As of April 25, though, developers are allowed to build structures up to 31 meters tall. Also affected is the area around Saiin Station, on the west side of downtown, where the maximum allowed height for buildings has risen from 20 to 31 meters.

The change hasn’t been without detractors in online comments, but it highlights a complex issue. While Kyoto is widely considered a symbol of Japan’s traditional culture, it’s also a modern city with a population that needs places to live within reasonable distances from their jobs or schools. People in their 20s and 30s in particular are having trouble securing such homes, say the architects of the revised regulations, and the hope is that allowing for taller buildings, with more units available on the same plot of land, will help alleviate the affordable housing crunch.

▼ The view on the street a few blocks south of Kyoto Station

The tricky balancing act between preserving Kyoto’s atmosphere of tranquility while also keeping it a viable, ongoing community has also been illustrated in two other recently announced policy changes in the city: the abolishment of one-day all-you-can-ride tourist bus passes in order to address overcrowding, and the establishment of an empty home tax to encourage those not living full-time in their Kyoto homes to sell them off so others can move in.

In the short term, Kyoto’s relaxed building codes aren’t likely to spoil the city’s views and vibes in the eyes of tourists, since the affected areas tend to be outside the parts of town that tourists spend much time in. In the areas to the north and immediate west and east of Kyoto Station, where most of the city’s historical sites are located, building height restrictions will continue as they have been, so it’s not like a skyscraper is going to suddenly spring up and block your view of Kiyomizu Temple, the Imperial Palace, or the Gion cherry blossoms. Still, more people moving into the city’s outer areas is likely to eventually translate into more people spending their days in the city center, so if it’s a quiet, uncrowded Kyoto you want to experience, you’ll want to appreciate it while you can.

Source: NHK
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