Crossings at arm’s length

Crossings at arm’s length; people to people exchange of goods, services, and social interactions; necessary, dynamic and a vital daily occurrence.

Street vendor in Bangkok, Thailand / Photo by Shun Kanda
Food vendors en route from Siem Reap, Cambodia / Photo by Emily Lo Gibson
Motorbike taxis waiting for customers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti / Photo by Emily Lo Gibson

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How have you crossed paths in your neighborhood? What kinds of personal interactions might you have on a typical day? If you live in an area dominated by cars, what could you do to increase the number of face-to-face encounters in your life?

Share your thoughts using our contact page, or post on our Facebook page or on other social media using the hashtags #crossings #skyMEMO.

Learn more about the theme Crossings.

The river’s rightful place in Minamisanriku


This general scheme generated during the Japan Design Workshop shows the different moments on the estuary. First, the narrow riverbed where habitats currently occur. Then, as the river behaves naturally, it should considerably broaden and create additional habitats. And coming to the mouth of the river, we envision it as a park, a space open to the public where a market will be located.

As one rounds the bend into Utatsu and the former commercial district of Isatomae, they are lead along a river’s edge. The river begins in the hills far to the northwest of the community. After collecting contributions from several valleys of stepped rice paddy fields, the river sweeps into Isatomae’s bay, where a give and take of salt and freshwater occurs with every turn of the tide. The river’s organic lines are accentuated by hilltop shrines that mark its sanctity and significance to human settlements of the area.

Over time, however, man’s development steadily encroached. Capped, sheer embankments, levees, and tidal gates all narrowed and constrained the natural dynamics of the river. Originally an important commercial and spiritual corridor, the river steadily became obscured and relegated to the status of a community backwater.

The initial sketch and overlaid plans for restoring Isatomae’s original estuary ecosystem.

With the 3.11 tsunami came opportunity for the river. The tragic and fearsome forces of the tsunami’s repeated assault eroded and destroyed much of the infrastructure that confined the river. It reclaimed its territory. Through human tragedy came renewed opportunity for the river, and thus for other life.

The fluctuating nature of an estuary makes for tremendously diverse environs: boundaries fluctuate, salinity fluctuates, temperature fluctuates, nutrients fluctuate, and flows fluctuate. This diversity then inspires and supports a greater diversity of biotic life, and this species (and genetic) diversification results in resilience.  Estuaries are important feeding grounds rich with life. For humans, they dampen storm surges and provide food and recreation.

Shizugawa Estuary and Programs and Eco Zones

The dynamism and diversity of an estuary could serve as the vibrant heart of a new vision for community. The combination of a vibrant ecology and a practice of planning in accordance with environmental processes will result in a more disaster-resilient base. Through reconnection to natural ecology, this aquatic-informed community will be better equipped to endure and transcend future, inevitable natural events.

By Adele Phillips / Land Use Planner
Graphics by the author.

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About the author

Adele draws inspiration and energy from the natural environment as an artist and land use planner. After graduating from MIT’s Master of Architecture program, she joined the MIT Japan Design Workshop in working with the local communities of Minamisanriku after the 3.11 disaster. She currently works as a land use planner for the County of Mendocino, in northern California.

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How connected is your community with your natural environment? Have you seen that relationship disrupted, like in Minamisanriku? What other examples or visions for a more connected future have you seen? Let us know through the contact form, or post on our Facebook page or on your platform of choice using the hashtags #beyond2020nx #skyMEMO.

Learn more about the theme Beyond 2020_nx.


Housing – free and cheap – sparks revitalization in Sicily

An open-air town meeting in Gangi’s Piazza dei Popolo, as viewed through a portal in a nearby building. / Photo by Shun Kanda

Consider the classic Italian village. What images come to mind? Perhaps an idyllic village hugging the contours of a mountainside? Locals conducting a quaint life entrenched in old traditions? But behind those stereotypes lie a real community struggling with a shrinking population, like many small towns and villages around the globe.

Meet Gangi, a town with Roman roots in the Madonie Mountains of Sicily. And they want you to take their houses.

The village clings to the sides of Monte Marone, on a winding route from Palermo to Catania. / Photo by Shun Kanda

In an article from June 2015, the New York Times reported on the village’s innovative approach to revitalization. The local government has launched an open call for would-be homeowners, with the stipulation that they renovate the abandoned properties within four years. So far, Italians, Europeans, and even a buyer from Abu Dhabi have claimed 100 properties, with 200 more to go.

16,000 people once called Gangi home in the 1950’s, but now it has shrunk to about 7,000 residents. While the region has long experienced economic hardship, the main motivators for the exodus have been dreams of a better life. Since the late 1800s, oceanliners have made emigration to the Americas all the easier.

The main street at night illuminates the traditional pagglialore housing common to Sicily. At one time, these homes sheltered donkeys, goats, and chickens on the first and second floors, while the farmer’s family lived on the top floor. / Photo by Shun Kanda

Multiple efforts in recent years attempt to alter this trend, helping to put tiny Gangi on the map. It was named a “Jewel of Italy” in 2013, a prime example of the “good Italian life.” Gangi has also been voted by the public as one of the most beautiful villages in the country.

The hope is that all these initiatives will help to fight the “slow disaster” of a shrinking population. Gangi has already been known for its rich art culture and historic architecture. With new homeowners and tourists, it may continue to thrive.

The mayor of Gangi, Giuseppe Ferrarello, puts his government’s motivation this way:

“We did this for our children, because we love our territory. And we want our children to stay here and not leave.”

May their children have the economic opportunities to hold fast to their heritage and to thrive in the mountains of Sicily.

By Emily Lo Gibson

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Further reading:

  • The full article of “Sicilian Town Tells Outsiders: Take Our Homes. Please.” (NYTimes)
  • Essays on Gangi by a longtime resident of Sicily (Italian Notebook) and an Italian American with deep roots in the place (Gadling)
  • Another small town’s efforts at revival through … scarecrows? (NPR).


Have another story about a community’s creative attempts at revival? How have the villages, towns, and even cities transformed — grown and shrank — over time? Let us know through the contact form, or post on our Facebook page or on your platform of choice using the hashtags #goodcommunity #skymemo #etopos.

Read more about Good Community here.

An accessible health check


With the rapid rise of an aging population in Japan, good livable cities require easy access to healthcare and well-being. Here, we see a free clinic in the main shopping arcade of Kumamoto, a large urban hub on the southern island of Kyushu. An open health service encourages folks to come into the city’s center rather than stay homebound, ensuring both careful care of citizens and an active urban life.

Photo by Shun Kanda

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What kinds of free services does your local community offer? Have you noticed new or ongoing activities that enliven your downtown area? What encourages you to explore your town or city’s main streets? Let us know through the contact form, or post on our Facebook page or on your platform of choice using the hashtags #goodcommunity #skymemo #etopos.

Read more about Good Community here.

MIT JDW 2016 / A Memorial Stage for All



The MIT Japan Design Workshop 2016 with the University of Tokyo, Volunteers & Local Residents assisting in the Design/Build project – Memorial Stage for All / みんなの記憶の舞台 on the site of the 2013 Landslide Disaster on the volcanic island of Oshima,  125 kilometers from Tokyo. In three days under the blazing August sun, lava rocks were arranged, benches built, paths and places were designed for a garden honoring the Memory and Recovery for the island’s people.


Hard work in the sun, moving lava rocks
Damage from the landslide in 2013
Bench lunch
Constructing timber benches