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.


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