Smart Japan: Observations from an interdisciplinary urban design studio

by Emma French

Shibuya Crossing in Central Tokyo, reportedly the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world

In March, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Japan for a week with 18 students for Georgia Tech’s Smart City Urban Design Studio led by Professor Perry Yang. The purpose of the studio is to explore how smart city technologies and tools such as 3D GIS, urban energy modeling, eco district certifications such as LEED ND, IoT (Internet of Things), pervasive computing, and big data can be incorporated in design processes to support the shaping of ecologically responsive, resilient, and human sensing urban environments. Comprised of Georgia Tech graduate students in city planning, architecture, policy, industrial design, and interactive computing, the studio represents a collaboration between Georgia Tech, the Global Carbon Project (GCP), the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES), and the Department of Urban Engineering of the University of Tokyo.

At the beginning of the studio, we divided ourselves into four groups based on our interests and areas of expertise: Conceptual Design (mostly made up of architects), Performance Modeling (mostly planners), Smart City Computing (a mix of industrial designers, interactive programmers, and planners), and Community Engagement (planners and policy students).

Our task: To design a framework for the smart development of a satellite city called Urawa Misono in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. About 45 minutes from Tokyo by train, Urawa Misono is the last stop on the the Saitama Rapid Railway Line. Every two weeks thousands of REDs soccer fans swarm the station and walk or drive to the massive Saitama Stadium that was constructed in 2002 to host the FIFA championships.

Georgia Tech students walking from the train station to Saitama Stadium on their site visit in Urawa Misono

Saitama Stadium will be an important site for the 2020 Olympics, prompting local and regional officials to think about how they are going to accommodate the massive influx of people coming in for the games. Even without the Olympics, Urawa Misono’s current population of a little over 7,000 is expected to triple in size to over 32,000 by 2030. To top it all off, the national government has identified Urawa Misono as a potential site of smart development, leading to increased investment in the area by smart city leaders, such as Toyota and IBM.

Japan is already considered one of the smartest countries in the world, with its tech savvy population and concentration of tech conglomerates. Japan’s national Smart ICT Strategy published in 2014 by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications laid out the country’s goal of becoming a global leader in ICT innovation by 2020.

We experienced many of Japan’s smart technologies in our first hours on the ground. From the public toilets that have heated seats and play music to ensure privacy, to the heated floors in our residence, the most obvious innovations seemed closely tied to individual human comfort. Other innovations, such as the rapid transit systems and compact residential developments focused more on efficiency and convenience than individual comfort.


Top: Smart toilets in Japan allow you to adjust the temperature of the seat, play music, and flush by simply waving your hand in front of a sensor. Bottom: Japan’s extensive urban rail network transports 40 million people daily. Biking is so prevalent on the University of Tokyo’s campus that individuals are required to register for a parking spot at $20/month.

Due to the purpose of our visit, I found myself noticing things that I probably would have overlooked on any other trip. Things like the reflectors set up along the highway that eliminated the need for energy intensive overhead street lights. Or the six different types of trash and recycling receptacles lined up in Ueno park. Perhaps the most intriguing innovation was a road in rural area that we visited that played a song as your drove over it. The purpose of the musical road was to announce to visitors that they were entering a particular region known for its fruit production.

Our studio forced me to think not just about the initial purpose of these smart innovations, but also about their ongoing performance. Leading up to our trip, one of the biggest challenges for us as a studio had been effectively integrating the work being done by each of the subgroups into one coherent proposal. During an initial charrette we came up with our own parameters for a smart city, as one that is sustainable, adaptable, and equitable. Designing a framework for the development of such a place—in a country we knew very little about—proved exceedingly difficult. As the conceptual design team drew initial plans and the performance modeling group came up with performance measurements with which to evaluate those plans, the smart city computing team grappled with the challenge of creating adaptable public spaces and structures and the community engagement team attempted to use technology to communicate with residents in Urawa Misono to ensure that our studio’s proposals were grounded in local customs and needs.

The challenges faced by our studio—making our design proposals sustainable, adaptable, and locally relevant—are some of the fundamental challenges facing smart city initiatives around the world. While smart infrastructure has the potential to improve urban functionality, in order to create truly smart cities we need to be continuously evaluating them based on more than just technology deployment. A comprehensive, ongoing evaluation system, perhaps something along the lines of Bloomberg’s newly released National Standard for Data-Driven Government, is needed to ensure that smart city initiatives are not solely about technology, but also about achieving long-term efficiency, addressing local needs, and promoting equity.

To learn more about the Misono Smart City Studio check out of blog:


Dr. Jennifer Clark at the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting in Boston


by Jennifer Clark and Thomas Lodato

170403 blog post
Courtesy University of Oxford

The annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) convenes in Boston, Massachusetts from April 5th-9th, 2017. The event features nearly 7000 presentations, posters, workshops, and field trips by leading scholars, experts, and researchers. Founded in 1904, the AAG is a nonprofit, scientific and educational society aimed at advancing the understanding, study and importance of geography and related fields. The AAG currently has more than 10,000 members from nearly 100 countries working in geography or related fields in the public, private, and academic sectors. Members are able to engage by attending the AAG Annual Meetings, publishing in the association’s scholarly journals (Annals of the American Association of GeographersThe Professional Geographer, the AAG Review of Books and GeoHumanities), and participating in the association’s affinity groups and more than 60 specialty groups and committees.

Georgia Tech Center for Urban Innovation Director and School of Public Policy Associate Professor, Dr. Jennifer Clark, will be in attendance presenting her work on the “contested market space” of smart cities in the paper Smart Cities: Remaking Markets and Manufacturing Open Innovation Spaces on Thursday, April 6th.

On April 7th Dr. Clark is speaking on urban and regional development past, present, and future on a panel celebrating the 40th anniversary of Newcastle University’s Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS).

As chair of Economic Geography Specialty Group (EGSG) and an editor of Regional Studies—the flagship journal of the Regional Studies Association (RSA)—Dr. Clark has co-organized a series sessions on economic geography, co-sponsored by EGSG and RSA. These sessions range from knowledge and firm networks in regional economies to innovation processes to the impact of policy and planning on urban economic activities.

Also on Friday, Dr. Clark will be chairing a panel on the life, work, and legacy of the late Dr. Susan Christopherson of Cornell University, her former adviser, co-author and frequent collaborator. The panel will include Professor Meric Gertler, President of the University of Toronto; Professor Amy Glasmeier of MIT; Professor Jane Pollard of Newcastle University; Professor Michael Storper of UCLA, the LSE, and ‘Sciences Po’ [Institut des Sciences Politiques]; Shanti Gamper-Rabindran of the University of Pittsburgh; and Professor Katharine Rankin of the University of Toronto.

On Tuesday, Dr. Clark will attend a pre-AAG workshop on ‘Clusters and related diversification’ at the Center for International Development at Harvard Kennedy School. The workshop will focus on the role of inter-industry relatedness, clusters, and product spaces in regional economic development.

In February of 2017, Dr. Clark was elected to the American Association of Geographer’s (AAG) Nominating Committee, one of only two nationally elected committees within AAG. Members of the Nominating Committee are uniquely responsible for nominating the AAG President, Vice President and National Councilors who determine the organization’s priorities and strategic direction.

Below is a rundown of the various activities Dr. Clark will be participating in as a presenter or chair. More information on the economic geography sessions by searching “economic geography” the online program or conference mobile app. (An asterisk [*] denotes the presenting author.)

Economic Geography VII – Technological Diffusion and the Economic Geography of New Production Spaces
Thursday, 4/6/2017, from 10:00 AM – 11:40 AM in Back Bay Ballroom A, Sheraton, Second Floor

Dieter Franz Kogler – University College Dublin
Pierre-Alexandre Balland – Utrecht University
Jennifer Clark – Georgia Institute of Technology 

Dieter Franz Kogler – University College Dublin 


10:00 AM
*Laura Wolf-Powers – Center for Urban Research, City University of New York
Marc Doussard – University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Greg Schrock – Portland State University
Makers and the New Manufacturing Policy

10:20 AM
*Marc Doussard – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Laura Wolf-Powers, PhD – CUNY Graduate Center
Greg Schrcok, PhD – Portland State University
Max Eisenburger – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The Maker’s World of Production: Scaling up from Tinkering to Manufacturing in Three U.S. Cities

10:40 AM
*Mariachiara Barzotto – University of Birmingham
Occupational Mix for Sustainable and Inclusive Regions

11:00 AM
*Jennifer Clark – Georgia Institute of Technology
Smart Cities: Remaking Markets and Manufacturing Open Innovation Spaces

CURDS 40th Anniversary – urban and regional development: retrospect and prospect
Thursday, 4/6/2017, from 8:00 AM – 9:40 AM in New Hampshire, Marriott, Fifth Floor

Jane S. Pollard – Newcastle University
Danny Mackinnon – Newcastle University
Andy Pike – Newcastle University 

Jane S. Pollard – Newcastle University 

Ron Boschma – Utrecht University
Jennifer Clark – Georgia Institute of Technology
Maryann Feldman
Danny Mackinnon – Newcastle University
Jamie Peck – University of British Columbia 

Session Description:
Urban and regional development theory and policy confronts tumultuous times in terms of economic shifts, social and spatial inequalities, environmental tensions and geo-political turbulence across the world. Recognising and celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS) at Newcastle University, this panel debate reflects upon the retrospect and considers the prospect of urban and regional development. Connecting with the central research themes of CURDS work on ‘people and places’, ‘innovation and technology’, ‘finance and services’ and ‘institutions and governance’ over four decades, the aim of the dialogue is to better understand/elucidate where urban and regional development studies have come from in conceptual, theoretical, empirical and policy terms and to outline where its future directions are/might be heading.

Celebrating Susan Christopherson: A Panel Honoring her Life, Work, and Leadership in Economic Geography
Friday, 4/7/2017, from 1:20 PM – 3:00 PM in Room 109, Hynes, Plaza Level

Organizer and Chair:
Jennifer Clark – Georgia Institute of Technology

Session Description:
Susan Christopherson, an economic geographer and professor of city and regional planning known for her scholarly work and expertise on regional economic development, died December 14, 2016 of cancer. This panel celebrates and honors Susan’s accomplishments and leadership in the field of economic geography. The panel includes discussions of Susan’s contributions by several colleagues and collaborators from throughout her career as well as an opportunity for attendees to share their own experiences with Susan and her work.

In 2016 Susan received the Sir Peter Hall Contribution to the Field Award from the Regional Studies Association. In making the award, Professor Ron Martin of Cambridge University noted, “Over the years Susan has been a leading beacon in regional development studies, contributing some of the landmark papers in the field, and exerting a formative influence on both the theory and practice of economic geography internationally.” In 2015, Christopherson received the American Association of Geographers Lifetime Achievement award.

Susan’s research and teaching focused on economic development, labor markets, and location patterns in new media and film, advanced manufacturing, and resource extraction industries. She coauthored Remaking Regional Economies: Power, Labor, and Firm Strategies in the Knowledge Economy, winner of the 2009 Regional Studies Association Best Book Award. She published more than 100 articles and policy reports over the course of her career and served as an editor and on the editorial boards of several leading journals (including Regional Studies) and was also editor of the Regional Studies Association’s Regions and Cities Book Series.

Susan Christopherson was born March 20, 1947 in St. Paul, Minnesota.  She earned her bachelor’s degree in urban studies and a master’s in geography from the University of Minnesota. Susan earned her doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley in 1983.

Susan joined the faculty at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1987. She was appointed Chair of Cornell’s Department of City and Regional Planning in 2014. Susan was the first woman to be promoted to full professor in city and regional planning at Cornell, and the first woman to chair the department in its nearly 80-year history.

Economic Geography III – Planning, Policy, Institutions, and Economic Performance
Wednesday, 4/5/2017, from 12:40 PM – 2:20 PM in Back Bay Ballroom A, Sheraton, Second Floor

Dieter Franz Kogler – University College Dublin
Jennifer Clark – Georgia Institute of Technology
Peter Kedron – Oklahoma State University 

Jennifer Clark – Georgia Institute of Technology 


12:40 PM
*Jun Du – Aston University
Tomasz Mickiewicz, Professor – Aston University
Ying Zhou, Dr. – Birmingham University
Productivity, Entrepreneurs and Big Firms in Shenzhen and Shanghai: Two Cities, Two Tales

1:00 PM
*Helen Lawton Smith – Birkbeck University of London
Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen – Department of Geography, SUNY-Buffalo
Emergence and convergence in a Bio-region in the UK: the ‘Golden Research Triangle’ in London and the South East

1:20 PM
*Donald Anthony Planey – Geography, University Of Illinois, Urbana Champain – Urbana, IL
Chicagoland and the Planning Imperative

1:40 PM
*Patrick Kilfoil – McGill University
Measuring the Impact of Spatial Planning Policies on the Economic Performance of Metropolitan Regions in the European Union


Economic Geography IX – Novelty, Access, Diffusion and Networks in Regional and Sectoral Development
Thursday, 4/6/2017, from 3:20 PM – 5:00 PM in Back Bay Ballroom A, Sheraton, Second Floor

Dieter Franz Kogler – University College Dublin
Jennifer Clark – Georgia Institute of Technology
Thomas Kemeny – University of Southampton 

Jennifer Clark – Georgia Institute of Technology 


3:20 PM
*Peter Kedron – Oklahoma State University
Dieter Kogler – University College Dublin
The Spatial Diffusion of Innovation in Renewable Energy: The Effects of Proximity of Biofuel Patenting

3:40 PM
*Tamás Sebestyén – MTA-PTE Innovation and Economic Growth Research Group
Attila Varga – University of Pécs
Knowledge networks in regional development: An agent-based model and its application

4:00 PM
*Giuseppe Calignano – UiS Business School – University of Stavanger
Rune Dahl Fitjar – UiS Business School – University of Stavanger
Dieter Franz Kogler – School of Geography Planning Environmental Policy – University College Dublin
Firm networks and knowledge production in a southern Italian aerospace district

Neil Lee – London School of Economics and Political Science
*Davide Luca – Harvard University
The big-city bias in credit markets: Evidence from firm perception’s in 100 countries

4:40 PM
*Teresa Farinha Fernandes – Utrecht University
Miguel Amaral – IN+ Center for Innovation, Technology and Policy Research, Lisboa University
Nuno Ferreira – IN+ Center for Innovation, Technology and Policy Research, Lisboa University
Pierre-Alexandre Balland – Utrecht University
Andrea Morrison – Utrecht University
Jobs relatedness and employment structure renewal in the Aeronautics

Economic Geography V – Intersections, Relations, Routines, and Collaborations in Innovation Processes
Wednesday, 4/5/2017, from 4:40 PM – 6:20 PM in Back Bay Ballroom A, Sheraton, Second Floor

Dieter Franz Kogler – University College Dublin
Peter Kedron – Oklahoma State University
Pierre-Alexandre Balland – Utrecht University 

Jennifer Clark – Georgia Institute of Technology 


4:40 PM
*Richard Shearmur – McGill University
David Doloreux – HEC Montréal
The nature of interactions between KIBS innovators and KIBS providers during the innovation process: does it alter depending on geographic context?

5:00 PM
Christian R Østergaard – Department of Business and Management, Aalborg University
Ina Drejer – Department of Business and Management, Aalborg University
The Role of Mobility and Employee-Driven Relations for University-Industry Collaboration on Innovation

5:20 PM
*Nina Hjertvikrem – University of Stavanger
Research Networks and Regional Differences in Innovation Activities

5:40 PM
*Ole Bergesen, PhD Research Fellow – University of Stavanger
Ragnar Tveterås, Professor – University of Stavanger
From Knowledge to Innovation: Firms´ Internal Skills, Collaboration Choices and Innovative Activity

6:00 PM
*Lukas Ernst Vogelgsang –
Open Routines in Creative Collaboration