NIMB – Shimokitazawa

Not in my backyard used to be the somewhat mocking slogan attributed to (but rarely adopted by) suburbanites and urban yuppies who were opposed to developments like, I dunno, the inner Sydney airport runway; the relocation of some prison/asylum/shopping centre; the technopolisation of some research and development Project. NIMBY protests then seemed to fade off my radar a little, except in England where asylum centres raised the same sort of vigilante hackles as did paedophiles or such like. Clearly the spectrum of anti-development and urban cleansing projects is wide and diverse, but the opposition limited and often cack-handed. [sorry, not a technical term, but you will know what I mean]. I do have a certain nostalgia for some of the more creative adventures that belonged to Left-wing versions of such NIMBy sentiments – protests by anarchists against urban yuppie fortress home renovations (anti-new architecture by any other name – it as funny to see things trashed with style) and the Reclaim the Streets actions when they transformed the city into a wild disruptive – no-sign-of-them-going-home-soon party zone (this was before 24 hour inner-city O’Neil’s style yob club/pubs took over the high streets, and before RTS became just a friday bike ride…). Something has faded for mine, since back then – oh nostalgia for the g.o. days – Reclaim the Streets used to be especially critical when they linked up with the Liverpool Dockers. I remember particularly how hard the Police thugs cracked down on that pointedly political alliance when it began.

So, I am keen to follow the campaign that’s emerged in Tokyo to save the playground of the trendiest of youth culture club scene creative types. Shimokitizawa is a place where I had the good fortune to be often invited several years back when I was Visiting Prof at Nagoya City Uni, and more recently last April I gave a big talk in a crowded club that had bizarrely stopped to discuss hip hop, politics and the war on terror. Strangely fluid simultaneous translation in Japanese by my good friends Toshiya Ueno and Yoshitaka Mouri, and a dynamic debate that was electric, critical, engaging and went on long past the alloted time – then a TRON type race across the city in Toshiya’s manga-style sports car. So I’d found it more than ironic that, at the talk, people in the audience brought up the plan to ‘redevelop’ the very area we were in by running a huge motorway through the centre of the suburb. I’d heard such things before – thought it was another tribal-youth type NIMBy concern, but was surprised to hear of a raft of RTS type actions in planning; plenty of energy amongst the activist set… (though there are other parts of Tokyo I also enjoyed – peculiar little bars left over somehow from the 40s, 50s, 60s – they are not in the way of a highway [yet]).

Today the campaign has hit the front page of the New York Times. Check it out. In the absence of much else newsworthy, I am pleased to see this make a splash, and hope it translates to renewed RTS-enthusiasm that can aslo plumb the activism of the old Tokyo airport campaign and the like. Something to learn, I still think there is much good to be said for what happened in the Anti-roads and Reclaim the Streets UK protests in the mid 1990s, even if they were reclaimed for capital in the end – for that I blame in part the opportunist prat George Moonbot, speaking this week at the Conservative Party conference where he and his Guardian reading friends belong. For insight into those times, check early issues of Aufheben on the Criminal Justice Act and Anti-Roads.