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5 December 2014

Panasonic-led Fujisawa smart town project enjoys grand opening in Japan

The Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (SST) Council has held its grand opening of the Fujisawa SST, a design that the council hopes will be adopted across the world. The new way of designing towns has been spearheaded by Panasonic, the head of the council, which hopes the eco-friendly design proves a boon to its residents.

With 5.8bn people expected to live in urban environments by 2025, and nearly 81% of developed nation’s populations, the need for sustainably built new housing is imperative – as well as a lucrative opportunity for the parties involved.

The SST’s design centers around a communal square, which houses open space and a building that is used by the community to hold civil functions and welcome guests, as well as host a café and community shop. The building, referred to as the Square, also holds a lab and craft studio, in which residents can access interactive workshops such as yoga classes and cooking lessons.

The thrust of having an active and participatory community is to foster better social cohesion. “The aim is to make the combined site a place that will foster enriched lifestyles by maximizing its value to the people who gather there, including non-residents and visiting guests. Residents began moving in earlier in the year, and the council hopes it will prove to be a sustainable town that grows for the next hundred years.

The town’s Management Company has an office in the square building, and is in charge of monitoring and providing energy, security, mobility, healthcare and community services for the residents. Fujisawa sits around 50km to the west of Tokyo, and from the air it looks a little like the spiral cross section you might find in a snail shell. The layout has been designed to allow a breeze to reach every home – helping reduce the need for air conditioning. In fact, the square in the middle of the town isn’t a square at all; it’s circular.

The homes all feature solar panels on their roofs, which feed into a self-distributing energy management system to produce and use electricity locally. The houses are equipped with Panasonic’s Ene-Farm storage battery and EcoCute heat pump, and are designed with low power consumption in mind – very much like the Honda concept smart home and its Home Energy Management System (HEMS) that RIoT covered back in July. The town has enough storage to hold three days’ worth of electricity – in case of a natural disaster.

More houses will also be added to the town, which is currently a blend of houses with garage for car owners, and detached homes without garages for those without cars. The aim of the town is to achieve a carbon neutral existence, and public transport and electric car sharing schemes are one easier ways of achieving this.

The town is due to have an electric vehicle testing lab added by 2018, as well as other venues for “verifying next generation lifestyles and business.” The vehicle testing will begin in the Car Life Lab, due to be finished this month. The lab will be used to display and test drive electric vehicles.

While the town and project are founded on ideals, which some will curl their lips at and brand a little too hippy-dippy, the systems and technological architecture involved represent a concrete business model for the firms involved in the Fujisawa SST operation. The likes of Panasonic, Accenture, NTT Docomo, Mitsui and Tokyo Gas all hope that their model will be adopted elsewhere in Japan – where all 18 member companies of the FSST Council can sell their products and services to new customers. If the model proves popular, it could be exported to other countries, opening up even more markets and customers for this Japanese consortium.

There is, of course, the socio-political argument that this is a town built on privilege, where the size of a salary allows you to escape the undesirable elements of the community, and paying a company to watch the streets means you can escape to a gated community. Brand new houses full of top-spec fittings and consumer goods, as seen in the promotional video, certainly suggest that this is not a particularly affordable place to live.

However, the counter argument is also found in the square building, whose purported main purpose is to bring the community together. It remains to be seen how the implementation is received politically, but new and exclusive developments will always attract criticisms of privileged ghettoization – just as Google has seen in San Francisco, with the ongoing diversification debate.