2023 Tohoku

Looking back and looking forward: Community and justice in crisis

The 12th Conference of the Pacific Rim Community Design Network, Sendai, Japan, September 16-18, 2023


In the 25 years that have passed since the first meeting of the Pacific Rim Community Design Network in 1998, members of the network have been engaged in democratic planning and participatory design around the Pacific Rim. In addition to the 11 previous conferences, we have found other ways to engage and connect, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.  On the 25th anniversary, we invite new or old friends to return to the first gathering of the Network in Japan since 2010.

The nature of communities has changed over the past 25 years, and one of the major changes has been the expansion of disincentives for communities to continue to live where they want to live, such as widening economic disparities and growing disaster impacts from increasing natural hazard events. As a result, there is a growing and greater need for community planners to address “Justice” in cities, which encompasses social justice as well as environmental justice.

In Japan, a major event occurred in 2011 that has various implications for the “justice” of continuing to live in Japan. That was the Great East Japan Earthquake, which struck the Tohoku region of Japan was struck on March 11, 2011. With a massive earthquake and the largest tsunami in living memory, the disaster caused a nuclear meltdown in Fukushima and widespread and long-term displacement.  Affected communities have faced various challenges over the 12 years since the triple disaster. Physical reconstruction, including drastic modification of the landscape and townscapes of much of the affected area, is nearly complete, after many years of planning and construction.

Empowered actions of citizen participation have emerged within post-disaster recovery machizukuri. Yet questions remain, including those related to the long-term sustainability of the region and in coastal communities, energy use, and our current ways of living. Considering questions of social and environmental justice, how should we think about ongoing recovery? How are the experiences of the disaster and recovery being remembered, shared, and conveyed to future generations, both within Japan and internationally?

The challenges are even more complex for communities ffectted by contamination from the nuclear meltdown at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima. Nuclear evacuees have faced long-term uncertainty and displacement, and difficult questions about if/when to return to former communities, as evacuation orders have been revised multiple times. Areas that have re-opened for people to live also struggle to revitalize communities. As recovery processes proceed, there is a separation between projects that focus on the reconstruction of towns and places and people’s needs for life recovery.

As we look back at the past 25 years of the Pacific Rim Network, and together consider current and future needs for community design and action in Japan and around the Pacific Rim, we are planning this conference to have a strong field research component, as participants will split into multiple small groups to visit different sites in Fukushima. The format of the conference will include “small group” field visits in Sept. 16 and Sept, 17, after which we will gather for a “big table” discussion and symposium in Sendai at Tohoku University on September 18th.

Small group field visits: Sept 16 and Sept 17

Themes addressed will include: energy, social justice, democracy, participation, education, disaster storytelling, and conveying experiences. We will meet at Sendai Station on the morning of Sept 16, and travel together by chartered bus to Fukushima. For international participants, we recommend that you arrive in Sendai by the evening of Sept. 15 (the night before). In small groups, we will visit and hear from people in different affected communities and stay in local accommodations. We will return by bus to Sendai by the evening of Sept. 17.  Participation fees will be collected to cover accommodations and transportation, and decided based on the number of people who join.

Big Table gathering in Sendai: Sept 18

On Sept 18, we will gather for a “Big Table” meeting, including discussion and a symposium in Sendai, at Tohoku University. At the Big Table, small groups will have a chance to share where they have seen and heard in the last two days with each other, and discuss the current issues in Tohoku, Japan, and other countries in the Pacific Rim. The symposium will include reflections on the last 25 years of the network, current needs for community design, and looking forward to the future of our work. We welcome all to attend The Big Table/symposium on Sept 18th in Sendai, including those who join the small group visits, along with people who join on Sept. 18th only.

Poster Presentations: Sept 18th, Tohoku University

Along with the Big Table/Symposium, we also invite participants to share their research and receive feedback through a poster presentation session on Sept 18th. We welcome all poster submissions related to themes of community design in the Pacific Rim.

Related Event in Tokyo: Sept 20th

Following the gathering in Tohoku, there will also be a talk event organized in Tokyo on Sept 20. More details about this event will be provided later.


Schedule & Important Dates:

May 1: Pre-registration. Please sign up here if you are planning to join us for the fieldwork, symposium, and poster presentation. As we plan the small group field work, we also welcome your suggestions and feedback about your interests.

May 30: Poster submission deadline. Please submit your abstract here by May 30, 2023.

June 1: Details will be posted and shared about “small group” fieldwork options, and registration will open. While we will do our best to accommodate everyone’s preferences, we also ask for your cooperation and understanding, as we need to coordinate the small groups based on number of registered participants.

July 1: Deadline for registration (link to be available)

September 16-17: Fieldwork in Fukushima

September 18: Big Table Symposium and Poster Presentation Session in Sendai

September 20: Symposium in Tokyo


Co-Sponsors: Pacific Rim Community Design Network; IRIDeS, Tohoku University

Contact: Dr. Liz Maly lizmaly@gmail.com, Tohoku University