A policy objective in both China and India is to relocate residents of farming and other rural communities into urban areas to raise rates of urbanization. The reason why these countries set “urbanization = depopulation” as a policy goal is because urbanization serves as a driving force for economic growth. Japan’s national land policy into the future should be designed in such a way as to regard depopulation as a positive development and to promote the concentration of people in cities on the basis of achieving goals to develop compact cities.
1. Develop a Strategy to Raise Urbanization Rates and Clarify Numerical Targets!
Through concentrating the population urbanization creates a certain sized market and activates regional economies. It has been said that the weak competitiveness of the service industry in Japan can be attributed to the low rate of urbanization. In developed countries, such as Japan, where population decline and aging will continue, the policy “to increase urbanization rates = to form compact cities” will play an important role not only in generating economic effects but also in streamlining administrative services and improving their quality as well as in addressing issues associated with the aging of society.
The government should develop a strategy to raise urbanization rates and provide clear numerical targets, for example, a target to increase the residential rate in a densely inhabited district to 75 to 80% in the next two decades or a target to achieve a minimum municipal population of 50,000 in the immediate term and increase the population to 200,000 to 400,000 over the long term.
2. Promote Depopulation and Implement Incentive Measures to Promote Population Concentration in Urban Areas!
In Toyama City, subsidies are offered to encourage people to live in an urban area in order to promote population concentration. In addition to this kind of direct aid, preferential taxation measures to promote the purchase of housing in a certain designated area and relocation from a depopulated area are also necessary, such as tax reductions on mortgage payments, financial support, and preferential property taxes. In depopulated areas, on the other hand, it is necessary to develop land use plans based on the concept of uninhabited areas serving as natural environmental resources, with emphasis on the avoidance of development as much as possible, the preservation of the natural environment, and the use of such areas for agriculture and forestry purposes and as tourism resources.
3. Abolish Subsidies that Preferentially Benefit Depopulated Areas and Tax Allocations to Local Governments, and Drastically Promote the Consolidation of Municipalities!
The reason why depopulated areas have been financially sustained is that they have preferentially benefited from various kinds of subsidies offered by the national government. In calculating the amount of national tax revenues to be allocated to local governments, higher priority is given to depopulated areas, mountain villages, remote islands, and peninsulas. Financial support to depopulated areas for the purposes of preserving remote islands and developing resources in sea border areas is acceptable but, other than that, there is little legitimate reason for such subsidies. Preferential treatment by way of national subsidies for depopulated areas should be abolished and the consolidation of municipalities should be promoted.
4. Effectively Use Advanced Technology to Respond to People Living in Non-Urban Areas!
There are people whose occupations make them unsuited to living in densely populated areas, such as those engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fishery. Various lifestyles of such people should be taken into account in providing support. It has been taken for granted that electricity, gas, and water and sewage services will be available no matter where you live in Japan. In securing such lifeline utilities in depopulated areas, this common sense approach should be replaced with a new one. For example, in sparsely populated areas, water may be distributed to residents not via pipes but by water wagons, and on-demand bus services may be used as a means of public transportation. Services that have already become available include delivery services by unmanned aircraft as well as telemedicine services and distance education using information technology.
Rather than achieve a well-balanced development of national land, strategies for the development of Japan into the future should be designed in such a way as to enhance the competitiveness of Tokyo and other large cities – so that they may drive the country’s economic growth – as well as to promote population concentration and industrial clustering in core cities, with the aim of achieving the dynamic development of each local area through selection and concentration. These strategies would help regional cities remain vibrant and serve as a source of innovation and new employment opportunities.