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【Beijing Forum 2010】Takatoshi Tabuchi: Overcoming Urban Dilemmas via Technological Progress

Peking University, Nov. 6, 2010: On the afternoon of Nov. 5, Prof. Takatoshi Tabuchi from the Faculty of Economics, University of Tokyo, delivered a speech entitled “Agglomeration in World Cities” at Beijing Forum 2010’s panel session on the theme of "Building the Harmonious World City." After the session, PKU News journalist was able to arrange an interview with Prof. Takatoshi Tabuchi.

Journalist: Prof. Tabuchi, may I ask what your impression of this year’s Beijing Forum is, especially this panel, Building the Harmonious World City? Are you satisfied with today’s session?


Prof. Tabuchi: Yes of course. It is very nice of course. I am happy about today’s panel and discussions. I absorbed a lot of information from the presentations from different scholars and it will keep accumulating along with the forum. I may not use such knowledge for the next several months but it might be useful in, say, next year. It is very important to know what other scholars are doing. Communication is important and beneficial. It is very important to discuss issues with people from different cultures. Sometimes I am very surprised to hear very different, but very nice ideas and opinions. If I only talk with the Japanese people, such ideas would never come up. So meeting and interacting with people from the world in this kind of international forums and conferences are very nice.


Journalist: As an economist, you have been doing research in cities and agglomeration for years. What do you think is the advantage of being an economist in this research area, which differs from scholars with a geography background?


Prof. Tabuchi: I do research in cities. Geographers describe cities while economists are more interested in answering questions like why city is like this, why people come to cities and prefer to live here than other places. There are reasons, and most of them may be explained by economics. People care more about their economic status and react to economic incentives. Of course I am not criticizing other disciplines and I do integrate geographical perspective in my studies.


Journalist: China is in a transitional phase and is experiencing dilemmas in its urbanization process. Japan has also gone through a rapid developing time when its economy and cities expanded at an amazing speed. Were there similar problems in the urban areas where agglomeration happened? And would you offer China some suggestions on approaches for China to better cope with its own transitional period based on  experience from Japan?


Prof. Tabuchi: I am not sure I can give helpful suggestions because the economic environments are different between China and Japan. Japan’s economic growth was very rapid in 1960s, during which period we also had events like Olympics and Osaka Expo. It might also indicate that Japan was somehow similar to China’s current stage although of course the speed of growth is much higher in China.


During this period, the population concentration and agglomeration to Tokyo and Osaka were so strong that environmental stress was very severe and people were anxious about it. At this point some people insisted that urbanization and agglomeration should be controlled. Many people said that this population concentration should be stopped, but in the end, instead of stopping the concentration, Tokyo succeeded in building high-rise buildings to increase density, and constructing efficient subway system and high speed commuting railways. Problems triggered by agglomeration were overcome by technological progress.


Journalist: So you believe that continuous agglomeration in big cities should not be controlled?


Prof. Tabuchi: Yes. I don’t agree with restrictions on population concentration. Well in fact I like big cities. In China, big cities like Beijing and Shanghai have their own charms. Maybe small cities do not have so complicated problems but big cities are more attractive and interesting because there are many varieties of goods and services. I think diversity is the keyword. Subways in Beijing and Tokyo are very crowded of course. Nonetheless, I think people are attracted by these cities due to varieties.


Journalist: I checked out your homepage and have found some interesting information about lectures and academic events, the urban economics workshops for example. Could you tell us something about The Urban Economics Workshop? It seems to be an interesting way to introduce young people into research.


Prof. Tabuchi: The workshop is done by professors and graduate students from both University of Tokyo and neighboring universities. The aim of the workshop is to present the new papers, which is a quite common conduct in economics departments in Japan and Western countries. In each workshop a number of papers will be presented and discussed.


Journalist: Studies in urban issues have many different perspectives, some are more policy-orientated, and some are more academic, like the kind you’ve been doing. I am wondering how do conclusions from more academic researchers can help the country, and influence policy-making?


Prof. Tabuchi: Policy-making is obviously very important. Actually I started from urban planning but later I changed my research focus to urban economics. The reason of the change in my area of study is that I am more comfortable with doing scientific research and understanding the urban phenomena and mechanisms behind them. In the end, in order to make a good policy, one need to understand the mechanism underlying which is in most cases so complicated in big cities.


Prof. Takatoshi Tabuchi is not only dedicated to his own research, but also encourages young people to find their way into science and research. When asked about his opinions about the Student Panel “We are the Youth in a Globalizing World”, Mr. Tabuchi answered humorously, “Of course it is a good thing to embrace youth into Beijing Forum. Young people should communicate and interact more than old people. It is very important. You are creating the future and we are going to retire.”



Reported by: Li Xiaomeng

Edited by: Chen Miaojuan