Japan 2019

Preparing  for a Certain Future

The Seattle metropolitan region is at a crossroads. Thriving economies and spectacular natural landscapes provide a quality of life that draws rapidly increasing population growth. While growth benefits the region economically, in a context of wealth disparity, homelessness and displacement, resistance to urban redevelopment and expanding unincorporated development, it also threatens our communities, our landscapes, and Puget Sound.  Were that not enough challenge, in a context of climate change and looming natural disasters, it also threatens our long-term public safety and economic viability.

Emergency preparedness and resiliency planning are regionally understood and practiced; however, by most measures we are unprepared for a certain future.  By way of example, recent results from the University of Washington’s M9 project, a four-year study to understand likely effects from earthquakes emanating from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, suggest ground-shaking impacts from a magnitude 9.0 event could be two to five times stronger than previously anticipated—with significant implications for existing building and water system standards.  And while we aim every picture window at Mt Rainier, volcanologists list it as one the most dangerous volcanos in the world.

Where to go from here?  Our team looks to Japan for insight, lessons, and opportunities.  It is an intriguing case study.  Japan’s geography and its location along the Pacific Ring of Fire makes it highly susceptible to earthquakes. It is home to major metropolitan regions—including the world’s largest, Tokyo—through which major river systems flow between volcanic mountain ranges and the ocean.  It is an extreme, more disaster-prone version of our region.  It also is amongst the most prepared in terms of planning, infrastructure, and development.

Our project will explore the means and methods by which Tokyo and other Japanese metropolitan regions have pursued resiliency, with an eye toward lessons for the Central Puget Sound.