Jingu Gaien is a cultural, historic and green area located in the heart of Tokyo. It was created almost 100 years ago by private donations as a tribute to Japan's Meiji Emperor.
A real estate firm plans to develop the green enclave, with the tacit approval of Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike. The project will include two high-rise buildings of about 190 meters each and a smaller companion of 80 meters.
The plans also include demolishing a rugby stadium and a baseball stadium that was once home to Babe Ruth, and re-building them on a rearranged parcel with more commercial space.
The Associated Press quoted Professor Mikiko Ashikawa as saying: "This is like building skyscrapers right in the middle Central Park, New York."
Ishikawa, an emeritus Professor at the University of Tokyo, earned her Master's Degree at Harvard. She studied landscape design and Central Park’s history, and claimed that the park inspired the Japanese – as did European designs – when Jingu gaien was finished in 1926.
Ishikawa said that Tokyo would lose its soul if the area was not opened. He described it as the "showroom of the Japanese nation".
She said, "Jingu Gaien should be viewed as a public space and you should treat it like a commons."
The controversial billion-dollar project pits Koike, the Metropolitan Government, and real estate developer Mitsui Fudosan against a diverse group including activists, local residents, and preservationists.
Koike allowed limited construction to start despite concerns about the impact on the environment.
Ishikawa stated that "the Jingu Gaien is a private project, and may be the first example of crowd funding."
The opponents have filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction that would stop the project. This would allow environmental concerns to be addressed, and explore whether the area requires a radical redesign.
Tenco Tsunoi is a graphic artist who opposes this project.
Tsunoi said that the project had been done "very quietly" both by the city as well as the developer.
Nearly 200,000 people have signed a petition opposing the project. A newspaper poll conducted last year by the Tokyo Shimbun showed that 69.5% of respondents were against the project.
Days before his death, on March 28, Ryuichi Sakamoto, a famous Japanese composer and musician sent an emotional letter to Koike opposing the project. Around 6,000 people gathered near the National Stadium earlier this month to remind Koike about his wishes.
Sachihiko Harashina, a specialist in environmental planning who is also the president of Chiba University of Commerce said Koike appeared to be favoring developers.
Harashina wrote in an email to AP that "if the governor is willing to listen to the voice of people, then she should communicate more with them."
Harashina, a national and international expert in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), is an internationally recognized leader. He called the quality and thoroughness the impact assessment of this project "very poor".
He said, "I would say that this is one the worst EIAs of Japan." He claimed that the city's Environmental Assessment Committee had pointed out several flaws.
Harashina stated that the lack of scientific analysis in the EIA process for the Jingu Gaien Redevelopment Project is a major problem.
Harashina, among others, says that Koike can stop the project at any time if she so wishes.
Koike was told by a Japanese reporter who asked a question that she must "take action" if a business commits fraud.
Koike responded, "There are people with a great interest in the matter -- people opposed to it and people very active." There are those who raise such concerns, but the issue is still going through its procedural steps, whether fraudulent or not. She stated that the city council is "currently deliberating" on this issue.
Trees, green spaces, and who has control of a public space that has been invaded over the years have been flashpoints. The fate of over 100 ginkos that line an avenue and produce a colorful fall of leaves every autumn is also at stake.
The developer has said that the trees along the avenue will remain, but the 18 trees away from it will be cut down. Ishikawa also said that the roots of the remaining trees would be damaged - or even killed - when the new stadium is built within 8 meters (25 foot) of the treeline.
The National Stadium of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will require the destruction of approximately 1,500 trees.
, helped the city to pass legislation that removed height restrictions from the Jingu Gaien region. Activists say that planning for the project started a decade before.
Ishikawa said, "Tokyo has been able to preserve a number of public spaces up until now." If this plan is approved, it will be the very first of these preserved spaces to be destroyed. It will be like a tsunami or domino effect. What's next?"