|A section of Tokyo compared to the street grid of Manhattan|
|The same section compared to the notoriously small Portland blocks|
|Sapporo versus Manhattan block sizes|
|Sapporo versus Dallas block sizes, both are almost the exact same size|
|Mode shares of Sapporo and Tokyo|
|Mode shares of Sapporo and Montréal|
Anyway, Sapporo manages some respectable numbers for sustainability. Its transit system is much less dominant than Tokyo's and actually doesn't perform better than Montréal's. Its advantage over Montréal comes almost exclusively from active modes of transport, walking and biking, which are nearly three times as high as Montréal's. So people in Sapporo walk and bike in great numbers. And Montréal's relatively poor performance can't be blamed on the climate, Sapporo is just as cold and even more snowy than Montréal.
So, how do they do it?
The streetsAs I said, Sapporo's streets, especially in its downtown area, are pretty wide, but this is based on the distance from property line to property line, including sidewalk and roadway. Sapporo made the choice of giving only as much space to cars as they absolutely need, their lanes are essentially all 3 meters wide (10 feet) only, and most streets have 4 lanes (2 in each direction), rarely do they have more. On-street parking and large shoulders are rare.
What do they do with the rest of the street? They have sidewalks, very wide sidewalks. Their sidewalks tend to be around 3 meters wide (10 feet), sometimes even more. Now, some cities like New York and Dallas have similarly wide sidewalks in their downtown areas, but the main difference I see is that, in Sapporo, they respect the pedestrian space much more. Meaning that when they plant trees, add poles and signs, they do it at the very edge between the sidewalk and the street, whereas too often in North America, we tend to put these objects nearer to the middle of the sidewalk. Also, their curb cuts tend to be much less invasive on the pedestrian space, with cars facing a short ramp that takes them to the level of the sidewalk rather than taking the entire sidewalk to the level of the street.
On the other hand, look at these examples of similarly wide sidewalks, wasted by trees and crap put way too close to the middle of the sidewalk, demonstrating how pedestrian space is seen more as a buffer between buildings and street.
|Sainte-Catherine street in Montréal, note how the poles and trees are planted far from the curb compared to Sapporo|
|Dallas, the sidewalk is even built to indicate to pedestrians that half of the sidewalk is for objects, not people|
|Dallas again, with an otherwise large sidewalk poorly maintained and with poles put almost in the middle of it|
Japan zoning: density and mixed use
My post on Japanese zoning is by far the most read on my blog, and is likely to remain this way. I've talked about how Japanese zoning includes mixed uses by default and how it's much friendlier to a mix of different housing types and greater density. Sapporo being a very recent city, it bears the mark of Japanese zoning more than most other Japanese cities. To summarize a bit the principal points of Japanese zoning:
- Maximum use zones rather than single use zones, residential still allowed in commercial zones
- Height limits depend on street width
- To build malls or offices, you need to allow dense residential uses also (use bundling)
In North American cities with our very strict planning, we tend to adopt an idea that buildings' sizes should be inversely proportional to their distance to the downtown area: skyscrapers in the downtown area then heights falling as you go farther until you hit single-family housing. That's not how Sapporo plays it, at all. If you look at the city from vantage points, you can see "ribbons" of mid-rise and high-rise buildings extending from the downtown areas, grouped around the subway lines.
Click on pictures for bigger versions.
The result of this is that the dense areas of Sapporo go much further away from the downtown area than most North American cities and there is a strong tendency to mix uses, so that dense residential areas tend to be within walking and biking distances from corner stores, supermarkets and malls. What helps this proximity is the reduced parking lots in dense areas, as parking minimums are lower in Japan, plus stores will do underground parking and even parking on the roof of malls to have a more compact form.
|Mall in Sapporo with some parking in front...|
|...but see the ramp in the center of the picture? It takes cars to a parking lot built over the mall|
|The only parking lot in front of this suburban mall is a bike parking lot|
|Cars must take the ramp to their own parking upstairs|
|This parking garage is in the middle of the huge entertainment/red light district: Susukino|
Some would also say that this makes Sapporo's skyline look pretty poor and mundane as it doesn't look much like a mountain but more like a long hill with few distinct buildings in the mix. They may have a point, but skylines in my eyes are pretty irrelevant to how nice a city is to live in. And anyway, they just have to wait for the night to fall to compensate.
|Sapporo at night from Mount Moiwa|