As a freshman DKU student spending my first year at Duke, I knew that I wanted to make the most out of my time on the Duke campus and explore as many opportunities related to urban studies. Naturally, I was thrilled to learn of this lab’s existence, and am grateful to have been able to participate during VCL’s last semester. During this session, I worked with the Tokyo group, where we explored how city space was reconfigured to prepare for the 1964 Olympics. At our first meeting, I remember feeling intimidated at how much the other groups members already seemed to know about Tokyo. After that session, I dedicated a significant amount of time to researching as much as I could about Tokyo, its relation to the 1964 games, and figuring out through which lens to view the city. With time I found myself gravitating toward certain topics, such as the roles/identity of the different central business districts, mobility throughout the day (daytime vs nighttime populations), as well as the pictograms created for the games (the modern, wordless icons created to help with language barriers as the Tokyo Olympics were the first non-western hosted Olympics). I like to paint a lot in my free time, especially illustrated maps, so I’m always intrigued about how a simple image can convey a place, memory, concept, or in the case of the Olympics – a sporting event.

As a group, we began the semester looking at the American occupation housing of Washington Heights, maps of the Shibuya/Yoyogi Area, and the manner posters. After a few more sessions, we split into 3 main subgroups to structure our research: transportation, housing, and visual media. I joined the transportation subgroup, as I’ve grown up right outside DC (with our lovely metro system) and I’ve always felt drawn to the transportation side of a city. With this new sense of direction, I focused my research on the role of the Shinkansen bullet train, and how it drew the periphery into the games and helped reflect Tokyo’s rise as an economic superpower. We examined maps that showed the expansion of the train and metro systems over the years, the development around railways, and the role of transit in Tokyo’s suburbanization after the Olympics.

For me, I was most fascinated by the role that train stations had in Tokyo, and in which ways the zoning and population distribution make Tokyo different from American cities. Instead of having one central urban core, Tokyo is a decentralized well-connected ‘city of cities’, so it makes sense that public transportation is a big part of Tokyo city life. As for the train stations, I thought it was really interesting that they act as the heart of each mini-city, and don’t just function as a transport hub, but as multi-use city spaces. These stations are designed to be accessible by foot, and include different commercial stores, leisure activities, and provide a space for innovation and exchange of ideas. Overall, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with the Tokyo group under VCL, and I’ve really enjoyed learning from teammates about the different ways to approach understanding a city.