RMIT researcher Dr Marieluise Jonas is leading a collaborative project in Japan’s tsunami-devastated north to explore new approaches and ideas for recovery and rebuilding.
This year marks the five year anniversary of Japan’s magnitude nine earthquakes and subsequent tsunami, which tore its way across the north coast.
Jonas, Program Manager for the Master of Landscape Architecture at RMIT, has spent the past five years collaborating with locals and researchers.
“I think that landscape architects can provide a holistic perspective of sites and regions. We can visualize economic and political scenarios spatially and position them distinctly through designed outcomes,” she said.
The Japanese government’s solution is to build up to 14m high seawalls to prevent further damage from future tsunamis.
“The reliance on this type of infrastructure has proven volatile; we have seen many of these infrastructures fail,” Jonas said.
“Unfortunately the lesson learned by the Japanese government seems to be not to think of new ways to prevent disaster, but to build the walls higher.
“Many locals are against these structures, and there would have been many alternatives such as relocation to a higher ground.
“There is a huge sense of loss from the community. Even though the tsunami has taken their home and loved ones, they long for the sea and beach.”
During a 2012 study tour RMIT Landscape Architecture students accompanied Jonas to the affected area of Shibitachi. They created a design proposal that was presented to the community.
“We suggested creating a green buffer zone that would offer public space, tourism activities and safeguard the ecosystem of the coast,” she said.
“The proposal was welcomed by residents and local government, but was rejected due to the seawall being pursued by the prefectural government.”
This year Jonas held an open seminar in Kesennuma with the goal of reconnecting people.
With the help of her team, she shifted the discussion away from the negativity surrounding the seawalls and encouraged the locals to explore new approaches and ideas.
“The aim of the seminar is to re-connect people. I want to reconnect smaller groups into a larger force and to empower the participants to become more effective members of the reconstruction effort.”
Leading a small team of landscape architects and architects, Jonas is developing a plan to transform a destroyed high-school into a research community facility for educatio and disaster prevention, which will also serve as a live memorial centre.
“Education is paramount. There is a need to address an ongoing awareness and preparedness in the disaster prone area over generations, the tradition of learning is seen valuable.”
Jonas hopes that simple ideas of democratic relocation and resource distribution will be achieved.
Her future plan is to focus on continuous engagement with the region and to ensure that future proofing strategies are put into place for the future.
The Kesennuma Living with the Sea project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australia-Japan Foundation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
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Story: Jordan Di Stefano