Life in local town


June 26, 2020

I managed to update my blog at intervals of about a week. It's good for me.

Let's start from the last key word, “local”.

"Local" is the place where people who no longer feel value in the city live. The locals generally have the impression that they are rural, or suburban, but for those who were born and raised in center of Tokyo, that is the "local". Neither the locals nor the cities are necessarily terms that refer to a geographical location. You should think of the city as a device that brings together people, things, and information from inside and outside to function. The scrambled intersection in Shibuya is one of the devices that symbolizes the city in that sense, but for those who originally lived in Dogenzaka in Shibuya, it is just a local intersection in front of the station. You don’t have to say there's no local because you're in the city. Everybody has his or her own locality.

Now, today's topic is how to regenerate or activate the "local". From here, it may be easier to understand if you get the image of a "local" in a rural or suburban area.

A common pattern is to try activating the shopping street in front of the station. The Small and Medium Enterprise Agency in Japan has prepared a subsidy for that. Certainly, if the shops in the neighborhood become lively, the whole city will feel better and the time spent locally will be more fun. Leveraged shopping streets, “town revitalization” has been promoted in hundreds and thousands of municipalities throughout the country. But what was the result?

According to statistics from the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency, the number of shopping street is about 14,000 in the whole country. Most of them are in the terrible conditions that are worth the decline, regardless of "town revitalization". On average, about 50 stores are lined up per shopping street, but about 15% of them or 7 to 8 stores are shut down. In the early 2000s, this was 7-8%, about half of what it is now. In other words, the number of “closed stores” is unfortunately increasing year by year. That's the national average, so the more you go to rural areas, the more empty stores you have. The so-called "deserted shopping street", just like a ghost town, has become a regular scene in rural areas.

There are many empty stores in my local station square shopping mall. I've never counted, but I've never seen one in five open. Even in the shops that are barely operating, the majority of them are severely deteriorated, with the signage peeling off and the walls remaining dirty. When you look at the entire street of the shopping street, you get the impression that are more deserted than the number of empty stores. Most of the people working in the store are elderly people, and the visitors are sparse. I heard that there are many shops that have no successors and have to be shut down in the future. This is the epitome of “local” town, full of a sense of exhaustion.

The disaster of Covid-19 this time may be a rebirth from this "feeling exhausted". As I said last time, everyone started to hate commuting to the center of the city (at least hate commuting daily). That created momentum that the amount of time spent locally is increasing. You can shop online, work on line and even have a party with friends on line, so you don't have to go outside to the city. Again, the amount of time spent locally will increase. If so, do you think again and do "town revitalization" or “machi-okoshi” in Japanese? So what do you start with?

What I would like to think carefully about here is who sets it up, and from what perspective. Until now, “machi-okoshi” has been done by a trade union of shopping street and they get a subsidy from the country to hold a festival or do a simultaneous sales campaign at the shopping mall. It didn't last long even when it got excited. At the end of the same old “fireworks”, neither "machi-okoshi" nor regional revitalization will be realized at all.

Perhaps it's better to have a third-party marketer think about this rather than a shopping street union. If you think about it from the perspective of the residents who live there, not just the store, you should be able to come up with a plan. I am proud that I may be one of the marketer, so I thought about it. What do the consumers who are returning to their hometown think and live everyday?

・If I can get the same products and services as in the city, cheaper than in the city, I’ll buy it.

・I’ll buy on line commodities, casual clothes and books that you can buy anywhere.

・If I can only buy locally, I’ll buy at a local store

・I walk for exercise and go shopping while walking

・I have to do housework and childcare, so I want to use the gap time effectively

・I want to secure privacy even in the local area

・I want to have fun even in the local area

・Because I'm in a local area, I want to relax and spend time

The beauty salon in the shopping street near my house unintentionally increased the number of customers during Covid emergency declaration. This is because the local people who had attended beauty salons in Tokyo until then were accepted as new customers. With the exception of some charismatic people, the hair stylist's skills are more or less the same both in the city and in the suburbs. Still, the prices are much lower in the suburbs and rural areas. If so, then it would be fine to go local.

Shops that sell commodities and clothes that can be bought anywhere can't afford to stick to conventional face-to-face sales. Stores should be changed to a sort of showroom, and sold mainly by electric commerce. Even if the old store is renovated, the walls will be repainted and the makeup will be minimal. That's why you have to spend money on creating a website. You carefully provide a space where customers can look at the products and another space to sit down inside the store, so that they can purchase on their smartphones and guide them to your website. Without this kind of business, the majority of commodity stores would not be profitable.

A series advertisement of the shopping street is posted on the wall of the course where locals often walk. Advertising is designed and copied using professional hands. Spend money on it. It makes people feel like they are united in the shopping district with some brand image, and reminds them of what kind of shops there are and what characteristics each store has.

On holidays, we will introduce the local topics of the week and the history and episodes of the town in old day’s news reader style, which is called “kawaraban” in Japanese. Talent will be allocated to the reader, and the shopping street staff will deliver them live, using SNS.

I got such ideas just by coming up with them. I'm not sure if everything will help revitalize the locals, but I think it's worth a try. With a small amount of money, it should be possible to start the project even now. Don't expect subsidies from the country to be hot, why don't you collect money by crowdfunding?

Last one. I may be asked, “what do you think of "smart city" when you talk about this kind of thing?” Even if it is camouflaged with AI, IOT, or the latest technology, the root is just an idea based on the concept of "looking from the top" on the supply side. The origin of the idea is the same as the “Hakomono Gyousei” which means the policy of focusing on construction of public buildings in the 80’s-90’s bubble era. On top of that there is no user's point of view, there is even the danger of creating a surveillance society by thoroughly collecting personal information. All pain, no gain. It is better to reconsider companies and local governments that are involved in such things.

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