Fostering Knowledge Creation: Kansai Science City

The 1970s represents a turning point of international and domestic development in Japan - the oil shock focussed attention on its dependence on global resources, and the need for self-reliance. There was a search for projects and initiatives that would strengthen the local/domestic capacities for research and development. In the Kansai region (comprising Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto cities) a meeting was set up to build a city that would bring together cultural, research and academic functions in one central location - to study and solve problems not just of Kansai or Japan, but on a global scale. This initiative was also coupled by a desire of businesses in the Kansai region to regain their position as the economic center of the country. The local citizens in the region came forward to set up study groups that looked into new city development based on the themes of culture, science and technology.

In response to these local initiatives, the national government promulgated policies in 1978 to set up and build institutions for higher research and education. In 1981, the Land Agency of Japan decided to locate the Kansai Science City (KSC) in the Keihanna region (that is, at the meeting point of three prefectures of Kyoto, Osaka and Nara). Governments of the three prefectures, business people and academics joined together to promote KSC's development. A 'Basic Development Plan' for KSC was proposed by the Land Agency in 1986, and it became a formal national project. Laws and legislation to implement the basic plan was enacted in 1987.

The Kansai Science City covers an area of 15,000 Ha covering five cities, and three towns in three prefectures. It is divided into 12 districts. By 1996, 41,000 residents were in place. Of the 70 research institutions which had decided to locate in the city, 50 of them had already done so. There were 2,500 researchers and 20,000 students working and studying in KSC.

KSC differs from the other science city in Japan - Tsukuba City (located northeast of Tokyo) in that it links different institutions cooperating to solve global problems, for example, energy, resources, food supplies, urbanization etc. It also attempts to break barriers between disciplines, between universities, and between societies.

A set of three core facilities were set up - (I) International Advanced Research Institute (which looks for new themes for research and study); (ii) Graduate University/School System (which identifies emerging and cutting edge research from wider/longer perspectives); and (iii) Core institutions for linking academic activities (which links research institutions in exchanging information, researchers, and funds).

The planning and building of Kansai Science City is itself a model of collaboration and consensus building to solve global problems. A centralized planning process has enabled harmonization with nature; clustered planning has kept the plans flexible; autonomy incorporated in clusters has introduced diversities.

The promotion of the City's advantages and merits has brought together many institutions in the cultural, art, technology, information, technology and other fields. Research labs and hotels, shopping areas and housing parks and infrastructure facilities have been built gradually.

The key to KSC's success lies in the decentralized decision making framework that is shared between (I) the national, prefectural and city governments, (ii) Businesses, including the local Chambers of Commerce, (iii) Developers, both public and private. Kansai Science City has brought together existing activities in science, culture and technology in a central location, and set up a framework for their interdisciplinary collaboration. It has provided the necessary research and learning infrastructure.

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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org