Komae City is located 14 km west of Shinjuku, in Tokyo. Its population is 73,000, with a density of 11,400 persons/km2 - the seventh highest density in Tokyo. It is a typical suburban part of Tokyo, with 84.3 percent of it being residential, and most residents commuting to the central business district to work everyday.
Due to the high density, the city used to transport its garbage to a private incineration facility outside the city. Separation of the garbage into burnable and non-burnable items was done at the source. But due to disputes with the operator of the incinerator, Komae's garbage was no longer accepted by the operator.
As a result, Komae City attempted to find an alternative solution - either contract another facility outside the city, or build one within the city. Land was purchased, and the facility designed. A 'Green Site' near the city hall (in a 'semi-factory zone') was chosen by the government. But this site was surrounded by housing units, just across the road. When the residents became aware of the decision, they were upset that the noise, smell and traffic generated by the incinerator will affect their life. Hence the residents opposed the idea and asked the City Government to stop the project. The main issue that the citizens opposed was not the incineration itself, but the decision-making process which excluded the citizens, and a lack of long-term vision and planning view.
As a result, Komae City government froze the decision to build the incinerator and in 1991, set up a citizens group called the Komae Garbage Citizen's Committee in order to solve the problems. The committee did not have any of the government administrators, and had twelve citizens and six specialists (academicians/consultants). The purpose of the Committee was to develop a long term comprehensive garbage framework for the city. It set a goal of planning for garbage management for the next ten years that would constitute recycle centers, collection processes, incinerators etc.
Thus began an intensive community participation process. A number of subcommittees were formed for various tasks, and consultants volunteered time and effort to advice the committee on various technical aspects. Advocates/mediators worked between the citizens and local government to solve problems. Since members of the committee were citizens, meetings were held at night, open to public, and with records of meetings open to all. More than 70 informal and 50 formal meetings were held. An official newsletter was issued, written by journalists who were on the committee. Surveys were conducted by the committee to gauge the opinion and views of the citizens. Public campaigns in the form of speeches in front of Komae station, symposia and public hearings were conducted. The selection of the site was made through transparent meetings, discussion and the delphi method. By consensus, the site for the incinerator was selected and recommended to the city government. Specialists in the committee evaluated the noise, small and traffic concerns. Countermeasures and technologies were proposed. A process of evaluation and monitoring was put in place to ensure that citizens concerns were not violated.
The key observations that can be made from this process is the methodology of communication that was adopted - between the citizens and the government, and among the citizens themselves. The role of experts and consultants in giving non-partisan advice to the various parties helped in appropriate decision making. The transformation of a dispute struggle into a dialogue between citizens was an important step in the process of acceptance of decisions taken by the local government. The broader and long-term perspective adopted by the citizens committee was also an interesting aspect of the participation process.