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Japan frequently features as a prime example of (involuntary) degrowth. With severe depopulation of about 15% projected for the next 25 years, degrowth seems inevitable rather than utopian, frantic attempts by the Japanese government to boost growth notwithstanding. This trend is strongest in rural areas, but large cities such as Osaka, Kyoto or Sapporo are also expected to shrink by more than 10%. Yet in transitioning to sustainable, non-growth-based lifestyles, rural and coastal Japanese communities are reviving traditional models of landscape stewardship (satoyama and satoumi) that have no urban counterparts.
In this paper, I attempt to envision how such a counterpart for Japanese cities could look like. For this purpose, I draw upon characteristics of the traditional rural models such as biocultural diversity to combine them with key degrowth concepts and recent advances in urban green infrastructure. In particular, I examine what role the vacant lots and other informal green spaces of shrinking cities might play in realizing what Peter Matanle has termed the ‘depopulation dividend’. The aim is an urban landscape stewardship model (satomachi, derived from the Japanese characters for “arable land, home land” and “town, suburb”) that supports both human and non-human livelihood with a high quality of life as well as a functional, diverse ecosystem.