Living sustainably in a smart city

Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
My View - The Sun Daily
November 24, 2015

STEPPING out of the Kashiwanoha station, while heading towards the Kashiwa Campus, University of Tokyo, I saw modest bunting with the words "Nobel Prize" hanging on street lamps.

For whom was made clear later by a banner on an overhead pedestrian walkway. It read: Congratulations to Dr Takaaki Kajita. Director of Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, Kashiwa Campus at The University of Tokyo for being awarded The Nobel Prize in Physics 2015. He was recognised for the "discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass" and raises the question about the framework of physics formulated in the previous century.

The president of the university when announcing the "ground breaking discovery" gave due recognition to another professor, Masatoshi Koshiba, now an honorary professor emeritus. Koshiba started the research in neutrinos in 1970s that earned him the 2002 Nobel Laureate in Physics. The baton of leadership has been passed down through three generations of teachers and students, involving many contributions to the research until Professor Kajita came along to emulate his mentor.

"The use of free ideas as a starting point to seek out universal truths with reasoning and perseverance is the spirit that the university has valued most since its founding," the president was quoted as saying. This should be noted by decision-makers and heads of universities. This was echoed by Kajita when he said that research truly "expands humanity's horizon of knowledge". He shared the prize with Arthur McDonald of Canada, who is professor emeritus at Queen's University in Kingston.

News about the award added much aura to the seemingly modest banner and bunting around the campus which is part of the Kashiwa Smart City. The presence of a Nobel laureate certainly adds more meaning to the description of the city. After all this is the first win since the campus opened some 10 years ago. It aims to make sustainability the key lifestyle for the city that has academia working in collaboration with the public and private sectors. The Kashiwa campus has been holding a Sustainability Science Assembly and Symposium since 2007 as part of its Graduate Programme for Sustainability Science (GPSS) of the Global Leadership Initiative (GLI) organised by the Graduate School of Frontier Science, University of Tokyo. Last week, I was privileged to be invited to take part as a member of its International Advisory Board.

This time the discussion revolved around four themes of "new industry creation", health and longevity, energy and transport. In terms of transport, the city is determined to cut down carbon dioxide emissions by sharing vehicles. In many countries this normally involves the use of bicycles but in Kashiwa this includes bicycles with motors and cars. Already the emission levels are said to be dropping. Wide walkways have been provided to encourage people to walk wherever possible to further reduce emissions. The innovative work on energy is even more impressive with an academia-public-private partnership focussing on a system that uses photovoltaics, storage battery facilities, wind power and a gas-powered generator (for use during disasters). The goal is to optimise the use of energy while reducing the environmental impact. It also provides plans to use advanced information technologies to modernise its grid, not forgetting emergency support. A unique feature in the Smart City is called KOIL (Kashiwa Open Innovation Laboratory), which was established last year and made accessible to the public at minimal cost (this includes a 3-D printing facility). Its health and longevity unit is free for all to use and consult.

In all, the aim is to create an international campus at Kashiwanoha where some of the elements include: sustainable garden city, creative culture and industry, low carbon mobility system, quality urban space, and suburban lifestyle alongside an international academic community. The overarching sustainability concept is so clear and convincing that the city is able to paint a picture of how it will be to live sustainably in 2030 ( It is here where the GPSS-GLI is leading the way to design the sustainable city of the future.

The dedication and conviction to make this happen were well demonstrated by the student-staff-administrators and shared by members of the community during the discussion. It showed a rich environment of greenery, water and nature that provides the community a harmonious and balanced setting to live, work, study and plan as part of a healthy and happy global community. The combination of a smart city together with "Nobel-winning" mind is a double bonus for Kashiwa to this effort of making sustainability a reality.