Satoyama in the City: How Green Roofs Promote Sustainability in Urban Areas

Satoyama is a concept that originated from Japan and is now an umbrella term for socio-ecological landscapes and seascapes (SEPLS). The International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative is a partnership of over 182 organizations, governments and universities to conserve and restore human-influenced natural environments across the globe.

rice terracesThrough the IPSI, there is now an increasing body of literature proving the sustainability indigenous knowledge and practices. It also shows that communities that have been practicing the Satoyama principle are living in harmony with nature and protecting biodiversity.

A few examples of Satoyama landscapes are rural agricultural communities in Japan and the famed rice terraces in the Philippines. The partnership aims not only to preserve SEPLS across the globe, but to achieve global recognition and find new ways to apply the concept in urban settings.

What We Can Learn from Indigenous Knowledge

There is no doubt that traditional knowledge is just as remarkable as any other technology. Indigenous and rural communities have come up with ways to manage and utilize their surrounding natural environment. Despite the lack of conventional knowledge, they have conceived of ways to improve their daily lives without disrupting the natural cycle of ecosystems.

To maintain food security and livelihoods, these communities rely on production activities such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry. They acquire resources from their surroundings, such as gathering wood from secondary growth forests or remnant woodlands for fuel. Basically, the Satoyama is characterized by human-nature interactions that promote food security and livelihood while maintaining ecosystems and biodiversity.

Beyond Rural Communities, Bringing Satoyama to the City

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The Satoyama principle can also be applied in urban landscapes. Green roofs and vertical gardens are two of the many ways that urban settings can make use of this valuable traditional knowledge.

In Satoyama landscapes, communities rely on woodlands and forests to provide sufficient water supply for agriculture, fisheries and consumption. This local knowledge can also be applied in modern roof structures.

TokyoWith the consideration of the Satoyama concept, an IPSI case study explains that green roofs can be an “integral design element that improves community life and increases habitat and connection with nature.”

Japan, despite its dense cities, is becoming the leader in encouraging urban ecology. Braiterman, a design anthropologist who lives in Tokyo, notes, “Tokyo residents are displaying remarkable ingenuity in maximizing small private spaces and limited open spaces.”

In Tokyo, residents care for tiny gardens and alley plants, locally known as roji. They also have street-level paddies, honey bee projects and firefly gardens. This only proves that even small spaces should not discourage or hinder us from promoting sustainable lifestyles.

The Environment Ministry in Japan has already included rebuilding Satoyama in its biodiversity strategy. Organizations now focus on educating urban dwellers of the cultural and social significance of the Satoyama. This is especially relevant now that the majority of the world’s population lives in cities.

The IPSI stresses that if people in urban settings learn to value culture and nature, they will be inspired to live more sustainably and resiliently. This is IPSI’s vision—to spread awareness and recreate a harmonious relationship with nature in urban projects, be it big or small.

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