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Sustainable urban development in a mature city that has entered a depopulation period based on the compact city strategy, which concentrates urban functions and housing, aimed at continued creation of added values in economy, society and environment

As to rapid population growth during the high economic growth period, the city urban area kept sprawling, which led to issues caused by the urban structure, including decline in the population density and energy efficiency, and increase in greenhouse gas emission. Entering the era of low birthrate/hyper-aging and depopulation, Toyama City was also facing issues common to mature societies, such as decline of public transport and city center, shrinking local economy and city financial capacity diminished by reduced tax revenue. Thus, further urban sprawl and decline in population density in the city center were threats to sustainability of the city.

Objective of the practice

As one of the solutions to those challenges faced by the city, Toyama decided to embark on the project of “compact city development through renovation of public transport” to concentrate urban functions and housing in the city center and along the public transport lines aimed at renovation of its low-efficient sprawled urban structure to a highly efficient urban structure that would be sustainable for many years to come.
Furthermore, Toyama also set a goal to develop "a sustainable and livable city in the era of depopulation" which would be the base for promoting the SDGs, such as reduction of environmental burden, economic revitalization, employment stability, people’s healthy living, and enhancement of childcare and education environment. As well, in order to break dependence on fossil fuels and develop a post-carbon society as a global energy efficiency accelerator city, Toyama has been raising the share of renewable energies by utilizing its forest resources that cover 70% of its land and abundant water/geothermal resources. And, for local consumption of electricity locally generated from such renewable energies and to develop distributed power supply systems on the occurrence of a disaster emergency, community energy management systems (SEMS) is being developed by the city. In addition, aiming at job creation and healthy aging city from the three aspects – environment, economy and society, Toyama has been implementing future-oriented projects, which include support for further growth of Toyama’s pharmaceutical industry which has a 300-year history and its related businesses, and the "sixth" industrialization of perilla farming. (The "sixth" industrialization is a policy to revitalize agriculture through integration of primary, secondary and tertiary industries.)

Key stakeholders and partnerships

Japanese government (Cabinet Office, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, and Ministry of Environment) for financial assistance and regulatory system development
Foreign national governments and local organizations and institutes, Japanese government (embassies and consulates), JICA, UNCRD, etc. for foreign institutes and governments for Toyama City’s international projects
Local transport company (Toyama Chihou Railway) for assistance and cooperation in transportation system development and operation
Others: Toyama University, Toyama University of International Studies, KENSAIDO Co., Ltd., KOKANDO Co. Ltd., Suikikogyo Co. Ltd., IGES (Institute for Global Environmental Strategies), Toyama Hydrogen Energy Promotion Council, Platform of Environmental Citizenship Toyama

Implementation of the Project/Activity

The core project is compact city development that concentrates urban functions in the areas along the public transportation lines. According to the “Public Transport Revitalization Plan” formed in 2007 and the “Toyama City Urban Master Plan” formed in 2008, which clearly specified city’s future vision and goals, Toyama has been leading and carrying out this project in cooperation with the local transportation company.
The most successful achievement of this project is the creation of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) network. The local JR Port Line whose ridership had kept falling was revitalized as Japan’s first full-scale LRT system “Toyama Light Rail” by adopting a public-private partnership (PPP) where the city provided public funds for renovating/constructing the lines and a private company operates the services. In the downtown area, the tram loop line operation was realized by providing a 0.9 km tram line extension. At the JR Toyama Station, the city’s largest terminal, the North-South LRT Networks connection project is in process under the elevated railways of the station. As well, ridership of public transport and population movement and distribution along the public transport lines are monitored by using a geographical information system (GIS).
In addition to introduction of the Smart Town, which contributes to reduction of environmental burden in the city center and along the public transport lines, Toyama is accelerating its approach that brings together city planning and environmental policies when generating integrated policies that comprehensively cover the aspects of environment, economy and society. Those integrated policies include local power generation for local consumption by using renewable energies in the mountainous areas, visualization of effectiveness of renewable energies in agriculture, and the “sixth” industrialization of perilla farming by using hot spring heat sources. This approach has impacted our process for achieving the SDGs.
Toyama’s compact city development based on revitalized public transportation and its renewable energy utilization based on the “Regional Circular and Ecological Sphere” concept have been highly evaluated as future-oriented practice models in Japan and overseas. The city’s success in these efforts were introduced to the world by many international institutes, which led to a new development where Toyama helped other regions address their challenges and achieve their goals by sharing its knowledge. Dissemination of knowledge on low-carbonization technology and methods, including renewable energy introduction, is one of our major goals listed in the Toyama City Future City Plan and the Toyama City Energy Efficiency Accelerator Plan.
Toyama has specified its SDGs promotion projects in the Toyama City SDGs Future City Plan. Each project is managed through the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Action) cycle, including progress check at the “SDGs Future City Advisory Committee” by using the key performance indicator (KPI) set for each project.


・In terms of net migration in the city center area, it was negative until 2007. More people moved out from the city center than those moved in. It changed to positive in 2008 and has remained positive until 2018. (Population increase for 11 years: 1,186) In the areas along public transport lines, net migration was negative until 2013. It changed to positive in 2014. Since then, it has remained positive until 2018. (Population increase for 5 years: 2,422)
・The population living along the convenient public transport lines accounted for about 28% of the total population in 2005, and the ratio increased to 38.6% in 2018.
・The number of elementary school students has been declining in Toyama City. In the city center, the number also kept declining until 2007, but it has been increasing since 2008.
・As the city kept sprawling into the suburbs, population drain from the city center continued. The drain was stopped, and we are now witnessing population migration returning to the city center. If its reverse of sprawling vector can be continued, a city will become compact over a medium/long period of time.
・While having kept declining until 2006, daily ridership of the city tram has kept increasing since 2007. It grew from 9,779 in 2006 to 14,366 in 2017 by 47%.
・As part of its efforts for decarbonization, Toyama is now working on the Public Bus CNG (compressed natural gas) Introduction Project in Semarang, Indonesia, by collaborating with a private company based in Toyama. The expected annual reduction in carbon dioxide emission by this project is 1,870 tons.
・In 2012, Toyama built a micro hydroelectric power plant as the initial model. Following this, four micro hydroelectric power plants were built in the city, and four more construction plans are ongoing right now. In Tabanan, Indonesia, Toyama assisted the local government to introduce micro hydroelectric power plants (4 units) which utilize agricultural water for solving electricity shortage problem. This project was completed in November in 2017. In Iskandar Malaysia, a solar-hydro hybrid type micro hydroelectric power plant was built in February 2018. This plant is also utilized for environmental education.

Enabling factors and constraints

・In order to invest the city’s resources intensively in the city center and public transport, agreement must be obtained from the city council and citizens. Setting out our clear future vision, city explained the problems Toyama would face in the future again and again, and finally the agreement was obtained. To achieve this, Mayor attended the explanatory meeting for citizens more than 100 times in seeking for people’s understanding. He has led this initiative with his strong leadership for over ten years, standing still till today,
・Around the time when Toyama embarked on the compact city development, most people believed that public transport ridership would not grow anymore due to advancing motorization and population and working-age population decline caused by aging of the society. Nevertheless, Toyama succeeded in efforts to increase public transport ridership through renovation of the public transport systems which was achieved through collaboration with the national government and a transportation company (in financing, regulatory system development and investment).
・To carry out the public transport revitalization project, the city received capital investments from private companies and donations from citizens. And, in order to adopt the two-tiered public and private partnership in which railways are owned and maintained by a local government and service is conducted by a transportation company, related law amendments were necessary. Thanks to the Act on Revitalization and Rehabilitation of Local Public Transportation Systems enforced by the national government (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism), it became possible to adopt the PPP.
・With an aim at realizing a low-carbon society, the local citizen participation project ”Team Toyama” was launched in 2008, in which citizens, private businesses and municipal government work together for global warming prevention. Currently, more than 23,000 members in 508 teams are registered.
・Private business, NPOs and citizen networks which aim to resolve the global challenges from the perspective of the SDGs are further intensifying their activities, and academia-industry-government partnerships is formed.

Sustainability and replicability

・ Toyama City's compact urban structure revitalized the city center, increased the city revenue due to rise of land prices, and reduced maintenance cost of the social infrastructure, all of which has contributed to enhancement of sustainability of the city management.
・ Increase in public transport ridership has enhanced its sustainability.
・ Through the comprehensive city development policies, Toyama has become a better place to live and more people moved in Toyama from other cities, which enables the city to sustain its population strength at a certain degree.
・ By introducing renewable energy suitable for local characteristics, Toyama has promoted local electricity generation for local consumption. As well, by disseminating and sharing its low-carbonization technology, including renewable energy technology, in Japan and overseas, Toyama has contributed to the worldwide effort against global warming.
・ Domestic market in Japan is shrinking due to its declining population. For seeking for more job creation and new business opportunities for local companies, Toyama City has been assisting their international business expansions. This has contributed to enhancement of sustainability of the local community and economy.

・Toyama City’s compact city project has attracted a lot of attention in Japan and abroad. As a result, the number of visits by similar-sized municipal governments (over 300,000 population) we received in 2017 was 140 visits, which was the largest number of municipality visits to one city in Japan. As well, we received 30 visits from abroad, which was also the largest number in Japan.
・Japan’s first full-scale LRT system “Toyama Light Rail” provided a good role model for other cities, and many cities visited Toyama to see and learn. From Utsunomiya City, Tochigi Prefecture, a group comprised of city officials and citizens visited Toyama. And now, they are working on introduction of the LRT system with reference to the Toyama model.
・As an international program, Toyama assists other regions with introduction of renewable energy and low-carbon technology transfer. Both are applicable to any regions. And, by packaging those technologies and know-hows, we can assist them more effectively. Starting from Tabanan Province, Indonesia, which is a model case of low carbonization, we have spread our international city collaboration across Bali Province and Indonesia and are working on further expansion.
・Mayor of Toyama has introduced and talked about these efforts made by the city at many seminars in Japan and abroad at the requests of the World Bank and others.


Enablers for the success of the compact city development are the city’s clear vision, Mayor’s strong leadership, ensured continuity of the projects based on the strong partnership with stakeholders in city planning and development.
For effective use of the city’s limited fiscal and other resources, it was needed to make comprehensive policy collaborations and implement integrated policies beyond silos. In achieving this, what contributed a lot was that we had an innovative mindset to carry out our projects without solely relying on the fiscal resource from the national government. In addition, by visualizing and sharing the effects, we could form partnerships with diverse stakeholders.
These successful experiences influenced one another and the whole city was revitalized, which made it possible us to develop a sustainable city loved by citizens.
Revitalization of public transportation has produced multiple benefits in various aspects of our society. For example, in the environmental aspect, greenhouse gas emission by the transportation sector has been reduced, and in the social aspect, shift toward a walkable city where everyone can live without cars has been accelerated. In addition, city’s tax revenue from the city center area has increased. This demonstrates that, as a sustainable city, Toyama has achieved a visible result also in the financial aspect. These achievements suggest that Toyama City’s approach to city planning and development is highly likely to be one of the role models for many medium-sized cities that are addressing various challenges resulting from the advent of a super-aging/population declining society in Japan and abroad.
In the context of rapidly growing “global urbanization,” we firmly believe it can also contribute to SDGs achievement to share knowledge about how to address common challenges faced by cities all over the world, such as population decline, hyper-aging, financial difficulties, and climate change.

Other sources of information

OECD Compact City Policies


The World Bank


International Cooperation Future City Toyama


Goal 7
7.3 - By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
Goal 11
11.3 - By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
Goal 17
17.17 - Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships

Data, monitoring and accountability
Staff / Technical expertise
To secure adequate human resources for reinforcing the system to promote the SDGs, including experts meetings
Basic information
Start: 01 April, 2005
Completion: 31 December, 2030
Ongoing? no
Asia and Pacific
Geographical Coverage
Toyama Prefecture’s capital city with population of 420,000 and area of 1,242 km2 on an alluvial plain with diverse landscape from the 1000-m deep Bay to the 3000-m high peaks blessed with a vast forested area and abundant water and geothermal resources
Toyama City /Regional or Local Government
Type: Regional or Local Government
Contact information
Toshihiko Mori, Director, Office of Strategic Planning and Resilience, miraisenryaku-01@city.toyama.lg.jp, +81-76-443-2006
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United Nations