Postwar Public Housing: US Built A Failed Lower Class, Japan Created The Middle

multi level apartment building in Japan
Urbania Shigakoen 20191013 photo by 円周率3パーセント is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
Public housing for blue and white collar workers in Nagoya, Japan.

There’s a well-known saying: “you are what you eat.” In postwar US and Japan, it might fairly be argued that you were how you were housed. Supposedly classless America busied itself creating a significantly racist public housing that over the years defined its tenants as degenerate failures. In Japan however, public housing, through its architecture, its location and its supporting services, created that nation’s modern middle class.

American postwar public housing policy was profoundly undermined by a fierce political resentment that those who were (naturally?) undeserving had to be blocked in every way possible from a free ride courtesy of the public purse. (It’s a philosophical attitude that survives and prospers to this day as the supposedly deep moral failing of “entitlement.”) By contrast, through its architectural design and execution, Japanese public housing aspired to, and succeeded at, creating the epitome of that nation’s middle class aspirations.

Of course we are looking here at two profoundly different societies. Nonetheless the nature of the Japanese success in employing public housing for the public good is worthy of considerable thought. What if America had brought the ingenuity and optimism of the Japanese to its own public housing experiment, instead of a “dog in the manger” attitude that has not only prevailed, but infected the attitudes of other countries such as Canada?

Read more in Bloomberg CityLab: How Tokyo’s Public Housing Defined Japan’s Middle Class

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