More than four months after the massive March 11 disaster in Japan's Tohoku region — an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear plant failure — reconstruction and relocation efforts are moving ahead rapidly.
A group of MIT faculty from a cross section of disciplines has been stirred to action and is mobilizing its own response, called the MIT Japan 3/11 Initiative. Pat Gercik, associate director of the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) program within the Center for International Studies, is the 3/11 Initiative's program coordinator and overseer of fundraising efforts.
The goal is to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a memorial community center in the devastated town of Minami Sanriku, as well as for a multi-year, long-range effort to study and promote disaster-resilient planning, design and reconstruction.
Multi-phase program, one objective
The 3/11 Initiative's program elements have already been defined and will be carried out by a group of faculty and students guided largely by MIT School of Architecture and Planning senior lecturer Shun Kanda and Aga Khan Professor of Archictecture Jim Wescoat.
Other members of the core 3/11 Initiative Team include associate professor of visual arts Ute Meta Bauer and graduate student Vincent de Paul of the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT); students in the Department of Architecture; Ian Condry, the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies; Richard Samuels, the Ford International Professor of Political Science; Kent Larson, a principal research scientist in the Media Lab; and Japanese professors Hiroto Kobayashi of Keio University and Yoshihiro Hiraoka of Miyagi University.
The 3/11 Initiative's two-phased proposal, beginning this summer, calls for gathering input from Japanese stakeholders for the design and construction of the Minami Sanriku Memorial Community Center.
At the same time, and for a projected five-year period, the 3/11 Initiative's Phase II will organize an ongoing series of workshops and seminars with the long-range goal of creating alterative visions for resettlement and new communities more aware of the need for — and better able to execute — disaster-resilient planning and construction.
"In working with all our Japanese and U.S. colleagues, we're there to learn as much as to consult in order to most effectively address key issues for the future," Kanda says.
Not the least of those concerns will be site analyses that anticipate earthquakes and related coastal hazards, says Wescoat, a landscape architect. Such analyses will help determine the siting of new buildings based on such considerations as elevation, slope, soils, vegetation, runoff, proximity to the coast, hazards perception and others.
The science and arts of disaster response
Adding to the eclectic MIT participation in the 3/11 Initiative will be the involvement of other faculty who will address the disaster through their own disciplines' unique perspectives and capabilities.
The Media Lab's Larson, for example, is organizing a two-day workshop in August that will "piggyback on Shun's effort," he says.
The 3/11 Initiative has also spawned a new class in the ACT Program titled "Artistic Intervention: Creative Responses." Co-taught by Bauer and Vincent de Paul, the course will investigate the roles artistic practice — e.g., the performing arts, graphic arts, etc. — can play in providing positive contributions to complex and traumatic situations.
RSVP with money and materials
What may be at stake in a larger, more immediate sense with the Memorial Community Center project, Kanda says, is the creation of a successful model that aids in reintegrating at least a portion of Japanese society with itself. In the meantime, the broader 3/11 Initiative will look at the longer-range goal of reducing the impact of natural and man-made disasters through more insightful, holistic planning. "As an educator and a leader of the 3/11 Initiative, this is an opportunity to help the next generation by taking disaster resiliency as a serious issue, one that has been overlooked in professional and academic circles in both the U.S. and Japan," Kanda says.