World (AP)

Opponents of a controversial Tokyo park redevelopment file a petition urging government to step in | AP News

Opponents of a controversial Tokyo park redevelopment file a petition urging government to step in | AP News

TOKYO (AP) — A growing movement opposing a highly controversial redevelopment of a historic Tokyo park submitted a fresh petition Monday, stepping up a campaign to get the national government to intervene and revise the plan to save more trees and avoid overdevelopment of the metropolitan area.

The new petition submitted Monday by Rochelle Kopp, a “save Jingu Gaien” movement leader, urges the Education Ministry to instruct its affiliate Japan Sports Council to rethink the redevelopment plan and renovate a rugby stadium instead of switching places with a baseball stadium by razing them both and “obliterating” a forest.

The petition also urges the ministry, in charge of cultural heritage, to designate the famous avenue of nearly 150 gingko trees in the area as a scenic cultural property for protection, Kopp said.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike in February approved the plan, giving a green light to developers to build a pair of skyscrapers and a lower tower as part of the redevelopment.

Kopp, a longtime Tokyo resident who operates a management consulting company, said the petition has been signed by nearly a quarter-million people. Not only neighborhood residents and environmental activists, but academics, artists and prominent people like Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami have expressed opposition to the plan.

The opposition is growing because people love the park for different reasons, and many are “horrified” imagining it becoming a huge commercial complex with skyscrapers when many others are already in Tokyo, Kopp says.

“Taking away what’s special about a place just to provide an opportunity for private sector profit, I think a lot of people are really appalled by that.”

People are also upset about the way the plan has put forward with little disclosures, Kopp said.

Monday’s petition to the Education Ministry comes two weeks after a United Nations-affiliated conservancy issued a “heritage alert” for the Tokyo Gaien area, saying the plan goes against a global fight against climate change and raised questions of transparency around the decision-making process.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites, or ICOMOS, also sent open letters to 18 involved officials, including Koike, heads of the developers and the education minister, asking them to respond to its alert by Oct. 10.

Tree felling could begin later this month. Koike’s government says fewer than 900 trees were to be cut under the leading developer Mitsui Fudosan’s plan submitted last year.

Lawsuits have been filed to stop the project, and many experts and critics are closely watching the Jingu Gaien case as a test for future redevelopment projects in Japan.