Homeless fighting park renovation

Protesters fear Nike deal leaves them in cold

A group of protesters camped out in Tokyo’s Miyashita Park [the site of most March in Marches] has stalled Shibuya Ward’s plan to renovate the site in collaboration with sporting goods maker Nike Inc.

The protesters argue a public park built with taxpayer money should be available to anyone for any purpose — even for the homeless to stay in.

Miyashita Park, just one minute on foot from JR Shibuya Station, is one of the few patches of green in the bustling district.

Under the plan, Nike, which bought the right to name the park from the ward for ¥17 million annually for 10 years, will renovate two existing courts for “futsal,” a variant of soccer, and build rock climbing facilities and skateboard ramps.

The protest group, made up of dozens of people ranging from students to artists, argue the park will become a giant advertisement for Nike, not a public place where people can relax as they please.

They also point out Shibuya Ward has already “forced” about 30 homeless people to leave in preparation for the construction of the Nike-sponsored facilities.

“(Nike and Shibuya Ward) think Miyashita Park cannot be a relaxing place for everybody because the homeless are here. We strongly protest such an idea,” said Tetsuo Ogawa, a core member of the Coalition to Protect Miyashita Park from Becoming Nike Park. Ogawa, who lives in a tent in the park, describes himself as an artist.

The protesters have set up about 10 tents to physically block the renovation work, which was to have begun April 1. It isn’t clear if the work will be completed by November, as originally planned by Nike.

Nike will cover the undisclosed costs of construction on what is to be named Miyashita Nike Park. The ward is planning to charge for the use of the futsal courts, rock climbing facilities and skateboard ramps.

The protesters claim that by doing so the ward is permanently depriving the homeless of a place to stay.

But ward officials deny they are trying to drive away the homeless, pointing out that other parts of the park will remain open to everyone free of charge.

“We are not saying we will deploy security guards to monitor the park 24 hours a day, so technically the homeless will be able to stay even after the park is rebuilt,” said Akihiko Ozawa, a Shibuya Ward official in charge of park management.

Ozawa adds, however, that he isn’t encouraging anyone to camp out in public places because it is illegal.

He said the ward diplomatically asked the homeless to vacate while the construction work is carried out.

Shibuya Ward said it sold the naming right to Nike in response to requests by local residents for sports facilities without spending taxpayer money.

Nike and the ward have not reached a decision yet on design details, such as whether the Nike logo will be displayed, Nike spokeswoman Yoko Mizukami said.

“Our company’s mission is to contribute to society through sports. We have offered the plan to provide a place for people to play sports as Shibuya Ward had said not many people were using the park,” she said.

Many local residents and a majority of ward assembly members welcome the Nike plan.

The ward assembly approved the Nike plan March 31 by a vote of 26 to 7.

Seiji Saito, director general of the Meiji Street Miyashita Park Merchant Association, said the plan is welcome because a clean park will likely attract more visitors.

However, this may no longer be just a local issue.

According to the protest group’s Web site, No-Vox, an international network of grassroots social movements against poverty, joined the Tokyo demonstrators March 31 in Paris, Sydney and Bangkok.

In Tokyo, 200 to 300 people marched in Shibuya to support the protest group’s activities.