• smart cities
  • Urban Innovation
  • Urban Mobility
  • Transportation Efficiencies

Applying Toyota's Woven City Design to Real-World Cities

Ryan Citron
Feb 20, 2020

Connected City 4

At CES 2020 in Las Vegas, Toyota unveiled its plans to build the futuristic Woven City at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan, with the project planned for a 2021 start. The living laboratory is expected to initially have about 2,000 residents and aims to radically improve quality of life in cities using a variety of technologies and urban planning techniques. While the vision for the project is exciting and ambitious, major questions remain as to how solutions designed for a model city can be applied to real-world environments. 

Technology Combined with Innovative Urban Planning

The 175-acre site for the Woven City is anticipated to be primarily powered by hydrogen fuel cells, with solar PV panels integrated into building designs to provide additional energy generating capabilities. Buildings are expected to be made of wood and assembled using traditional Japanese wood joinery techniques. A variety of zero emissions vehicles like hydrogen powered and battery EVs are to be used throughout the city, including automated shuttles, delivery and home robots, and electric two-wheel micromobility devices. 

The Woven City aims to combine nature and technology for a fresh approach to urban planning and design. With the help of the innovative architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the Woven City master plan includes three designs for street usage, with each street type physically separated from each other and weaving to form an organic grid pattern of 3x3 city blocks:

  • One road is designated for use by higher speed/zero emission automated vehicles.
  • Another street is designed for a mix of lower speed personal mobility vehicles, such as bikes, e-bikes, and e-scooters.
  • The third road is a park-like promenade only for pedestrians.

Toyota’s Woven City: Main Square Grid, by Mobility Type

Toyota’s Woven City: Main Square Grid, by Mobility Type

(Source: Bjarke Ingels Group)

Unlike most cities, where streets combine all transport modes in a somewhat chaotic manner, separated streets offer the potential for less congestion, improved safety, and higher levels of integration with nature. Considering the Woven City is being built and designed from scratch, it has major advantages over established cities trying to layer new requirements on old street layouts. The strategy of integrating mobility options across different road types should provide insight on what approaches work best. However, applying these lessons from a walled-off model city to real-world city environments is difficult based on historical construction and embedded usage patterns. 

Questions Moving Forward

Toyota’s vision for a city of the future is impressive—innovative building designs, separate streets for specific use-cases, cutting-edge technology deployments, traditional Japanese building techniques, and high levels of integration with nature. However, for the project to be successful, several key issues must be resolved and should be the focus for Toyota moving forward: 

  • Determine what insights a model city can have for real-world city environments and if the Woven City solutions can make an impact at scale. 
  • Learn from the failures of previous Greenfield smart city projects, such as Masdar City.
  • Avoid public backlash over data privacy by potentially adhering to use of global data privacy programs (e.g., The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights). Similar smart city programs, such as Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside project in Toronto, have become a contentious testing ground over data ownership—resulting in the project being scaled back significantly from its original vision. Putting residents in control of their personal data and how it is used plays a critical role in ensuring initial public acceptance, and eventual scaling, of the Woven City.