By Planting Miniature Gardens On Abandoned Bikes, This Project Helped Clean Up Tokyo

Abandoned bikes are a challenge in every city, but perhaps nowhere as much as Tokyo, where a staggering two million bicycles are left behind on city streets every year.

Despite the size of the problem, Tokyo locals tend to take it for granted. Inspired to help change that, a bike-sharing company called Cogoo decided to create a campaign to make people take a second look: They collected dozens of old bikes, turned the bike seats into flower planters, and then parked the bikes back on the street.

“Cogoo wanted to raise people’s awareness by making this ‘invisible’ problem more visible,” says Kenta Ikoma from TBWA/Hakuhodo, the ad agency that worked with Cogoo on the campaign. “We realized that people appreciate flowers on the streets even though they pay little attention to bikes left on the streets. This led to the idea of turning those bikes into an art gallery displaying ‘Saddle Blossoms.'”

The experiment worked. As people stopped to look at the tiny gardens, they also read tags on the back of each saddle linking to more information about why the project mattered. Ultimately, fewer bikes ended up on the street.

“We ran this campaign at two universities which were unsuccessful with conventional campaigns such as posting signs or putting stickers on bikes to encourage people not to leave their bikes,” explains Ikoma. “After the campaign, they were able to reduce the number of discarded bikes by 40%.”

The campaign even inspired local government to start making more of an effort to clean up piles of old bikes. If it could work in Tokyo, could it work elsewhere?