Wed, Jul 02, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Regulatory wrecking ball to hit urban areas

By Chang Li-pen 張立本

The appearance of the nation's cities will have significantly changed by this time next year. Many old houses are about to be demolished and turned into parking lots or complexes. The look of our streets will rapidly change, and land values may temporarily rise.

These problems are the result of a draft measure of the Ministry of Finance's National Property Bureau to regulate idle, rarely used and public property.

Since last year, the bureau has given a series of orders to unify the operation and management of national assets in order to strengthen land use and promote economic development. In response to the bureau's administrative orders, many government units nationwide hastily proposed various property development plans, so their property will not be taken over after the bureau's deadline.

As a result, many old buildings and plants with potential historic and humanist value were pulled down. Although people were informed about a few demolition projects through symbolic public hearings, they were unable to have a real say. Thus, the voices of the public were ignored. The history preserved in such architectural spaces was destroyed. People will no longer recognize their neighborhoods. This will spell the death of our urban and national history.

Although the bureau states that historic spots and buildings will not be included in the measure, it does not stipulate that the evaluation and approval of historic sites should proceed prior to the bureau's property takeover procedure. Consequently, many government units tore down old buildings recklessly in order to hasten construction plans. For example, numerous houses built during the Japanese colonial period were demolished and residents living on idle state-owned property were expelled.

The bureau's regulations mainly focus on the takeover of land for construction, especially land that can be sold immediately. Ridiculously, many public organizations and schools have assumed the sole responsibility for their profits or losses. After the government takes back their land without any compensation, they may face problems with future expansion. For those that are able to come up with development plans in a timely manner, their new buildings may be hardly used once they are completed.

The bureau also demands that all government agencies move out from residential and commercial districts. This will narrow our land use in urban areas, not to mention that these agencies have to spend more to construct new buildings. Obviously, the government's purpose of the takeover is merely an attempt to obtain and sell land, so as to enrich the national treasury.

A nation's land and property are owned by its people. The government should use it to promote public welfare. But it should never, as the bureau is doing, take over national property, on the one hand, while disposing or selling it, on the other. I'm not opposed to taking back idle public land. But I strongly object to the demolition of historic buildings due to the government's flawed takeover mechanism. I also object to the government's sale of national assets once they are taken over.

The government could set up public rental units -- rather than selling its assets -- in order to ease its financial difficulties. But before that, an evaluation mechanism for historic buildings has to be established that includes public participation in national property planning. Otherwise, a temporary economic illusion will destroy the nation's urban history.

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