I have just returned to the US after spending two months studying in Taipei. Once again, as I did on previous visits to Taiwan, I visited the parks in Taipei and viewed one of the "national treasures" of Taiwan: The thousands of people doing taichi and other qigong exercises in the parks.
Every morning, thousands of people make the exercises in parks throughout Taiwan. Nowhere on earth are parks so well used by a country's citizens! Sadly, the parks are not designed with their interests in mind. Their needs are the simplest in park design and planning -- level ground, with some shade from the sun.
Instead, there seems to be an overriding desire to imitate the West. It is the mindset of the Taiwanese that a "modern" park must have a "Western" design. This plan calls for fountains and landscape constructions, and maybe basketball and tennis courts. Instead of allowing trees to shade areas they are put in blocky concrete planters. Tacky fences are put up, hindering access to natural settings for exercise and street-like car curbs separate the sidewalks and green areas.
Concrete abutments and paved ground separate people from nature in many parks. Many of the fountains -- eyesores like empty bathtubs with dirty tub rings around them -- sit unused, taking up valuable space. Water ponds are enclosed in structures designed like industrial vats.
Taichi and other qigong practitioners are forced to find little niches in which to practice. Park planners have overlooked an opportunity to contribute to the way of life of the nation's populace.
Taiwan's park system should value and sustain these traditional exercises.
Accommodating morning taichi and the qigong exercises should be foremost in park design and planning. These wonderful Chinese exercises are best performed in nature and would flourish in a natural setting.
The real gems of the park system are the people using them and practicing these ancient exercises for health and well-being. Park design and planning should preserve and protect this unique heritage.