Taking a bird’s eye view of the ongoing process of merging and upgrading cities and counties, the government seems to have handled the matter in a manner completely lacking an academic basis. First, as urban development is irreversible, indivisible and unpredictable, it must be carried out in accordance with a plan rather than through trial and error. Next, the arrangement of three metropolises in the country, in my opinion, is not likely to achieve the desired result of balanced regional development.
Statistical research that I have conducted on the size and distribution of the populations of Taiwan’s rural and urban townships over the last three decades shows that the phenomenon of urban polarization has become increasingly serious.
The next issue is the question of what cities the population has gravitated toward. If we look at how the number of companies have increased in the four major planning divisions — northern, central, southern and eastern Taiwan — we find that companies have “homed in” on the north. In other words, whether we like it or not, under current conditions, the greater Taipei area has been, is and will continue to be the region where companies are concentrated, and this will lead to a natural increase in the local population and economic activities.
My conclusion is therefore that it will be hard to resolve the problem of unbalanced development between the south and the north by upgrading and merging counties and cities.
Some may argue that the increased budgets allotted to the upgraded counties and cities will promote local infrastructure and development as well as attract new residents, but my research shows that the budget allocations will not influence population distribution.
Regardless of politics, the entire county and city merger and upgrades plan betrays the government’s hasty, arbitrary and dictatorial streak in drawing up policies for national land-use planning. It is extremely risky that such an important guideline for national construction has not been publicly discussed and instead was decided by a few review committee members. Furthermore, it will have an impact on the lives of Taiwanese for the next several decades.
These few committee members decided on which counties and cities should be merged and upgraded within a short period, but they have not given the public a full and transparent explanation of their decision-making process.
Such a top-down approach to deciding important national policies, which completely ignores public opinion, does not conform to democratic procedures.
If this kind of decision were to bring about a positive outcome, it could only be attributed to pure luck. What can be anticipated is that the framework of three metropolises will remain the absurd wishful thinking of the government, as the population of Taiwan will continue to gravitate toward the Taipei metropolitan area.
Lai Shih-kung is a professor in the Department of Real Estate and Built Environment at National Taipei University.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG