Taipei City is preparing for the Taipei International Flora Expo, to be held from Nov. 6 to April 25. The expo aims to showcase “the essence of gardening, science and environmental protection technology,” and to “combine culture and art as parts of eco-friendly living.” Besides these eloquent goals, the expo also represents an effort by Taipei City to compete with Kaohsiung, which hosted last year’s World Games, and Shanghai, which is hosting the World Expo.
However there seems to be one major snag: The city government is apparently alone in its enthusiasm. Taipei’s residents seem apathetic, quite a few people think the NT$12.8 billion (US$400 million) being spent on the expo is a waste of money and the city government’s plans and actions have been the target of wide-ranging criticism.
Although the city government said it wants to improve Taipei’s ecology and increase the green areas in the city, it has removed more than 1,000 trees from the Taipei Art Park and the Chungshan Park to make room for the expo. Removing trees to plant flowers and building a large temporary exhibition hall run counter to the goal of demonstrating ways to reduce carbon emissions. Allocating NT$12.8 billion budget to plant trees would have been a much more effective way to increase the city’s green areas and reduce carbon emissions.
The city government has also relocated 49 elderly families who lived close to the Yuanshan MRT station to make way for the exhibition hall. The forced removal of old and disadvantaged people for the sake of a temporary activity is not a very humanitarian act.
The Flora Expo also claims to emphasize the combination of culture and art. This will be done by arranging 6,000 art activities in conjunction with the expo. However, such a massive mobilization of resources for a temporary exhibition will ultimately limit many long-term, grassroots cultural activities.
The city government is also promoting urban renewal and beautification through a plan called Taipei Beautiful (台北好好看). Apart from making some remote corners of the city look a bit prettier, these efforts have only served to drive up local real estate prices. It has been calculated that the NT$12.8 billion could be used to build 4,100 apartments and solve housing problems for 15,000 people. Clearly, the city government is only concerned about superficial urban embellishment and is ignoring the substantive issue of how urban space is distributed.
The city’s residents and taxpayers have not been consulted in the decision to spend such a huge sum of money on this event, nor has there been any information about the city government’s plans after the expo closes. City residents do not know what ultimate purpose the exhibition has or what substantial changes the NT$12.8 billion will bring once the exhibition has closed. Huge sums of taxpayers’ money is being spent to create a superficial and temporary flash of beauty, only to create a feeling of political achievement and to bolster Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) chances of re-election.
The exhibition’s beautifully worded goals are there for rhetorical purposes only. The driving force is to create a huge commercial opportunity by attracting large numbers of tourists, with officials forecasting 6 million visitors — although few observers think it will attract many international tourists.
Taiwan cannot compete with China when it comes to hosting this kind of event, whether in terms of the money spent or scale. It would be ridiculous to compare the Flora Expo with the World Expo in Shanghai. Unfortunately, the areas where Taiwan can shine — innovation and democracy — are sorely missing from this event.
The expo is like a plant that has not been watered, and it will wither and die once the exhibition is closed. No matter how hard the city government tries, Taipei will never be a city of flowers.
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