Having recently received a joint petition from 17 counties and cities around Taiwan, Examination Yuan President John Kuan (關中) expressed concern that the creation of the five special municipalities had actually resulted in uneven resource allocation and caused a brain drain away from other areas, widening the gap between smaller counties and cities and the major metropolitan sprawls that have been upgraded to municipalities.
Kuan’s concern is welcome, but hopefully something will also be done about it. The government needs to come up with an effective way to introduce a higher degree of balance.
Ironically, as Kuan was making his comments, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) was announcing the names of the four cities selected to become “low-carbon model cities” in northern, southern, central and eastern Taiwan.
With the exception of the east — where Yilan County, in the absence of a special municipality in that area, was chosen — all of the winning cities were special municipalities: in the north, New Taipei City (新北市); in the south, Greater Tainan, and Greater Taichung in the center. Meanwhile, non-municipality urban areas have once again been marginalized.
This low-carbon city contest originates from a resolution made at the 2009 Global Energy Summit in which four locations were to be selected as low-carbon cities that would gradually expand into low-carbon zones. As part of the scheme, the government is to invest massive sums of money into transportation, construction and energy policy in these cities. The hope is that the four cities will become models for other urban areas to emulate.
However, many share Kuan’s concerns and see the failure to include a county or city in the west of Taiwan as a lost opportunity to address the widening gap between the five municipalities and the rest of the country. In fact, it is more complex than simply addressing this gap.
When the municipalities were formed, the original urban and rural townships became city “districts” and the process has created all sorts of teething problems as the respective areas try to get accustomed to their new administrative garments. The new mayors of these upgraded entities did, however, have considerable leeway in terms of the allocation of personnel and financial resources, enabling them to balance the gap between the former urban and rural townships. The central government needs to look again at the imbalance between the municipalities and other areas.
Low-carbon cities serve as an example of the problem. These are supposed to be some kind of bellwether for other towns and cities to follow, an exemplar of what can be achieved. When these towns and cities witness the concentration of resources in these municipalities, they will be impressed and envious in equal measure, and therefore want to find out how they can get a slice of the pie. The trouble is, they will not be able to for the simple reason that they will lack the human and financial resources necessary.
If we are to control emissions we clearly need to look at those produced by industry. These aside, the most important areas to look at are construction and transportation. Consequently, our efforts should be concentrated on the creation of low-emission road networks and low-emission vehicles in these metropolitan areas. Nevertheless, the costs of implementing these measures compared with the actual emission reduction yields tends to be proportionately high, particularly in these metropolises. This only strengthens the case for choosing non-municipality counties and cities as low-carbon models.