Many Taipei residents enjoy visiting the Shida shopping district, attracted by the culturally diverse products, food and drinks to be found there. However, in the past few years the shopping culture in the area has taken a sharp turn toward night-market culture, resulting in a plethora of food and drink stands spreading into the surrounding residential areas, bringing with them boisterous crowds that disturb the peace and quiet of the neighborhood.
The Shida area is a residential area with a high concentration of cultural workers and teachers, and residents have high demands for their living environment. Most shop owners are not from the area. They rent their premises and focus on turning a profit without paying much attention to the neighborhood. At first glance, the lively commerce is beneficial to the area as it drives up housing and rental prices. However, this only applies to landlords who charge high rents for ground-level properties and leaves residents on higher floors with sound and air pollution.
That a shopping district in a residential area can grow unrestrained in this way is a sign of the Taipei City Government’s laziness. Commercial use of roads or alleyways narrower than 6m is not allowed, but for many years the city government has sat idly by as businesses proliferate, even going as far as naming the area a “superior shopping district.” Then, when residents complained that the situation had become intolerable, the city government all of a sudden decided that everything should be torn down. After business operators have invested both capital and hard work into their businesses, the government is suddenly saying they are all illegal.
The bylaw that forbids commercial use of roads and alleys narrower than 6m applies to all of Taipei, yet the city government is only cracking down on the Shida area and is ignoring illegal operations in other districts and night markets. Officials may say that their approach is to only take action when a complaint is made, but unless the city government finds ways to offer an explanation or resolve the issue once and for all based on what the bylaw says, its double standards will lead to an untenable situation.
Residential and commercial areas develop as a result of cultural, geographical, social and economic conditions. The food, shops and cultural diversity of the Shida area have left an indelible impression on many students and visitors. Negative development in the area should be stopped, but that does not justify stifling the entire area through rough and boorish administrative enforcement measures.
Residents, business owners, consumers and the city government must find a solution agreeable to all parties. The city government must take a more active mediating role and invite experts and relevant organizations to create a dialogue between residential organizations and business associations, and to lay down mutually acceptable rules for businesses. Shop and restaurant owners will need to show better discipline and behave as part of the local community. They should also organize a management committee to manage behavior. The important thing is that businesses abandon their night-market approach and encourage diversification and innovation to maintain the area’s special character. The city government should use fire safety and hygiene inspections to strengthen its control of premises’ safety.