Sun, Dec 31, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Revive Taipei’s existing parks first

By Lu Ching-Fu 呂清夫

Thirty years ago, a politician running for election and promising to build parks would not have had much of an audience, but as the race for the Taipei mayorship heats up, one candidate has proposed creating a “grand central park.” This is a sign that general living standards are improving and people understand that parks are a city’s lungs.

Having had some free time recently, I took advantage of the good weather to stroll around Taipei’s Guting River Park (古亭河濱公園). It was originally intended to be a wedding-themed park, but while there were lots of people there on the day I visited, there was not a single couple having their wedding pictures taken.

The best thing about the park is probably the flower gardens, but the props set up for wedding photographers, such as a windmill, a pavilion and a pathway of heart-shaped arches, were in disrepair and rusty. The original design was also very simple, perhaps because of a lack of funds.

The most worrying part was that the bicycle path and the footpath were combined rather than separate. I felt unsafe while walking along, as most cyclists were traveling at speed, as if they were in a competition, and there were many of them. The danger increased as dusk fell.

This made me think of Central Park in New York. In a mayoral election in the 19th century, someone brought up the idea of creating a park. The candidate who promoted the concept won.

This is how New York ended up with Central Park, a slice of pristine land in the middle of a concrete forest. It is surrounded by the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Central Park Zoo and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, among others.

A few well-known authors helped bring about the creation of the park, such as Washington Irving, best known for his short stories Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He suggested the city government buy the area where Central Park is now located and leave it as a slice of green land for future generations.

However, the important thing was the planning of the park. The winner of the tender was Frederick Law Olmsted, who is considered the father of US landscape architecture, and his partners. He made detailed plans for the sculptures in the park and designed an arts promenade that now includes one of the four Cleopatra’s Needles, a bronze statue of Alice from Alice in Wonderland and the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon.

The park’s landscaping, which looks natural, was planned in great detail. There are several artificial lakes, long footpaths, two ice-skating rinks, a protected area for wild animals and a playground for children. The 10km-long road surrounding the park is a favorite among cyclists and inline skaters.

Most bicycle paths go around the perimeter of the park. While there are some bicycle paths closer to the inside of the park, they are still situated near the outer perimeter. They are also all one-way paths that run counter-clockwise. If you want to enjoy the scenery, you can ride your bicycle along the bike path closest to the spot you want to look at, get off and push it.

In other words, creating a “grand central park” is a massive undertaking, even if we only consider the museums around the park, its sculptures and the plants within it. It is not something that can be achieved overnight.

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