The Taipei City Government has chosen a plot of land in New Taipei City’s Linkou District (林口) — originally set aside for building government housing — to be the site for the 2017 Summer Universiade athletes’ village.
Although the plot of land, which covers nearly 16 hectares, has been left undeveloped for more than 30 years, it has not been unused. While one part of it has been made into a sports park, the larger, remaining part has evolved into a lush secondary forest that has become one of Linkou’s characteristic landmarks.
After petitions calling for the land to be reserved for use by local residents and made into an environmental learning center, newspapers recently reported that government departments have responded with the politically motivated proposal to retain the “pleasant” sports park.
However, this proposal ignores the natural woodland that covers the rest of the land, especially the Linkou Yebu Forest, whose planning and maintenance local people have been looking after for the past three years.
The authorities seem determined to repeat the outmoded pattern of reducing nature to dust that has characterized urban development in recent history. This insistence is out of tune both with the “ecologically correct” attitudes often expounded by government departments, and also with claims made by organizations hosting the Universiade that they intend to construct the village with zero net carbon emissions.
It is gratifying to know that the sports park is to be preserved. However, the ecological environment of the whole world, and of Taiwan in particular, is deteriorating daily. It is worrying, then, if the authorities seek only to meet people’s everyday needs, while failing to take a more profound and long-term ecological view.
The idea of “pleasant green spaces” was first proposed as a new concept in urban development by 19th-century English social reformers, who saw them as a way of improving the unhealthy and crowded conditions that were prevalent following the Industrial Revolution. These green spaces emerged in various forms in the town planning of countries around the world for well over a century. This is also true of Taiwan, even if the results are, as yet, not very satisfactory.
However, a still more serious and urgent issue confronts us in the 21st century: The question of how to recover and maintain natural ecosystems.
Not only policies and environmental conditions need to change; changing social and personal attitudes is even more crucial. This task is not confined to suburban woodland; cities themselves are an even more important battleground. As more and more people live together in cities, so cities are the places where action must be taken to awaken social and personal environmental awareness. This is why the Linkou Yebu Forest has such a valuable and significant place in the debate.
The Taipei City Government has recently, and somewhat belatedly, conducted surveys and mapped out trees growing on the proposed athletes’ village site, but at present only larger trees whose trunks exceed a certain diameter have been included in the survey. The diverse plants and saplings growing on the forest floor could well be cleared away and destroyed entirely.
I have been involved in promotion of the Linkou Yebu Forest for three years. As a guide for visitors, I have repeatedly demonstrated to them that woodland it not just an air purifier for the city, nor just an enchanting green backdrop. This secondary forest is a living landscape and self-contained miniature ecosystem. Similar to the confessionals that one finds in Catholic churches, it is a quiet place to reflect on the relationship between people and nature; a learning center that can inspire new thinking about how cities and nature can coexist. The key element is to recognize and experience an ecosystem and resolve to protect it; it is not just a matter of keeping a few trees.
The plot of ground bordering Wunhua First Road (文化一路) and Renai Road (仁愛路) covers five hectares in total. According to existing regulations governing urban planning, building coverage should not exceed 60 percent.
This means that more than two hectares of the plot in Linkou should be set aside,which is just the size of the central area of the Linkou Yebu Forest. Therefore, the athletes’ village can be constructed creatively in a way to meet the requirements of the Building Act (建築法), preserving the forest’s ecological heart.
Let us hope that those concerned will think long and hard about this. If they want to build “diamond-class buildings” whilst avoiding the blame for ruining an existing ecosystem, they should make the best of both worlds by preserving the Linkou Yebu Forest. Such a decision would set a worthy precedent in a world where ecological considerations come increasingly to the fore.
Chen Hsin-fu is a community planner in New Taipei City.
Translated by Julian Clegg