A solution to the Losheng impasse

By John Liu 劉可強  / 

Sat, Oct 07, 2017 - Page 8

The Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium for people with Hansen’s disease is a world-class cultural heritage site. It commemorates the nation’s public health history and is a well-preserved urban sanctuary for a neighborhood that is in desperate need of a public space.

In 2002, the construction of a maintenance depot at Huilong Station (迴龍站) for the Xinzhuang Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line began, which led to the demolition of a vital entrance to Losheng that was used by people in wheelchairs who have been living in the sanatorium for decades. Despite more than a decade-long social mobilization to reroute the MRT line and restore the heritage site, there is still no agreeable solution to the impasse.

However, recent developments have shed light on the possibility of a win-win solution that would balance the needs of all parties concerned.

For preservation advocates, the bottom line is the humane and just accommodation of the remaining patients who depend on electric scooters for movement in and out of the site and, second, complete conservation of the buildings and the landscape of the site, including the historically significant entrance from the main road, a key requirement of the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act (文化資產保存法).

On the other side, the bottom line is maintaining the standard of operation for the MRT line without compromising safety or delaying trains.

A previous proposal to construct a pedestrian bridge over the tracks to connect Losheng to the main road would require the use of an elevator for scooters to negotiate three floors of height difference between the campus and the main road.

This proposal would greatly inhibit the movement of the patients and also fail to meet the requirements of landscape restoration of the entrance to the site. Alternatively, there has been a proposal to build a large platform over the tracks, but it also does not overcome the vertical transition necessary at the main entrance.

In December last year, at a coordination meeting held at the National Development Council where representatives from all concerned departments were present, a possible solution was raised.

By reducing the size of the tracks closest to the main entrance, it is possible to slope a large platform gradually so that it meets the ground, thus allowing electric scooters to move freely without the use of cumbersome elevators, while at the same time restoring the original features fo the entrance.

This proposal was a major breakthrough, which was also affirmed by Taipei Rapid Transit Corp (TRTC) at the meeting.

However, in a meeting to affirm this important consensus, the Department of Rapid Transit Systems (DORTS) would not agree to the compromise. This was not only a setback for the preservation of one of the most notable heritage sites in the nation, but also made a mockery of the public process of democracy, especially in light of the government’s emphasis on human rights and transitional justice.

DORTS has singlehandedly derailed the long and arduous process of coordination among the concerned departments that led to the compromise solution. The parties concerned are the ministries of culture, transportation and communications, and health and welfare. The local departments include the New Taipei City Cultural Affairs Department, DORTS and TRTC.

A large sloping platform across the tracks is the win-win solution and the central government should affirm this most appropriate proposal. A firm and timely decision must be made now before the construction of the MRT line is completed.

This solution can achieve at least three significant objectives with benefits to all parties.

First, it is the most humane and considerate solution for patients in electric scooters, allowing them the greatest freedom of movement possible. Being possibly the least cared for group in Taiwan, society owes them dignity and respect for the remainder of their harsh lives.

Second, adhering to the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act, the sloping platform provides the best basis for the comprehensive and integral restoration of the entrance to the site. This includes the all-important pattern of the pathways which historically isolated caregiving personnel from leprosy patients, and the tropical palm-tree driveways.

Third, this large entrance, when restored, would become the most important public park in the Huilong area of Sinjhuang District (新莊), not only benefiting local residents, but also providing greater use of the MRT station and thereby contributing to the development of the surrounding area.

John Liu is chair of the Building and Planning Research Foundation at National Taiwan University and OSM distinguished visiting professor at the National University of Singapore.