Taipei needs ‘lungs,’ not domes

By Lu Ching-fu 呂清夫  / 

Wed, Feb 13, 2019 - Page 8

Every time I come out of Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, I see the Taipei Dome standing before me like a solidified mushroom cloud. No wonder Taipei Computer Association chairman Tung Tzu-hsien (童子賢) said that it made him feel “very oppressed.”

I have asked a lot of people and they all have similar feelings. The main reason is probably that the dome stands too close to the road, with no space around it. None of the world’s biggest domes were built like that. In the case of the Tokyo Dome, it is adjoined by leisure grounds that even include a hot spring spa.

The Taipei Dome is surrounded by three listed monuments — Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, the Songshan Tobacco Factory and the Taipei Railway Workshop — so the space left for it could be expected to be cramped, which highlights how it was built in the wrong place.

Originally, back when Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was president, the plan was to build the Taipei Dome in the Guandu (關渡) area, which would have been a much better option than the present location. The Council for Cultural Affairs, which later became the Ministry of Culture, later decided that parts of the Songshan Tobacco Factory were worth preserving as a monument. The area available for building the Taipei Dome was thus reduced to 10 hectares.

Former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his successor, Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), vigorously promoted the build-operate-transfer project.

Eight years ago, then-Control Yuan president Wang Chien-shien (王建煊) urged Hau to have the vision to build more parks. Wang even urged the public to take to the streets and demand that the government give back green areas that were rightfully theirs.

Four years ago, Tung said that Ma and Hau had been too devoted to the project and were trying to evade Taipei City councilors’ oversight.

Three years ago, Taipei Department of Urban Development Commissioner Lin Jou-min (林洲民) said that the Taipei Dome’s construction differed from the original plans in 79 ways. It later emerged that 17 emergency staircases had been dismantled.

It might be normal for a few small changes to be made to the plans, but if there are too many changes, people are bound to become suspicious. If those changes involve removing escape routes, it could be a matter of life or death.

Businesspeople put their business interests first, and it is more profitable to build shops than fire escapes, but, as Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) said: “It is fine to make money in business, but you should not be too greedy.”

Taipei politicians seem to be a bit obsessed with domes. Three decades ago they wanted to build a big gymnasium on the land that is now the Daan Forest Park (大安森林公園), but six magazines — including CommonWealth Magazine, Global Views Monthly and Unitas — simultaneously published an advertisement with the headline: “Keep Taipei’s last lung — a complete Park No. 7.” At that point, the Taipei Dome idea was temporarily put on hold.

In the years before World War II, there was already a plan to create 17 urban parks in Taipei, of which Park No. 7 is today’s Daan Forest Park.

Park No. 6 became Zhongshan Park, where Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall was built, but it can no longer be called the city’s lung, because, as well as having the memorial hall inside it, Guangfu Elementary School also occupies one-fifth of the land originally intended for the park.

Luckily, four of the other areas designated for building parks have not been developed, so there is still a chance for Taipei residents to get those parks. After all, New York City got its Central Park because New Yorkers voted for candidates who wanted to build it.

If the Taipei Dome does eventually get built, even though the mushroom cloud will be like a tumor in the middle of the city, let us hope that Taipei’s dome ideas end there and it can develop into a garden city instead.

Lu Ching-fu is a university professor.

Translated by Julian Clegg